Sales is a game. A game in which both sides are guilty of foul play. Bluffing, manipulation, and unfair tactics are an integral part of the whole process. Where in all this is a place for an authentic relationship between partners?

What game are clients playing?

Let’s start our journey to the world of games with one of the most popular card games in the world, poker. Players sit down around a table and the first hand is dealt. Now it’s time to place the first bets, and players try to work out how good their opponents’ hands are. Each player can fold, bet, wait, check, or go all-in. The winner is either the player with the strongest hand or the one who is best at bluffing. Success is determined not by one’s cards, but by the ability to master one’s own emotions, and to read and manipulate the emotions of other players.

Now let’s get back to meeting a potential client. On one side, there’s a salesman who hopes to sell something, and on the other side there’s a client who has a hidden goal: to get as much information as possible, to set a benchmark price, to get a counter offer for the current solution, and to be careful not to say something the salesman could use against him. Just like in poker, we’re dealing with bluffing, manipulation, and foul play.

While poker is based on bluffing, such activities aren’t such a good idea in sales. The salesperson plays this game without knowing its purpose or final result. The client, in turn, loses the chance to get a valuable partner who can help him boost his revenues, reduce operating costs, or solve problems that he faces. Can you act differently? How can you turn this game into a conversation between partners, where everyone gains some value?

Start with yourself

Imagine that you’re going to meet a promising new client. What is your goal? Getting to know the client and understanding their situation, or convincing them that your offer is superior to the competition’s? We usually try to convince the client of our solution at all costs. This automatically causes resistance. It’s how you start the ‘salesman-customer’ game. To change this, it’s worth stepping out of the role of the intrusive salesman and proposing a conversation between partners, in which your goal will be to get to know the client and to propose a solution only when the time is right. You should be authentic, because that’s the only way you can win the client’s trust. Forget about the role of the salesman, and instead play the role of a consultant and valuable partner. However, remember that sometimes that isn’t enough, because - as in any game - both sides have a role to play. What should you do if - despite your best efforts - the client still plays dirty?

The sales dance

Imagine that the sales process is a dance. Who do you think takes the lead? The client or the salesperson? In the traditional sales model, the client dictates the conditions and sets the rules of the game. The salesperson, in turn, often follows blindly, agreeing to all their demands. So, let’s review the tricks the client uses to ‘score’ as much as they can. Let’s also think about what you can do to not lose - either to get into a winning position or simply not let yourself be pulled into the game.

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