What is ethical selling and how do you get your business noticed by opening, not closing, a sale
By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur.
In the recent episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, Martin Stellar, who is currently based in Granada, Spain, talked about how he’s gone from being a monk to become a sales coach. Originally from Holland, he also published a book called “ Ten Rules for Ethical Selling.”
How Do You Become an Ethical Seller
Why does a monk become a sales coach?
According to Martin, “Why?” is a very rarely asked question. Yet, it’s the perfect answer to the ethical selling conundrum. Monks are there to serve people. As an entrepreneur, if you do the selling right, you are serving the buyer in making the right decision for them. And this is where ethics come in.
Whether the buyer says it’s not for them or it’s not the right time or they say “yes” and they ask you to send the invoice, is not your problem. Your problem is: What’s the best decision? How do you get your buyer to have the best decision in their best interest? If you do this, then you’re serving them and you’re being an ethical seller.
Before becoming a coach helping people sell ethically, Martin walked a windy road. He’s been a tailor and a copywriter. He has also consulted and had training programs and a paid newsletter. It was only last year when the ethical sales coach became his single kind of brand.
He did a rebrand last summer because he realised that his passion lies in sales coaching. This is where he can help people most. Because if you want to move forward with somebody — whether it’s a buyer, your child, or your spouse — you need to communicate in a way that they feel safe and they’re comfortable with.
If you say, “Hey, don’t you see how good of a solution I have here for you?” or “How much fun we would have if we go to this movie and not to that movie,” then you’re making the other people wrong — this is what they call psychological reactance. The good way to do so is by figuring out how to serve them, get them to make the best decision, and do it in such a way that they sell themselves. This is the whole outcome of ethical selling.
Trying to close sales through the aforementioned method doesn’t work now. You can make it work if you’re a bully. But especially these days when business is a far more social element of society than it used to be, you want to see where people are stuck with their goals and how you can best help them.
This starts before you make the sale. You should help them in having the conversation to reach the clarity and the vision that enables them to make a decision on their own, voluntarily and with glee — instead of you having to take them through an awkward conversation that goes, “Now let’s talk about the money, the terms and conditions, and when you’re going to send a down payment.”
When you do it right, it’s a very natural social experience wherein both parties should feel that you’re working together forwards on something that you’re both in agreement with.
The LEAP Framework
Martin developed a framework for business, marketing, and selling called LEAP. It stands for listen, explain, ask, and profit. In here, nowhere does it say to force things with people. If you ask for a sale at the right time in the right way, then the other person will say, “You know what, how do I pay? How do we get started?”
When you listen, you have three elements. When you ask questions, you get answers but you shouldn’t trust your interpretation of the answers. They mean something and you may not know what it exactly means. This is why you need to ask more questions to figure out if you got them right. Then, in the “explain” stage, you have to pay attention to very clear and sober messaging: This is what it is, this is what it’s not what you shouldn’t expect, and this is what it’s for. These are the three elements of “explain.”
When you do these right, you earn their trust and permission so that you can go into the enrollment conversation. This is where you’re asked where sales are enrolled or where you have the word “no,” which you should welcome and stick out. Because when you hand that person their right to veto and their autonomy, they’d feel safe and feel that you’re not taking advantage of them.
The final pillar is the “open.” It’s not that you close a sale, it’s that you open a new phase in the relationship with a person. When they buy, they open a new phase in their life. Hence, it’s an invitation wherein you say, “This is what the deal looks like. You’ve heard the ins and outs, what’s in it and what’s not in it. You’ve heard the criteria that makes you able to decide whether it’s for you or not for you. What do you think, should you do this or not?” When they buy and you think that you’ve closed a sale, things actually open. And if you do that right, then you ultimately profit.
Martin’s framework flips the notion from closing a sale to opening a new relationship because the word “close” is inherently negative. And it also brings a lot of stress to both sides.
When you are in a seller position, you are sitting there feeling all kinds of conflicted and awkward emotions. It’s because you want to do your work and make your buyer happy and solve their problem.
