Don’t Be One Skill Away From Success…Learn Sales

If you want to learn how to sell to anyone then you’ve got to learn sales and you’re in the right place. Sales are sales are sales period. It doesn’t matter what you are selling or to whom you are selling, the principles are the same and certain techniques will greatly increase your ability to ABC (Always Be Closing) every sale. Looking further in this post we will examine what expert negotiators (experts in sales) use in their pitch but first a short story that teaches a very important principle about how to sell:

An old king dreamed one night that all his teeth had fallen out. Upon waking, he was very perplexed as to what the dream meant and so he called all his servants to interpret the dream. They all realized that what it meant was that all his family would soon die and he would be alone. After drawing straws to see who would tell the king one finally summoned the courage to break the bad news to him. As the king waited eagerly to know the truth he said, “Well, what does it mean?” The servant explained that the dream meant that all his family would soon die and he would be alone. “This is outrageous!!”, the king shouted. He was so infuriated that he ordered all those servants to be sentenced to death.

Still perplexed as to the meaning of his dream he sent out a notice to his top servant to find the best dream interpreter. Alas, the servant proudly gave the king the news that he had found the best interpreter in the entire kingdom. A letter was sent out to the dream interpreter to come to the Kings palace to tell him what was the meaning of his dream.

On the day he was summoned, he went gayly up to the palace but stopped short by a troubling sight. All the King’s servants were being put to death. He inquired of the meaning of the terrible sentence and they told him they had interpreted his dream which made him very angry. The dream interpreter asked what the dream was and what was their interpretation. They told him the dream was that all the king’s teeth had fallen out. They also told him that the interpretation was that all the king’s family would shortly pass away and he would be alone. This troubled the dream interpreter because he too knew that that was the true meaning of the dream.

As he continued on to the palace he hung his head in despair. What would he tell the king, he thought. Knocking on the palace doors still fearful of his life, the king invited him in with much angst and asked “What is the meaning of this dream?” The dream interpreter thought for a moment and then said, “The meaning of your dream is this, that you will live a long life. So much so that you will live longer than anyone in your family.” After hearing the news, the king was so pleased that he awarded the dream interpreter half the kingdom.

So putting all fairytales aside my point is, you can sell anything you want to someone. The trick is not in what you are trying to sell, the trick is how you sell it.

Eric Barker talks about some secrets from a top FBI negotiator on his blog “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” that will improve your selling techniques. His techniques are geared toward how you can sell your cable company on lowering your cable bill but the idea is the same.


He says, “[Have you] ever [felt] like the cable company or your phone service provider is charging too much? Ever feel helpless to do much about it? You’re not crazy.

When you call them the customer service rep is reading from a script. I know somebody who has worked on producing those scripts — he’s a Harvard trained negotiator. An expert. He makes sure the phrasing triggers reciprocity and subtly includes a number of other techniques to benefit them — and not you.

So when you talk to the person reading that script you’re basically going up against a top tier negotiator. Totally not a fair fight. And that bugs me. A lot.

If they have experts helping them, we should have experts helping us. So I called a friend who is an expert.

Chris Voss was the FBI’s lead international hostage negotiator. He’s taught negotiation at Harvard, Georgetown, and USC. He’s also CEO of the Black Swan Group.

Chris is going to show us a number of methods he’s used for dealing with hostage takers, terrorists and other people almost as scary as Comcast. Chris and I specifically discussed how you can lower your cable bill but these concepts will work for most any service provider you’re dealing with. [Or in almost any selling situation you may find yourself in.]

Here’s what you’ll learn in this [discussion]:

  • How to find out what to ask for.
  • The most effective way to speak.
  • Jedi Mind Trick phrases that get them to pay attention and get them off script.
  • How to make them like you.
  • The technique that makes them see your point of view without making demands.

