by Randy Sabourin
Coaches tell us that continuous practice of the basics is vital regardless of what level of success one has attained. In a profession where success is determined by performance in real time, practice is critical. Many professions implement this approach but sales people and business leaders generally do not.
The methodology of our PVC Sales and Relationship Management training program is considered by many to be advanced. It explores concepts like political acumen, counter-tactics and client relationships relative to that of competitors. We are increasingly being asked to adapt the program to a less experienced sales force. During the two-day PVC Fundamentals Program we spend approximately half the time on preparation (organizing, research, strategy, tactics, value propositions, etc.), and half on face to face client interaction (status, style, improvisation, objection handling, closing skills, appointment making, communication, etc.).
Successful veterans and first time sales people alike can benefit from ‘brushing up’ on some of the basics. There are numerous skills that successful sales people utilize for client interactions. Among the most important are increased awareness, listening, status manipulation, and improvisation. But one that is often overlooked is mirroring or mimicking.
Conventional sales wisdom tells us that matching a client’s posture, leaning in or folding one’s arms, helps the client relate to the sales person. The value of mimicking goes deeper than this and can have far greater value. In his book Honest Signals Sandy Pentland explores the type of unconscious signals that influence people to bestow trust. Pentland narrows down the most important, “honest”, signals as Influence, Mimicry, Activity and Consistency. People tend to mimic each other automatically and unconsciously – a behaviour that is believed to be due to our brain’s generous endowment of mirror neurons. His research shows that although the process is unconscious, mimicking behaviour increases trust between individuals. Mimicry is an unconscious signal of empathy, which of course can play a key role in successful sales transactions. Taking the research farther, Jeremy Bailenson and Nick Yee created a computer-animated experiment at Stanford University. Their cartoon-like stick figure delivered a 3 minute sales pitch to students. Half the students saw the animation with simple pre-recorded movements, while the rest saw the same stick figure mimicking their movements delayed by four seconds. The students being sold by the mimicking figure ‘liked’ their agent more, found it to be friendlier, more interesting, more honest, more persuasive, and were able to recall additional details from the presentation. In the final analysis, adding mimicry to the sales pitch increased sales by 20%! Try to think of one other sales technique that increases sales by 20%! Certainly not a colour pie chart! The key to mimicking successfully in a sales call is to be subtle; it is an unconscious process built on trust.
Status manipulation is another valuable application of mirroring skills. Status is the relative hierarchy between two people, or one person and group, (or even a person and an object). The “trusted advisor” sales person increases her status when asked a question by a more upright posture, by speaking with authority, making eye contact, leaning in slightly. When the client gives an opinion, the sales person reduces her status so that her client feels like the most important person in the room. Mimicry is a great way to bring your status back to neutral! [For for details on status in sales read Sales & Status – Business Improvisation at its Most Valuable].
Mimicking can also be very effective in situations such as coaching, conflict resolution, or similar circumstances where you need to be accepted in order to create calm or trust within a group of people. Practice at lunch with friends, in a meeting at the office, or even while observing strangers in a coffee shop. Mimicry is a skill that every sales person should know, but we often neglect to sharpen it. With recent research defining its value quantitatively, (20%!), it seems we should all brush up this skill and see what a little practice might yield in our next sales call.