How You Sell Matters More Than What You Sell

How you sell matters more than what you sell.

While those nine words make enormous sense, nearly everyone I ask agrees that common sense isn’t common practice. And even the how varies widely.

I bet you can say “yes” to this question: Have you ever been “sold to” by someone who used a “technique,” and you felt manipulated (pushed, tricked, conned, slimed, mad, etc.)? So how do you get salespeople to be polished in technique and not guilty of these adjectives?

In a word, intent.

25 years ago Dr. Stephen R. Covey published The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Like millions of others, I read it and it rocked me! I decided I wanted to work for Dr. Covey. That was 20 years ago and I’m still here. As part of our 25th anniversary celebration, I’m re-reading his landmark book. Only this time, I’m reading through a different paradigm—a sales leader’s paradigm. How do The 7 Habits apply to sales leaders, if at all?

Even before Habit 1, Stephen talks about the difference between “Personality Ethic” and “Character Ethic.” The stark contrast between these two approaches shows up in sales interactions and affects the results that flow from them.

The former smacks of a short-cut mentality. It is full of “quick-fix” techniques that promise to get others to give you what you want when you want it. They promise “you can change anything—now!” This can drive inauthentic and even manipulative behavior, as if there were some scheme or fast way to build relationships.

The Character Ethic holds that true, lasting success comes from carefully knitting proven principles into character, e.g., integrity, humility, fidelity, courage, patience, modesty, simplicity and the Golden Rule. These he describes as foundational and catalytic (an interesting word).

The Character Ethic comes to life in the sales realm when you adopt a belief that “intent counts more than technique.” Clearly, technique is important. The most well-intentioned seller without good communication or critical-thinking skills isn’t likely to succeed.

On the other hand, a focus on others’ success first is a rock-solid, character-based approach that puts you on the path to sustainable success. This isn’t just some philosophical, empty idea—there’s solid logic behind it.

If you’re going to help a client succeed, you need lots of good information from them. They’ll decide the amount and quality of what they share—and the access they give to others in the organization—based on their view of a seller’s motive. That affects you directly as a sales leader. How? Little or poor information and no access equals a much lower chance of making a sale.

As a sales leader, the chief goal is to make sure your salespeople are putting your client’s needs ahead of their own (and yours as well). I didn’t say forget about your company’s needs. That’s stupid too. It’s about sequence. Focus first on theirs. Then yours.

Get your intent right before every interaction and you’ve made a big step toward better selling. In Stephen’s words, “. . . only basic goodness gives life to technique.” Our character and motives constantly radiate from us and inform and profoundly influence others, even on a subconscious level, about what we really are rather than what we pretend to be.


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About the Author

David Marcum

David Marcum has been with FranklinCovey for over 24 years and is one of the co-founders of our Sales Performance Practice. David currently serves as managing partner for global accounts and is passionate about selling, more specifically, teaching people how to have more meaningful conversations with their clients. David has worked with numerous companies to help them sell strategic must-win opportunities and to have candid conversations that drive better qualification decisions.

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