Let’s get to it…

1.  Do A Little Homework

Not a ton. But negotiation studies show that good results are correlated with time spent preparing. Check what specials and discounts your cable company is offering new customers. [Also, check what your customer/potential customer may be lacking/searching for.] Here’s Chris:

Look at what they’re offering new customers. By and large their rates for new customers are going to be slightly below market rates. That’s why they think it’s going to attract people. You can also take a look at what their competitors are offering but they will have done that research for you. That’s why they’re offering the price they’re offering because they’re getting it from the marketplace.

Okay, you know what you’re looking to get out of this. But before we think about what to say, it’s important to think about how to say it.

2.  Use the “Late Night FM DJ Voice”

No, you don’t have to do a Barry White imitation. The point is to make sure your voice is projecting calm and warmth.

Chris couldn’t be jumpy or angry when talking with hostage takers and you probably won’t get far like that dealing with battle-hardened customer service people either. They’re used to dealing with crazy people; they have a script for it.

Calm is largely a matter of slowing your speech down. Warmth comes from smiling while you speak. Here’s Chris:

Customer service people are so used to being attacked that this has to be the first step. It’ll either prevent them from putting their guard up or make them less leery in dropping their guard. It’s just a matter of slowing down a little bit and pacing. I think one of the things that has the tendency to make a difference in how it sounds is actually whether or not you’re smiling when you speak.

Time to start talking [and selling your idea]. What you say first is very important. It’s one of his favorite Jedi Mind Tricks.

3.  Start With “I’m Sorry”

Are you wondering why you should start with “I’m sorry”? Well, so will they. Here’s Chris:

When the first thing you say to someone is “I’m sorry”, they think, “What in the world is going on with this person that’s causing them to say I’m sorry? I’ve got to take a look at this guy or gal.” In a very non-threatening way, you have forced them to take a look at you to figure out what’s going on.

So you’ve got their attention, they’re curious and surprised. What other effect does it have? It also makes them feel good. Here’s Chris:

It’s amazingly disarming. They know that they haven’t spoken to you at all so they’re amazed that you’re showing them that much respect to start off with. There’s great power in deference. A lot of people want to dominate a conversation, control a conversation and they forget about how much it causes your counterpart to raise their guard. When you’re very deferential, the other side has a tendency to drop their guard and they feel powerful because you’ve empowered them. What they don’t understand is that you’re the source of that power and if you can empower them you can also take it away. So it puts you in a tremendous position of advantage. You’ve already initiated the negotiation and the other side has no idea that you’re already working on them to get them to drop their guard.

What’s the next Jedi Mind Trick Chris recommends?

4. This May Sound Harsh…

Anticipating what I’m going to say next? Of course you are. And whatever I say, frankly, isn’t going to be as scary as whatever you just imagined.

So that’s why Chris recommends you use the phrase, “This is going to sound harsh…” It holds people’s attention and whatever comes afterward is a relief. Here’s Chris:

Whatever we think of that horrifies us seems huge and having braced ourselves for something terrible and horrifying whatever comes next is always less than what we expected. We feel relieved and it seems easy in comparison.

So you said you were sorry, and warned them that the next thing was going to sound harsh. You have their attention and they’re wondering what is going to come next… So what comes next?

5. Turn A Complaint Call Into An Appreciation Call

Developing empathy with the other side is a huge part of the FBI Behavioral Change Stairway. And with customer service people, it’s not easy.

They’ve probably fielded a 100 other calls like this with people meaner, smoother, cooler, whatever-it-is than you are. And they’re probably tuned out. They’re jaded and they’re just reading what the script tells them to say.

Their shields are up. How do we bring them down? It’s called “forced empathy.” Here’s Chris:

“Forced empathy” is an incredibly strategic way to make them see your point of view without them knowing that it’s being forced on them. In a recent [post,] Daniel Pink was talking about how important autonomy is to people’s motivation. The minute you start trying to force something on someone you’re taking away their autonomy and they’re getting their guard up.

You need to avoid the predictable. Leading with “I’m sorry” is actually a method of forced empathy as well.

