I was a 19 year old high-school dropout, selling financial investments worth tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands Euros. My clients where old enough to be my parents or even grandparents. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs—much more sophisticated, experienced and educated.
Yet, they were trying to get my approval, hoping I'd let them buy from me. How did I pull this off?
I owe much of this to the fact that I came from nothing. It forced me into a creative hustle. Rather than tweak little things here and there, I needed to take a step back and look at the big picture to make it all work.
The typical sales scenario
Typically the dynamics of a sales situation look like this: The seller tries to push, coerce and bullshit his way to a close.
The buyer protects himself and tries to shut the seller out. If the seller is a pro, he manages to break down their defences and finally get them to buy.
Next, doubts kick in. Buyer's remorse. Especially with financial services. Friends and family of the customer tell him, "Are you crazy?! Why did you sign this thing?"
The buyer cancels his contract and stops taking phone calls from the salesperson.
I didn't like this game at all. So I tried to rewrite the rules.
You're not allowed to buy from me
Whenever I reached the end of my sales presentation, I'd finish like this: "Dear prospect, I only sell to people who really understand that their decision is a good one. I only sell to people who did their homework and who are sure that what they're buying is good for their financial future. So here's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to allow you to buy from me today."
Most of the time they didn't want to buy from me anyway, but that didn't matter at this point. It was almost shocking to people after sitting through a sales presentation like this to be told they wouldn't be able to buy.
"I want you to study these materials. We're going to meet again next week, and I expect you to understand these materials really well. This is your money. This is your financial future. This is really important."
See how this is the exact opposite of what they expect a salesperson to do? Rather than trying to push them to sign a contract, I was urging them to think this over.
"I want you to study these materials, research them, and next time when we sit down together, I want you to have prepared a list of questions to further deepen your understanding of these products. And then I'm going to quiz you, I'm going to test your knowledge on the subject. And only if you pass this test will I allow you to actually buy into these things.
I don't feel comfortable selling these things to people who don't have all the knowledge to make an educated and well-informed choice for themselves. So here's how the deal will work: take these materials. Study them. And we'll see each other in seven days. And if you pass the test successfully, you can buy."
This always amazed people. They've never experienced anything like this. It totally transformed the dynamic between salesperson and prospect. It was now framed as a partnership, and they would have to pitch me to accept them!
The next time we met ...
When the day came, my prospects were often anxious, like a kid in school before an exam. Sometimes they had studied the materials carefully, and sometimes they didn't, and were frantically reviwing the material in the last minute.
I would start out with a couple of really basic questions.
If they passed, the questions got a bit more difficult.
Most of the time, the prospect passed some and failed some. That was ok. The whole situation was about challenging them a bit.
When they answered something incorrectly, we'd discuss it, and I'd help them to gain the proper understanding of the facts.
What happened after the quiz?
Once we'd successfully completed the test, what do you think happened next? Most people would assume I'd go for the close here. But that's not what I did. Because in financial services, there's a really high rate of people who sign something and then a week later cancel the contract.
So as a salesperson, it's not enough to make them sign the dotted line—you need to really instill a deep sense of confidence in their decision in them.
Typically once someone commits to an investment, there will be friends and family who create all kinds of anxieties and sow the seeds of doubt, which ultimately will cause the client to back out of the contract.
How to inoculate against buyer's remorse
So instead of asking for the close after the passed test, when they had a deeper understanding of the financial vehicle I wanted them to invest in, I'd challenge them.
Young Steli: "Listen, when you make a decision about your financial future like this, people will question you. Do you really think this is a good investment for you?"
Prospect: "Yes, of course, because blablbla."
Young Steli: "Well, if you go to work tomorrow and you tell your colleagues about this, and they'll tell you about someone else who lost money investing, how are you going to answer?"
Prospect: "Oh, I'l say that this investment is backed by the federal authority of blablabla."
I would prep them on how to deal with objections from the outside world. And we'd go through a series of these objections that people would often encounter when they made a decision like this.
That's how I instilled confidence in them. I coached them through the process. I equiped them with answers to questions and objections they'd encounter. I helped them refine and improve upon their answers.
All of my customers were able to stand their ground confidently when challenged by others.
That feeling when you sign a contract?
Do you know that feeling you have when you sign a long, complicated contract that involves a lot of money? It's kind of ambivalent, right? On the one hand, you want it, but there's also that voice in your head that's questioning and doubting. Anxiety arises. You're wondering: "Is this a good decision? Will this come back and bite me one day in the future?"
My clients? They never felt that way.
They weren't just confident, they felt proud. They felt competent.
They felt like we were partners in this, and viewed me as a trusted advisor. Nobody thought of me as a 19 year old high school dropout.
Referrals instead of cancellations
After they signed the contract and told others about it, the exact thing that I had prepared them for happened. People told them how foolish it was of them to sign. But my clients were prepared—they were able to stand their ground and defend their decision with well-formed arguments.
You know what that did? It gave them respect from their peers. Which matters a lot more than most of us care to admit. They felt proud to know more about these financial vehicles.
My customers actually called me up, telling me stories of how they handled the doubters.
What's more, these people who were so alarmed when they heard about the contract my customers signed now wanted to get in on this too. And some of them later became my clients.
Not only did I close a lot more deals, but I also enjoyed my business a lot more and had much better relationships with my clients.
How can you apply this?
Whatever it is that you're selling, no matter the complexities involved, take a step back and think big picture. How can you change the dynamics?
- What are the dysfunctional dynamics in my market between sellers and buyers?
- How can I change those dynamics?
- How can I create a relationship where we see eye to eye?
- How can I create scenarios where they pitch me, instead of just the other way around.
- How can I position myself to ask them: Why should I let you buy? Why are you a good customer?
It can make a dramatic difference in your sales results.