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Women have unique strengths that, when tapped into, have a powerful impact in selling, such as compassion, collaboration, and empathy. The vast majority of sales and leadership training has been geared toward helping women succeed by following male success techniques. We have spent years being indoctrinated into believing that fitting into a male mold is the path to success, and have therefore learned how to fit in. Research suggests that finding your unique voice and authentic self is the best path to success. Finding your true self, however, is not as easy as it seems.
Your Authentic Self
There are many great thinkers and philosophers who have helped to bring the idea of archetypes into universal consciousness. One that is best known for this is Carl Jung. Jung believed that every story, every personality, and every character that has ever existed has assumed a role that is borrowed or worn, like an article of clothing, and then returned to the wheel of time.
Greek goddesses and gods provide an excellent representation of the various authentic behavioral types. I have read about many of them and have found great respect for certain goddesses in particular. But the one goddess that I call on when I need to assess and protect the needs of my customer, is Demeter the Primordial Mother.
1. Be Powerful About Listening
Sometimes you receive such great information from your customer that, rather than really listening for the details, you are doing a mental victory lap. Stop. Really listen. Ask a question twice if you have just tuned out. What do you want to know?
As important as powerful questioning is, listening is its equal counterpart. Business etiquette and manners dictate that you should always listen intently to what your customer is saying. I have learned in my coaching experience that genuine interest combined with the ability to listen was the most powerful way to bring about those next steps.
Let the customer complete the message, and do not interrupt until she is finished. Listen intently and with great curiosity. Pause for a moment before you jump in. If you’re a highly interpersonal salesperson, be extremely careful about interrupting. During the needs assessment phase, a good rule of thumb is to let the customer do 80 percent or more of the talking. Is there anything that is unclear to you about what is being said? Perhaps the customer is speaking using their company lingo, and you are not sure what they mean. Listen with a sense of curiosity to see if you can understand the customer’s needs, expectations, and hopes.
Reaffirming closes the listening loop and allows you to move on to the next step. Reaffirm what you have just heard by saying, “So what I am hearing you say is … is that correct?” and “If I am hearing you correctly, then … can you confirm?” I like to think of reaffirming as a generous act in that it acknowledges what has just been communicated.
This allows your customer to formally hand you the ball. How many times have you tried to communicate with someone only to be left wondering if they understood? Ah, to be acknowledged! This technique allows you to reassure the other person that you have indeed accepted and assimilated their information.
3. Respect the Customer’s Boundaries
Always pay very close attention to your customer’s attention span. While your objective is to assess needs, be careful not to over-anticipate their requests, as this can seem pushy. Don’t take advantage of their kindness by not respecting their boundaries. At this point you want to be very protective of the customer. Ensure that they feel respected and that their time was well used.
4. Know how to Handle Objections
If you anticipate a certain objection going into a meeting, come prepared to address this head-on. An example would be going to meet with a prospect that is close with your competitor. If you have a feeling that this customer would be predisposed against you, try coming prepared with a positive response to their push-back. You always want to start by reacting to any objection with empathy. Ask for clarification, or for them to explain their point without using the word why. The word why can put people immediately on the defense in almost all situations. A wonderful way to avoid this is to replace it with “I’m curious to know the reasons behind this.” Once they have finished, reiterate what you have just heard.
I always respond with gratitude first and foremost. Your customer did not need to give you the insight they just shared, so always let them know how much you appreciate it. To further take the edge off their objection, you can react with an empathetic response, such as “That’s fair” or “I understand where you are coming from.” Or put what they are saying into a context that acknowledges their position: “When looking at it from that point of view, I can see how that would be an issue.” Reiterate their objection in the form of an answer to a question, i.e. “When people ask me about that …” This puts you in an informative space rather than in a defensive one. You want to get out of the defensive role at all costs. Move yourself into the informative position. Now, respond as a provider of information with data, third-party verifications, or dollar evidence. Articulate the data: “It saved them three million dollars over the course of six months.”
