Tuesday, August 26, 2014

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It: How to Sell More With Maxims

The language we use on sales calls, and in our day-to-day lives has a strong effect on the ways other people perceive and respond to us. It's never just what we're saying, but how we phrase it that determines how others will react. This is hardly a novel idea - the study of rhetoric dates back thousands of years - there have been thousands of books, and endless amounts of discussion on the matter. This idea as a whole is far too big for me to tackle in a single blog post (or even a single lifetime), so today I'll be focusing on a very narrow slice of it: the role of maxims in persuasion.Maxims are short, pithy phrases which are widely used and recognized as "common truths" in a given society. It is important to note that, insofar as we are principally concerned with their persuasive power, maxims do not always translate across languages or cultures. Even if their meaning can be understood and conveyed, the true strength of maxims comes from their familiarity. To understand why this is important to their application, you need to know how and why they should be used. Briefly stated, maxims are used to establish authority, and induce consent.When we use a maxim on a call, we are employing a very low-risk tool which helps nurture the prospect's perception of us as a trusted advisor. When used in appropriate context and worked seamlessly into the dialogue (more on that later), these short sayings can pack a big punch. Maxims are regarded with almost axiomatic reverence - they are universal, self-evident truths which everyone knows. Furthermore, they are often lessons we learn at a very young age - whether it's through a collection of Aesop's Fables, or a lecture from a parent or mentor, chances are strong that our first exposure to these aphorisms was in our developing years. By invoking them at the right time on a call, not only do we position ourselves as mouthpieces of wisdom, we can make the prospect think back to the time they first heard it. The psychological shift here is small, but powerful - not only have we framed ourselves as the authority, but we've also guided the prospect to think back on their youth - a time when they were more inexperienced, bold, and open to suggestion and guidance - all of which are traits we want to encourage and nurture in the sales cycle.The second (and more consistent) benefit to proper use of maxims is that it elicits a 'yes.' As I mentioned before, these sayings are regarded as universal truths - a prospect might disagree with you, or the value proposition you're presenting, but they can't disagree with a maxim. Once again, there's psychological benefit here - a lot of call centres preach the importance of establishing a 'yes culture'. They encourage you to ask a lot of closed-ended questions throughout the call, to which the answer is very likely to be 'yes', so that when you ask for the business, you have that momentum working in your favour. This is effective in short-cycle, transactional sales, but not always preferable in more nuanced, consultative ones. However, when we are looking to secure some kind of commitment from the prospect (whether it's closure of a sale, agreeing to a follow-up meeting, or referring us to another decision maker or influencer), it's never a bad idea to try building some 'yes momentum' - and maxims are a great place to start.

Finally, I just want to leave you guys with a few examples of maxims I use often, and the situations in which they might come up, to give you an idea for how you can take this idea and run with it on your own."Nothing ventured, nothing gained"This is a personal favourite of mine, both inside and outside of sales calls. This is great to drop whenever a prospect comments on the fact that you're asking him to take a risk, or leap of faith.Prospect: Hang on now, you're asking me to commit to investing $3,500 in a service I've never tried before?Sales Rep: Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?Prospect: I suppose that's true.Sales Rep: Look, I know how it sounds - but all I'm asking for is the chance to prove myself to you - give me the benefit of the doubt once, and I promise you I will never have to ask for it again."An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"This is a great one to drop whenever you're trying to position your product or service offering as a preventative measure against some undesirable situation.Sales Rep: Can I interest you a protective case to go with the phone?Prospect: No, it comes under warranty anyway, right?Sales Rep: It does, 30 day retailer's and 6 month manufacturer's, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, don't you think?Prospect: Well, let me take a look at the cases..."Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater"There are applications for this I haven't thought of, I'm sure - but I use it in situations where I'm suggesting a prospect re-allocate a large chunk of their budget, but don't want to make it seem like I think everything they're doing right now is fruitless.Prospect: So you're suggesting I just stop everything I'm doing and go with you?Sales Rep: Of course not - I think you've got a couple really great programs now, and I'd never tell you to stop doing something that was working for you - we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, do we?Prospect: No, definitely not. See, I'm getting decent traffic from AdWords, but my SEO Campaign is bringing me nothing...These examples only scratch the surface of what's possible with maxims - the keys to keep in mind when thinking of your own:

Maxims should always be used to reinforce a point you're trying to make. Don't just throw them around willy-nilly - make sure you're using them in the right spots.

Wherever possible, try to phrase them as questions, which are always more powerful than statements.

Always keep cultural relevance in mind. The more obscure a maxim, the less useful it is - remember, the strength comes from familiarity.
So with that in mind, I'm eager to hear some of the ideas you guys come up with - do you use maxims on sales calls as well? After reading through this, have you thought of any you think might work for you? Please leave any thoughts or questions in the comments below, and if you found this post useful, please share it with others who might think so, too.

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