5 Ways Humility Works in Sales

Using humility in the sales profession can get you results. Where success is often thought to come from persistence and determination, humility in sales will help you break barriers between you and your prospect.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.” — Rick Warren

It is imperative then that sales people have humility when interacting with a customer. How can you do your job unless you’re able to understand what your prospect needs? Stepping into the shoes of a prospects and setting your own persona aside will help you sell to their emotions and be authentic in the way you interact.

The moment a person identifies you as a salesperson their defenses go up. The salesman stereotype is embedded into our culture. We’re all too familiar with picking up the phone and hearing the overly polite voice on the other end ask us for some of our precious time. Then push us down the “yes” funnel until it is near impossible to say no.  To avoid being obnoxious like this focus your energy on the customer and to pick up on what their real objection is. This is easier to write on paper than to put into practice so below are several examples of how using humility will create results. This is 5 ways humility works in the sales.

1.    Cold Calling

Often your first contact with a prospect and the most feared aspect of sales, this will set the tone of the relationship going forward. “Most salespeople think that selling is “closing.” It isn’t. Selling is opening” says Michael E. Gerber, Author of The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It.  Are you pitching a potential customer on how your company’s product is better than the competition for x, y and z reasons? Newsflash: your competitors are saying the exact same thing in their opening calls. To differentiate, don’t just present a trend or piece of information from the market space but be authentic and empathetic. Focus on their reaction and empathize with them. Too often when prospects react negatively it throws the whole conversation off. That doesn’t have to happen. Have some humility and realize that the call isn’t about you, it’s about the prospect. If what you brought to them didn’t interest them find out why.

2.    Understanding the Customers Business

Salespeople are told to act as their prospects strategic advisor. Yet it is impossible to build the trust required to become an advisor without humility. If you’re only focused on what your company can do, there’s no way you will be able to connect with and eventually help your prospect. Situations like this often come up on an introductory call. Instead of asking questions to get a better understanding of the customer, a sales team will only ask questions to satisfy the team’s criteria for a good opportunity. This is not “thinking of oneself less”. To have a truly solution centered debate with a customer you have to have a strong understanding of the customers businesses. This is the track advocated for in The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversations by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. In order to truly understand how a customer’s business operates you have to put energy towards understanding what makes them successful.

3.    Negotiations

Negotiation may come into play at any stage of the sales process whether it’s deciding on next steps or finalizing the closing price. At any point during a negotiation, having humility and focusing on the other person will allow us to identify their mood or behavior and properly respond. In this sense humility allows us to truly listen to another person and use “Tactical Empathy”, a technique used by Chris Voss, CEO and Founder of The Black Swan Group Ltd and former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI. “Empathy describes the ability to understand someone else’s point of view, even when you don’t agree with that view.” By showing that you understand what your negotiating counterpart is saying in a non-judgmental way, you lower the defensive barriers that prevent effective communication. This makes any interaction much more productive and straightforward.  

4.    Building Trust

Building a solid relationship in a sales situation can only be accomplished with a foundation of trust. While one may be able to make a short term sales using discounts and other incentives, there will be no lasting customer loyalty without an authentic sales team. Simon Sinek, Author and organizational consultant, points to manipulation as the main cause of the lack of customer loyalty that plagues many businesses. In his best-selling book Start With Why, Sinek argues that authenticity of purpose is what creates an ideal salesperson. Have the humility to be authentic. Don’t oversell your abilities or what services you can provide your customers in an attempt to get the short term sale. A truthful approach will cut through the volumes of embellished sales speak that arrive in executives mailbox’s day after day. I recently spoke with an analyst about the best way to approach IT executives. He told me that truth telling would get me a hell of a lot further than presenting a trend that hundreds of other reps were sending. Being honest and helpful will take you far.

5.    Handling Customer Objections and Complaints

The moment a customer voices a complaint or objection sales reps will often run the other direction not wanting their ego tied up in a potential conflict. Why does this have to be the case? Taking a dose of humility removes you from the equation and focuses your attention on the customers’ needs. Borrowing another technique from Chris Voss, I’ve used empathetic statements with customers who were frustrated or upset to show them I’m listening to not just what they are saying but also what they’re feeling. By using statements beginning with “It seems like” “It sounds like” and “It looks like” it’s possible to bring any negative thoughts or emotions out into the open to be dealt with. This also makes the customer feel they’ve been heard, which can be extremely powerful in tense situations. Taking the defensive and self-serving approach to objection handling will only create more tension in a relationship. Focusing on yourself less in a situation like this will remove stress from the interaction and make your customer feel better.




Harrison Fetter