Chris knows about this firsthand from dealing with terrorists (no, not the variety that works at Comcast). When they hear predictable phrases from FBI negotiators it was very very bad. Here’s Chris:

The minute we fall into predictable dialogue, the terrorists are looking at each other and saying “Yeah, our leaders told us you were going to say that.” And that makes them believe in the direction they were already going in even more.

So how do you use “forced empathy” and resist being predictable? Turn a complaint call into an appreciation call. Here’s Chris:

The last thing they expect you to do is appreciate what their company has done for you. Because customer service, by definition, is there to field complaints. They don’t field appreciation calls. So start off by saying, “Your company provides phenomenal service. I’m getting a great bargain and I’m a little embarrassed that I’m calling in and asking for a better deal because what your company is providing is worth every single dime that you’re charging me.”

They’re paying attention and they like you — so now it’s time to assert.

6. A Focused Comparison With An Open-Ending Question

You don’t want to demand anything. That’s another autonomy struggle. But if you make a solid comparison then the conclusion in your head will appear in their head — and then they’re much more likely to accept it. Here’s Chris:

You lay out the empathy and then you lay out the reality and then you hit them with a “how” question. That’s a forced focus comparison. Here’s x and y — how do these two things lineup? Again, that’s why you need to say it with the late night FBI DJ voice. It’s got to be very gentle. It’s got to be very deferential so they don’t feel backed into a corner.

So how do you construct a focused comparison? For the cable company scenario let’s compare the two relevant billing schemes: loyal customers who pay their bills on time every month have to pay higher prices than strangers off the street. Does that sound fair to you? BOOM. There’s your point of attack.

But we don’t want to be too confrontational. You want them on your side. Chris explains how one of his students worded it perfectly:

He called in and he went on and on and on about how good the service was and then he said, “I’ve been a loyal customer and I’ve always paid my bill on time and then I find out that with the great value that I’m getting and the tremendous amount of loyalty that I’ve been providing that you guys are offering better deals to people who have never paid you a dime and never been a loyal customer.” He said, “How am I supposed to live with that?” The next thing he heard was the sound of crickets. Because the person on the other end of the line had no answer, it was just dead silence.

And that silence is key. Effective pauses are a key tool of FBI hostage negotiation. Here’s Chris:

Any great open ended question has got to be followed with silence. You have to let the other person respond. If you don’t, you may completely bail them out and take them off the hook. Again, that’s a very deferential approach. It’s not forcing them to answer directly but it is indirectly because you were the last person to speak.

And, yes, his student got a much better deal on his cable package.

(To read more tips from Chris click here.)

Okay, let’s review and learn my favorite insight of all.

Enough Reading. Time For Doing.

Here’s the script from Chris:

  • Do a little homework. Find out what they’re offering new customers. [Or find out some information about the person you’re selling to]
  • Late night FM DJ voice. Speak in calm, measured tones and smile as you talk.
  • Start with “I’m sorry.” It grabs their attention and empowers them. [They also feel respected]
  • “This is going to sound harsh…” It sets them up for something big and makes whatever you say a relief.
  • Turn a complaint call into an appreciation call. This is forced empathy. They’ll want to help you.
  • A focused comparison with an open-ended question.  And it’s probably going to bring your bill down a lot.

This isn’t yelling and shouting. It’s not hardball with numbers flying back and forth. None of that works for saving hostages and it doesn’t work all that well for cable and phone companies either.

The most effective system is a lot more subtle. As Chris is fond of saying:

The most dangerous negotiation is the one you don’t know you’re in.

 This article originally appeared at Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Copyright 2015. Follow Barking Up The Wrong Tree on Twitter.

I’ve tried these techniques on friends, family and customers only to find them wildly successful in closing the sale I was pitching. After all, every time you have to win someone onto your side or get them to buy into your method of thinking, you are selling your idea. “Don’t be one skill away from success…learn sales.”

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