Summer 2004
Heart to Heart Selling

Customers say they buy with their heads, but they really decide with their hearts. And like Cupid, it’s the heart that retailers must aim at to make people “fall in love,” and buy.

When a customer makes the decision to buy—or walk away—he thinks he made a rational, intellectual decision. What he doesn’t realize is that he already said “yes” or “no” with his heart long before the decision reached his brain.

How a customer feels about your product and about you is crucial to making the sale. Research repeatedly shows this, yet many sellers still focus solely on their product. Naturally your customer has to find the features of your product attractive. But that’s just for starters. Your product is good but chances are, so is your competition’s. The crucial difference is in aiming at the heart.

Straight shooter

How do you improve your aim? In 1936, Dale Carnegie—the How to Win Friends and Influence People guru—summed it up well. “Smile, be a good listener, and make other people feel important.” No less true today than it was almost 60 years ago. The problem is that Carnegie told us what to do, but not how.

Don’t blame Dale. Many of the techniques for subliminal rapport didn’t exist in his time. Nowadays, methods from the worlds of psychology, kinesics, sports, psychiatry, and even theater have worked their way into mainstream acceptance. And yet the sales world draws relatively little from these disciplines. Here’s how you can tap into the “how” of influencing people.

Think of your customer as an old friend. Communications studies show that 80 percent of a customer’s first impression of you has nothing to do with words: the fact is, 50 percent is your appearance and body language… another 30 percent is the sound of your voice and your energy level… and only 20 percent has anything to do with what you say.

Here’s a technique that automatically transforms your body language and boosts your energy level. When you first spot your customer, imagine she’s a long-lost friend and you’re so happy to see her again. Then say your “hello’s” as usual, and proceed with your normal customer greeting. But inside, let all that warmth you would feel recognizing an old friend well up in your heart.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at your own body language. Your smile will be warmer, your handshake more sincere. You’ll automatically face your customer, lean forward and maintain eye contact. Your customer will see you as a genuinely friendly, likable person.

Make a “mood match.” Has someone ever called you when you were busy and started an endless tale, without asking if you’re available or in the mood to talk? Or maybe you were sleeping! Insensitive or otherwise clueless sales staffers invade customers this way all the time. A salesperson can aggravate a harried customer with a slow sales pitch, and annoy a laid-back customer by rushing.

What to do: When you face a customer, look at his face and body and take note: Does he seem peaceful? receptive? in a hurry? Does he appear to be in good spirits? preoccupied with something? Then whatever you determine the mood to be, match it. This is called “mood mirroring,” and it works.

You, you, you. Remember the old gag, “Sex! Now that I have your attention… ” The word “you” does the same thing. The moment your customer hears “you,” she is immediately engaged. So try to start as many sentences as you can with that powerful three-letter word. It gets attention and gives the impression you are 100 percent customer-focused. Sprinkle “you” as liberally as possible throughout the conversation. These sentences show how much more powerful the “you” versions are:

Weak: That’s a good question.
Strong: You’ve asked a good question.

Weak: It’s important that…
Strong: You’ll see how important it is that…

Weak: The result will be…
Strong: You’ll see [result] when you…

“Echo” the customer. Just as every business has buzzwords that distinguish industry insiders from outsiders, every one of your customers has expressions that distinguish family and friends. All of the words may be English, but there are subtleties in word choices. The point is, use their words. For example, if you’re talking to a young mother who refers to her child as her “kid,” use the word “kid.” Remember “mood mirroring”? This is verbal mirroring. Using her words establishes subliminal rapport—it reduces “distance” and helps make the sale.

“Caption” your customer. Did a customer tell you he’s going to St. Thomas? Or that she got promoted? Or he’s a new grandfather and the baby’s name is Sam? Write it down—write it all down! After every conversation, make notes on any stories or details they told you. You can put it on the back of their business card, or in your customer file, or in a special notebook for just this purpose. Then when you see that customer again, check your file. Before you say word one about your product or service, bring up that topic: “How was St. Thomas!” “How’s the new job?” “How’s little Sammy—taking after his granddad yet?”

What makes captioning so powerful is this: We remember facts about people we love. So by recalling a customer’s personal history, we give the subliminal impression that you’re not just a salesperson but a friend who cares.