You’re not the only one who’s feeling awkward. Because here is a buyer who has a budget and they also have a problem. Their budget is limited. They’ve tried things before and it didn’t work. Now, they’re talking to a seller and they don’t know how the seller is trying to wrangle them into a sale. This shows how the buyer, on their side, also has all kinds of awkward, stressful, conflicting, and tense notions that they need to grapple with.
If you make it about them, instead of about your own feeling awkward, they’d feel safe. They’d engage in the dialogue where you constantly find deeper levels of, What actually is the thing that means that they should buy or shouldn’t buy?
If you also couple that with looking and asking for a “no” — deliberately and explicitly making it clear that the buyer is in control; though you’re the one controlling the conversation, it’s the buyer who makes the decision — then the buyer will enroll themselves.
The Sales Process
Martin considers the sales process very similar to coaching where it’s based on the flow of the conversation and the needs and objections that arise. You need to be agile and adapt to where that person is at so that you can provide the best jumping-off points and the best questions that help them develop clarity.
What you need to remember is that if there’s no vision and clarity on what is the best idea, this person won’t make a decision. Or they’ll make the wrong decision. So you want to look for the questions that facilitate their development of better clarity — How impactful a purchase would be? Why a purchase at this time might be the wrong decision? Why should it be a different package (a bigger one or a smaller one)?
There’s no such thing as structure or a whole list of questions that you can use. But one of the questions that Martin teaches sellers to ask themselves is, Why shouldn’t you work with this person? What signals are there that tell you it’s not ideal for them or for you? A question to ask a buyer is, Why should this sale be a no? You don’t ask the reasons why they should buy something because then, they’d just feel like they’re being manipulated. You can ask them instead, Why would this be a bad idea?
When you start flipping things around, really interesting things happen. When you give someone their full autonomy and say, “Okay, tell me that this is the wrong idea for you. But we can do it like this or like that at that price point.” If you ask a question like that, you get a very strange, useful, interesting, and dynamic dialogue where somebody really appreciates you. Even if they don’t buy, they’d end up feeling respected. They’d feel, “I like that. I will talk to you again,” which is a beautiful, perfect setup.
In this setup, you’re looking for objections in order to validate the other person’s world. You tell them that it’s okay to be concerned about a particular thing and it’s absolutely right that it is a high price or a big decision or a long-term project.
When a buyer has an objection, they might be mistaken, but they’re not wrong. Because in their world, they’re making perfect sense. So if you go and try to overcome an objection, you’re making the other person feel wrong. Instead, you should tell them, “You’re right, there’s not a problem. Let’s talk about this.” This will make them feel validated. Then, you can have a conversation about whether they’re mistaken or not, or whether or not the objection can be alleviated. You want to have a conversation about objections, not bulldoze them over.
People often find the moment of potential rejection the hardest part of asking. To help you with that, Martin recommended giving that person the right to veto. Give them control. When you’re selling, keep in mind that you have a responsibility — a moral and ethical duty — to be a good steward over the process and the outcome of the other person.
When you get to the point that you need to ask what they think or what they want or whether it should be a deal or not, one of the best ways to do this is to hand back that control to them and say, “We’ve looked at the problem, the implications and the cost of the problem, the ramifications are such and such. And we’ve looked at how this program under those conditions and at this price can solve it.” Typically, they’d expect you to ask them to sign a contract already. When you follow it up with, “Where do you think you should go from here?,” it’s how you can give them control. You let them tell you what should be the next step.
If somebody is too conflicted or doubtful or has whatever reason there may be to not buy right now, the best thing that you can have is an open door where you can walk through after they’ve left. And if you’ve made them feel wrong — you’ve tried to push them and you’ve tried things that are manipulative — when you show up later on, that buyer will say, “Oh, there is that seller again.”
Whereas, if somebody says, “Well, you know, it sounds good but I don’t think I should do it right now” and your reply is “It’s fantastic, thank you. I’m really happy that you made a decision and I think you’re making the right decision. Let’s continue talking later on in the year” — when you show up months later and say “What about that conversation? Should we pick it up again?” or “Would it be a bad idea to pick up the conversation again?,” then the buyer will say, “No, it’s not necessarily a bad idea.”
When this kind of message arrives at them, they’re going to be at least open to reading your message and responding — because you’ve left everything in a very good and respectful state.