It is very important to remain neutral during this conversation. Set your passion aside for the moment and try to facilitate the exchange of information in a non- judgmental way. You are doing so to save face for your company, and in case someone (on either end) has been misinformed, save face for them. This is also important to avoid entering into a debate or argument. Respect their point of view and thank them for sharing.
If they do not bring the objection up but there is an elephant in the room that needs addressing, you can do so in the following way: “When people ask me about that issue, I am always happy to let them know that …” You can include this point during the beginning of a presentation, at the point where you are describing your features and benefits. It is a nice way to work it in informatively and objectively.
5. Manage Customer Expectations
Highly social salespeople, like me, naturally shy away from being the bearer of bad news. My tendency is almost always to delight the customer in the moment and offer the best-case scenario of all aspects of my product and services. Of course, most situations typically have both best cases and worst cases. The ability to communicate in a balanced and neutral way will help you to consistently over-deliver and protect your customer from losing control of her process. The moment you feel compelled to share only the good news, remember to take a moment and think things through.
When I read an email from a customer that makes me feel great, such as a request for the price of a new product I presented, I almost always want to shoot back with “I’ll get you that information ASAP!” But what happens is, sometimes that information is not yet available. I have learned to pause my instinct and befriend time. In Negotiate to Close: How to Make More Successful Deals, Gary Karass talks about “befriending time” as one of the strongest powers in a negotiation. It helps you navigate the most important aspect of a sale: understanding the buyer’s wants and needs. He describes price as only the tip of the iceberg, and although it is the most common benefit a buyer might refer to, it is possibly the smallest one. A buyer may prefer to avoid risk, to find relief from the abyss of work on her desk, or an escape from a particular endless project. There are many benefits that sit at the base of the iceberg. Therefore, if I make the careless mistake of promising to a two-week lead time when I am well aware that it may sometimes be three, I could potentially destroy the very trust that the buyer holds most prominent in his hierarchy of wants and needs.
Demeter is the primordial mother goddess from Mount Olympus. She personifies love, dedication, and protection for her children and those she cares about. She feels pure love for the object of her attention and wants to deeply understand and heal the needs of those that she focuses on. Demeter’s symbol is a cornucopia.
Demeter is the salesperson who will truly understand the needs of her customer. She will take classes in her industry and become an expert at understanding everything that she finds value in. She listens deeply because she truly cares and makes their priorities her priorities. She builds incredible trust and lifelong loyalty with her customers because she values them above her own (or her company’s) needs. She can be an overprotective Mama Bear.
I always appreciate working with the mature mother goddess Demeter, and I am always humbled by the amount of respect and closeness that she has with her customer. She defends her customer’s needs and acts like the true “voice of the customer” brilliantly. She has a great deal of substance and experience and doesn’t allow a less experienced sales goddess to frazzle her complete dedication to her customer.
The goddess Demeter can easily pigeonhole herself into being too customer-focused, not equally advocating for her company’s strategies. She feels the loss of a customer or position so deeply that it can be traumatic.
She can be an incredible teammate to less experienced goddesses as long as they see her for the mother figure and leader that she truly is. I would always recommend that the goddess Demeter build up her other strengths, such as leading and speaking, so strongly that she can always fall back on her less emotional skills when being called out for her passion (which infuriates her, as it does for most goddesses). The next time that you are about to assess the needs of your customer, remember Demeter, your friend and mine. Know that you too are a powerful Sales Goddess.
Read more in my book The Authentic Sale, A Goddess’s Guide to Business.
Rena Cohen-First is a VP of Sales who has sold in the Food Ingredient Industry for the past 17 years, selling to the largest food and beverage manufacturers in the world. She has taught online business and leadership classes as an adjunct instructor, studied Professional and Executive Coaching, completed her MBA and Served in the US Army. She resides in San Diego with her two children and husband. Her goal is to show every woman that she can become a Sales Goddess in all circumstances. See more about Rena at: www.thesalesgoddess.com
originally posted on HuffPo: 5 Ways to Assess the Needs of Your Customer From the Greek Goddess Demeter, The Primordial Mother