Ask “long-form” questions. Some questions require short answers; some require longer answers. Very early in the conversation, ask your customer a long-form or “open-ended” question. That’s the kind that can’t be answered by just yes or no. Short-form question: “Did you enjoy St. Thomas?” Long-form question: “How was St. Thomas!” Why take the time to listen to a long-winded answer? For three solid reasons:

  1. Your long-form question sends out subliminal “caring” messages and makes your customer feel you’re interested in him.
  2. Listening to your customer on subjects unrelated to your product, or service gives you valuable insight into them. You have time to judge their body language, determine their values, and figure what emotional approaches will work best.
  3. You involve the customer, increase her interest in what you have to say, and thereby minimize their resistance to the sale.

Everyone likes to be the center of attention. But after hogging the spotlight, a little guilt starts to set in. They’re now ready to hear somebody else talk. And that’s you, making the sale.

Mega-listen. A good 85 percent of knowledge reaches the memory through the eyes. Only seven percent comes through the ears. The rest reaches the brain via the other senses.

If you intend to convince your customer that your product is right for her, you have to remember every aspect of her problem. So while she’s talking, picture everything she’s telling you. Imagine a TV screen in front of your eyes and “watch” what she’s describing. When you “see” her problem, you’ll clearly “see” how your product or service is the perfect solution for her.

In addition, mega-listening makes you a more empathetic listener. By picturing everything she’s saying, your body responds to the story more energetically. And this creates a bond.

Listen to the body language. Even when your customer’s mouth is closed, he’s shouting important messages to you. As you’re talking, watch his body and tailor your sales chatter accordingly. When he nods, when he smiles or when he turns full body toward you, he’s listening: those are the moments to highlight the aspects of your product that he’s hearing. But if he’s turning away or looking over your shoulder… or if you see a blank stare on his face, he’s not interested. Quick—switch to another feature.

Seasoned salespeople are masters at watching a customer’s eyes. When someone hears something he likes, his pupils get larger. When he hears something he doesn’t like, they get smaller. When you get good at eye-watching, you’ll know when to pursue a point and when to keep quiet.

Invoke interests. Words carry different power and punch to different people. Have you ever noticed how men use more sports analogies in business discussions than women do? That’s because, in general, men watch more sports than women do, and they value sports more. Conversely, women “reveal” more than men do: they often share information about their lives and families. If you know your customer’s interests or hobbies, you can use words that invoke those interests.

Here’s an example: Everyone knows what someone means when he says, “This is right on target.” But that phrase has even more punch to an archery or handgun enthusiast than to the rest of us. Think about the many other hobby-based phrases you can use when you know the customer’s interests: “sow the seeds” (gardeners), “taking off” (planes), “hit a home run” (baseball), “adds some spice” (cooking), and the like. The key is knowing your customer and using what you know.

Check out the last sale. Has the customer bought from you before? If so, ask how the previous product is doing before saying one word about what you want to sell them now. That sends a powerful message: if something’s wrong with what they buy from you, you’re the person to come back to. They get the message that they can depend on you for follow-up, and that makes them want to buy from you now and again later.

Co-sign their complaints. Your customer has a problem. She’s complaining about something that your product could help solve. Be grateful! Be glad! Now be silent. What to do: See their problem in your imagination. Mega-listen. Let your body sympathize. Then when the customer is out of steam, wind them up and let them complain a little more. Resist the temptation to jump in. Why? Because the more you let them rant, the riper they get. The more they’ll feel your product is the answer.

Sell solutions. Who said you can’t buy happiness? That’s what every sale is—a happiness purchase. People don’t buy products, they buy pleasure… relief… solutions. In short, people buy happiness. Their happiness may come in the form of avoiding pain, solving a problem, making life easier, providing peace of mind or bestowing prestige. The point is, every sale boils down to buying happiness.

Don’t just describe your product or service—paint a word picture of the happiness it will give him. Talk about how it will benefit him. Depict the problems it will solve, the peace of mind or prestige it will provide, how it will make his life easier—whatever fits, according to what you know about that customer. (And by now, as you know, it should be quite a bit.)

Sowing the seeds

OK, you made the sale. Very good. But wait: this is just the beginning of the next sale. Now is the time to plant the seeds for that customer’s next purchase. Invite her to call in a few days to tell you how her new purchase is doing.

Taken together, all of these techniques not only make the sale today, but sow the seeds for repeat business. In your customers’ eyes, they make you a consultant, not just a retailer! And that will make their hearts tell their heads to buy from you again and again.

Leil Lowndes

Lowndes is an internationally acclaimed writer, motivational speaker, and corporate trainer. She has spoken, consulted, and conducted training programs in every major city in the US and many abroad. Leil has written 7 books and 6 audio programs on all types of interpersonal communicating. Her books have been translated into 18 languages, and she has received testimonials from dozens of top communicators.
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