In The Context of Selling Online
How does the LEAP framework work in a different context, for instance, if you’re selling online?
To answer this, Martin said that there’s really no difference among a sole trader, a corporate sales representative, and an online sales and support staff. You’re a person with a solution and you’re talking to a person who has a need for a solution — who has a problem, looking to make the right decision, and asking you for help and making the decision.
There’s no difference between if it’s made through a chat app or with a whole sales team and Salesforce Customer Relations Management (CRM) software behind you. You’re two parties — seller and buyer — and you want to move forward together.
How are you going to do that? You do it side by side. Ian Altman calls it same side selling, wherein you’re sitting at the same side of the table, looking at this thing, and asking: How do we solve this? This is contrary to you sitting on one end and the buyer on the other and having a back-and-forth conversation. In same side selling, you’re sitting at the same side while having a chat with somebody trying to figure out what’s best for them. It really doesn’t matter where or how. David Maister also calls this a trusted advisor role.
When asked about guidance on which questions to ask when utilising decision trees with Artificial Intelligence (AI) bots, Martin said that he’s never worked on AI bots around his framework yet. He’s seen some of the things that bots can do, especially with Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) and all the tools that are coming out writing copy for you, and he thinks that it’s a very promising and interesting field.
As he hasn’t worked in that space yet, he wouldn’t know how decision tree and question structures would work. But if somebody would actually want him to have a look at one of their internal mechanisms of a chatbot, he’d love to see, advise, and give some ideas. He’d like to see what’s under the hood and know if he can tweak things to make them better.
How He Gets His Brand Noticed
Martin produces a lot of content. He writes an article every day and it goes to his mailing list and Twitter. He’s also experimented with content campaigns where there are videos. He considers content creation his thing. And if you do it right and you send something to people every day, then they will thank you for it.
He also sometimes does outreach campaigns wherein he will get a database, filter through it, and look for people who might be a candidate. Then he will do a stone-cold outreach. If you do this right, you can have people saying, “That is so lovely, thank you for the cold pitch.”
Martin also has a book titled “ Ten Rules for Ethical Selling.”
The book is a very simple collection of articles intended to give people an it’s-alright-to-be-selling kind of pat on the back — especially to those nice people who often sabotage themselves so much. Because, typically, the nicer somebody is, the more difficult it will be for them to sell themselves.
This is what he calls a good egg problem. The higher somebody’s integrities and values are, the more difficult it is for them to sell. Why is that? It’s because you don’t want to compromise on your values; you don’t want to go against your integrity. So you allow the sanctity of values to stifle you and impact your results in terms of getting sales.
Your values actually become an obstacle. Martin’s whole philosophy, writing, his book and articles, and his framework — all gears towards showing people that if you lead with values, then you sell more.
For instance, in his case, his values entail him to be honest, truthful, respectful, and not push people. This is Martin and this is how he shows up and treats his people to his best abilities. Sometimes, he has a conversation that works and doesn’t; that turns into a sales and doesn’t. However, most of the time it works because he offers value.
If you want to make all your selling and your lead generation a lot easier, more fun, and efficient, look for people who have values in common with you. Seek to engage with them. Because rapport is always one of the things that you want to have with people.
You want to get along, be on the same page, and talk about sports, the weather, or any other thing. Instead of talking about trivialities, you can skip over most of that if you bias towards and select people who share the same values with you. Because then you’ll already have a rapport and you can get them on a call.
When you look at a business, you will see that some are very cut-and-dried, and some display and wear their values on their sleeves. If you go through 10 websites, you will see two or three that will make you think, “Well I have no idea what this person stands for. Whether they’re left or right, I can’t tell.” You look at the next three and you’ll say to yourself, “They seem like nice people.” When you look at the next three, you’ll go, “Well, it’s obvious that this one stands for protecting the environment; that one stands for equal rights.”
This shows how easy it can be to see others’ values. So Martin advises selecting people who show values that are similar to yours.
To learn more about Martin Stellar and his ethical selling methodology, visit www.martinstellar.com. On his website, you can sign up and get his book and see his blog. You can also reach out to him on Twitter.
This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.
Originally published at https://eastwestpr.com on January 3, 2022.