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Permission Selling

Sep 01, 2020

by Mike Bosworth

Most of us are familiar with the term, “permission marketing.” When we sign up for an organization’s message by sharing our email, we “opt-in” to their marketing efforts. We are giving them permission to communicate with us.

 The purpose of this blog posting is to suggest that if you are selling high difficulty products and services, you will be far more successful if you can learn to do “Permission Selling.” Permission selling is the ability to get your prospects and customers to "opt-in" to your selling efforts rather than the normal buyer behavior of resisting them. Your objective with permission selling is to avoid the typical avoidance response most salespeople trigger by using the same approaches they have used their whole career that remind their buyers of previous encounters with other salespeople. Most people hate feeling ‘sold to.’

 In my 1993 book, “Solution Selling, Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets,” Strategy 1 is Recognize the Three Levels of Buyer Need. They are:

Level 1 – Latent Needs or Latent Pain (unaware they have a solvable problem)

Level 2 – Pain or “Active Need”

Level 3 – Vision of a Solution

 For people selling “difficult-to-sell” products and services, navigating these three levels of need are the source of two selling problems I continue to struggle with, even today.

 The first difficulty is teaching salespeople (particularly young and new salespeople) to build enough connection, trust, and credibility to get a targeted buyer persona (stranger) to admit a pain to them that their offering would empower the potential buyer to alleviate.

(Moving the buyer from Level 1 to Level 2)

The second selling difficulty is, once a potential prospect admits a problem, to be able to “tend” that problem, the reasons behind it and lead that buyer to a vision of being able to solve that problem if s/he had specific capabilities that are within the seller’s offerings.

(Moving the buyer from Level 2 to Level 3)

 As a prerequisite for permission selling, as a seller, I will need three sales tools for each buyer ‘persona’ my organization wants me to sell to effectively. For this example, let’s use a targeted buyer persona of a VP Sales of an enterprise B2B sales force.

 Most enterprise buyers (and people in general) are very curious about their peers. Sales tool number one is a peer story. The Story Seekers peer story format helps buyers admit their pain and problems to sellers. In that 60 second story, our VP Sales will be the ‘hero’ with a Setting, a Struggle, a Vision of a Solution and the achieved Results.

For sales tool number two, the inspiration comes from Kimberlee Slavik’s new book, VisNostic Selling, a neuroscientific approach to client-centric sales, marketing and leadership.

 Kimberlee recommends developing a short list of “I can do!” capability statements (aka VisNostic Statements) gathered from your VP Sales clients. Examples might be:

“We get our new salespeople effectively prospecting in their first two weeks on board.”

“My salespeople are able to easily build credibility, connection, and trust with new prospects.”

“80% of our salespeople make their quota.”

 I would personally want a third sales tool. This would be a few ‘talking points about common reasons why other VP Sales clients have struggled achieving these VP Sales capability statements.

 With these three tools, I am ready to do permission selling. I can now get a VP Sales to admit pain to me, help her develop an emotional vision of a solution, and help her figure out what is stopping her from getting it. All with her permission!

The next time I have a conversation with a VP Sales, I can begin permission selling by offering her a peer story with a statement like, “Can I share a quick story about a Sales VP I am working with?”

 If she says, “yes” to my offer of a Sales VP story, she is giving me permission to tell her a story about one of her PEERS. That story will be under 60 seconds and contain a Setting, a Struggle, a Solution and a Result. (Tool #1)

 If my VP Sales story resonates with her, and she becomes inspired to tell me about her particular situation and possible struggle, she is giving me permission to explore her needs further.

At that point, I would then ask her permission to read some need statements (Tool #2, listed above) I have gathered from other Sales VPs and ask her to choose one of three responses for each statement:

 -   I would LIKE to be able to say that

-   I CAN say that

-   NA (That statement does not apply to me or my situation)

 When I read VisNostic statement #1 above (we get our new salespeople effectively prospecting in their first two weeks on board) with, “I would love to be able to say that,” now I can ask, “What’s preventing you from getting them productive quickly?”

 When she answers me, she is permitting me to use my ‘talking points’ (Tool #3) to explore her situation further. I want to learn more about her difficulties getting her new hires productive.

 After that conversation, I would then circle back to her vision of achieving that capability and the potential benefits (business and personal) of being able get her newly hired salespeople effectively prospecting within two weeks of their date of hire.

 At that point, I would then summarize my understanding of her story-in-progress: Setting, Struggle, Potential Solution and Potential Results.

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