Written by Shailesh Maingi, CEO & Founder, Kineticos
When there are so many substantive things we could be discussing, does it make any sense to talk about the kind of car you drive, and your ability to sell? On the face of it, it sounds like a silly question. But maybe not. A close friend, a scientist by aptitude, training, and vocation, made a comment to me that made me think.
He made the following (valid) observations: people assume that those who drive nice cars must earn a lot of money in order to afford the nice cars they drive. To earn a lot of money, they are assumed to be successful; otherwise they couldn’t earn enough money to afford the nice cars. Further, if they are successful, then they must excel at their profession. And lastly, if they excel at their profession, then they can be trusted.
So here’s the sequence: Nice car >>Money>>Success>>Competence>>Trust
This happens in an instant, without any real thought involved – mostly as a result of shortcuts that our brains have developed to process all the information we are bombarded with. But do we really think (without thinking) in this way? Apparently, yes. From a psychology perspective, this behavior can be closely related to Association, where we all want to link ourselves with others who are successful.
Of course if we think about this for just a minute, we see the logical fallacies of the BMW to trust sequence. Just because someone drives a nice car (or lives in an expensive home, wears expensive clothes, etc.) doesn’t mean they earn a lot of money. It just means they spend a lot of money. Likewise, just because someone spends a lot of money doesn’t mean they earn a lot of money. And clearly it doesn’t mean that they are successful. For that matter, success doesn’t always mean excellence! Or excellence mean trust – I’m sure we can all think of people who excel, but are not trustworthy.
But just because something is illogical doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. We are governed by our emotions and our brain’s automation more than we realize. But don’t go out there and buy a BMW just yet in order to be a better sales person (this is my main point)! Here are a few reasons…
First, it’s innate for us to try to improve (which is good) but also to look for quick fixes, which is good for simple problems, and not so good for complex ones. In this context, improving sales effectiveness is a complex problem, so that simple solutions are unlikely to yield huge returns. Just think about it for a second- if it were easy, then everybody would do it.
Second, whatever the positive effect of driving a nice car on your sales performance, it’s a fleeting phenomenon. In fact, it is just the starting point of the relationship. First impressions, as we all know, can unravel in an instant. And yes, driving a nice car may build your social standing and help you get your foot in the door, but my experience is that it won’t help you land the deal. For complicated, long cycle sales, the key is to create value for your client by understanding the client’s priorities and their problems, and then answering the question of how you can help your clients better than your competitors.
Third, consider that the best sales people think long term, not just the initial purchase. For that, they do not exploit foibles or trick us into gaining their trust, or sell us something we don’t want. They think of the lifetime value of customers. They understand the value of referrals. They seek to understand and deliver on their promises. They work diligently to understand their customers, the market and own capabilities. They craft solutions to difficult client problems. They advocate on the behalf of their customers. They put their own needs behind their customers and their company. They act as the conductor to an orchestra. None of this happens with short term thinking.
Finally, the best sales people optimize the deployment of their capital. They ask themselves if a new BMW is the best use of their money. They let the other fellow buy the expensive car (and be burdened by the costs). They understand that a better idea is to invest in upgrading skills and knowledge. They take a sales course (on their own if they have to). They go back to school. They get an MBA. They understand Warren Buffet’s advice that the best investment is to develop our own skills.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t drive a BMW- they’re actually great cars. Go ahead if you want. Just don’t expect to close more deals.
Shailesh Maingi is the Founder and CEO of Kineticos and has a passion for the role R&D plays in improving healthcare outcomes. Mr. Maingi is also an adjunct professor at the Kenan Flagler School of Business at the University of North Carolina and serves on the board of directors for a number of biopharmaceutical, diagnostic and contract manufacturing companies.
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