If there’s one thing I hate as much as you do, it’s fluffy sales advice with no teeth. But I’ve got to be honest — sell like a human or be human is the one piece of sales advice I really struggle with.
I love it because it’s actually true. And it’s a huge problem today with the advent of technology and the internet where everyone wants to automate the sales process and make it robotic.
While it’s definitely the advice that a lot of salespeople need to hear, the people who are usually giving you the advice never actually talk about how to do it.
And that’s why I end up hating it as much as I love it.
See, everyone in sales tries to be a “thought leader” by telling you some fluffy idea of what you should be doing based on Gary V’s latest video. But they usually leave you hanging on what next steps you need to take.
I want to show you how I infuse humanity into my own sales process and how it has benefited me greatly (think $100,000,000+ worth of revenue sold over my sales career). Because it’s exceptionally important if you want to succeed in sales.
6 Steps To Sell Like A Human
- Ask Great Questions And Then Actually Listen
- Trash Your Templates — Personalize Everything
- If You’re Going To Ask For Something, Give Something First
- Be Helpful. No Matter Who The Person Is
- Never Ghost Anyone. EVER
- Get To Know Them Personally. Celebrate Personal Things
1) Ask Great Questions And Then Actually Listen
How many times have you connected with someone on LinkedIn and the first thing that happens is a craptastic sales pitch?
For example, something like this:
This is everything you don’t want to do. And I immediately disconnect from anyone who does this no matter who they are. I don’t even care if their solution can help.
Instead, I’ve found the most powerful thing you can do is to ask an insightful question and start a conversation by actively listening to their response.
For example, most people will ask things like this when prospecting:
“Hey, congrats on the series B funding — way to go! Do you need help building out your sales team?”
Instead, to be more human, ask something like:
“Glad to see your hard work paying off, congrats on the B round! What does this mean for your business, growth and team?”
Get People Talking About Their Success
The truth is, people love to talk about their success! And when you ask open-ended questions, it actually gets them excited.
Plus, it positions you as someone who cares and is interested, NOT someone who wants something from them.
Then, it’s really easy to transition to a conversation around this. “You’re not alone. We’ve worked with a lot of teams who are looking to meaningfully scale at this stage. Here are some of the sales hiring pitfalls we’ve seen and some of the data to be aware of to avoid catastrophe.”
All of this, in a NON-SELFISH way.
Then you can follow it up with solutions and your pitch (when they’re ready).
But even if the fit isn’t right, they’ll still walk away feeling good about talking to you. And also like they got something out of it. Which is important, because you never know when you’ll cross paths again in the future.
2) Trash Your Templates — Personalize Everything
Real talk — I personalize EVERY SINGLE touch point with every single person I interact with. This includes every LinkedIn invitation and every new connection.
Does this level of personalization take more time and effort? You bet it does. Does it pay off? Absolutely.
For example, early last year I was knocking on the door of a startup and having a hard time getting anywhere no matter what I tried. So, I ended up digging deep into the CRO’s social footprint and saw that 2 years back he had purchased a plane and loved to fly.
From that, I created messaging that incorporated his plane/tips for maintaining it. Instantly, I got a meeting after spending more than 6 months knocking on his door!
This is the kind of work it takes to really be human in this digital world. Because as much as we think the bots are taking over, the truth is we don’t live in a one-size-fits-all kind of world.
The moment we try to be formulaic, people sense it.
That said, I have one concession on templates. If you’re spending a lot of time doing the same thing, you can certainly use a base template to work from.
There are plenty of ways to scale this through technology think about options like Apollo.ai, SalesLoft, and Outreach.io
But the takeaway here is, take some time to personalize and actually create sales emails that get responses. Too many people “copy, paste, send” without really doing the work up front.
More on that next.
3) If You’re Going To Ask For Something, Give Something First
You can’t start a relationship by trying to get something out of another person on the first go. Well, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it!
This video nails it:
The best way to get to make your first touch is simply to do your research on the person via social media.
Make An Effort To Really Get To Know Your Prospect
- What are they talking about online?
- Has their job changed?
- Are they publishing any content?
- What kind of story are their online reviews telling?
- Do they have investors?
- Can you identify their business challenges?
- The current state of their industry and marketplace
- What are their competitors doing?
Once you know what their world looks like, you’ll have a good idea of how you can do something meaningful to add value to their world.
I personally like to do this by:
- Sharing their content with my network to give them increased visibility
- Connecting them with a person they would benefit from knowing
- Sharing a piece of content they would find helpful and useful (whether it’s mine or not)
Or go back to my point above about asking good, insightful questions!
The key is to do it without expecting anything in return or making a ridiculous shameless plug of yourself.
4) Be Helpful. No Matter Who The Person Is
I get hit up every day, all day by salespeople looking for jobs. But since I only work with a handful of clients at a time, I almost always can’t connect them with an opportunity right away.
Regardless, I always respond and go out of my way to help them with their search by sharing some of my best advice.
It’s what I’d want if I were in their shoes — so why not pay it forward?
Approaching the people you interact with like this is especially true with sales prospects. Even if they’re not the right fit or the biggest, they should get the same white glove treatment. Because you never know when paths cross again.
For example, at ZipRecruiter, I was working with an independent/franchise owner for a Fortune 500 insurance company.
They had never seen that before and were so impressed with the way I had treated them. And so, they evangelized me to their regional meeting. Eventually, I was brought in by corporate to put together a national strategy.
All because I was a human treating another person like a human and not a good or bad lead.
5) Never Ghost Anyone. EVER
When I’ve had to say no to top sales candidates, instead of ghosting them, I personally call. I make it a point to share lessons learned and ways I can help them regardless of the outcome. The truth is, I genuinely want them to be successful, even though this wasn’t the right fit. So even though I don’t get anything out of it, I take the time to do so.
And you know what? Two of my most recent clients came from those exact same people because of how I treated them and my process/approach.
Straight up — the person you’re trying to sell to could be the person that is going to hire you tomorrow. Think about that before you slide out the side door.
6) Get To Know Them Personally. Celebrate Personal Things
It’s the little things that add up. And it’s why I do things like sending hand-written cards, remembering milestones in my clients’ business, sending gifts etc.
But when you get to know someone personally, doing things to celebrate the moments outside of work can pay off in huge ways.
For instance, I just sent a dad survival kit to a former client that’s expecting their first child.
This was his text to me:
Not only that, he personally called me on his short list of people to tell me the news.
Who do you think he’s going to call first when he’s in the middle of his sales hiring process?
All of these points are just implementations of an age-old proverb you’ve heard a million times. The Golden Rule:
“Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
The salespeople who put that mindset on every single day are the ones seeing success.
One other key point here — if you’re in sales, learn to love the conversation.
Slow down, let go of the need to sell, take an interest, and be curious. Be HELPFUL and get to know those around you, just like you’re making friends.
Making friends is fun and so are conversations when you approach them in a human way!
Note: this was originally featured in Sales Hacker.