Givers and Takers
Strike the right balance to earn trust of prospects
Towards the end of last year, I had the opportunity to attend AWS re:Invent in-person. For those not familiar with the event, it is a week-long annual conference in Las Vegas hosted by Amazon Web Services. It is filled with major product announcements, hands-on workshops, technical talks, and networking.
The networking part took on even more prominence this year given that the 2020 event was entirely virtual. For many in attendance, it was the first in-person event they had attended in nearly two years. Other than the masks, things looked pretty close to normal, with lots of dinners and parties as well as handshakes and hugs.
I had a heavily packed agenda over the course of the week that also included several partner events. I woefully underestimated the number of people I would meet and came back from re:Invent with stacks of business cards, notes on cocktail napkins, and reminders on my phone to circle back after the conference.
Fast forward a month later, I finished cleaning up my contacts and adding folks that I had not yet connected with on LinkedIn. Most people were responsive and connected. Some even sent nice reply messages. Then there was this note immediately after accepting my connection request.
Bold move, my friend. Bold move.
We could quibble on the timing or whether such a request was even appropriate or not. For me however, it immediately called to mind a lesson I learned early on in my sales career. If all you ever do is take, no one is going to want to give.
There are two types of people in the world, those who are givers and those who are takers. Even though I generally dislike framing things like this, there is some truth in this statement. There are people that are generally selfless versus people who are selfish.
It is not binary though, each of us sits at some spot along a spectrum. To be at the extreme end of one or the other would border on pathological. You would either be a diabolical grifter or an incredibly gullible pushover. A person exhibiting positive self-esteem and healthy boundaries balances the needs of the selfless versus selfish.
The giver-taker spectrum is also situational. When someone is in an emergency, most people would instinctively jump in selflessly to help the person in need. Then there are times when you may be under enormous stress, so you take a few days off for your own self-care. Even though the connotation of the word selfish is negative, the notion of addressing your own needs first is an important aspect of being a functioning and contributing member of society.
The reason the sales profession has a negative reputation is because many perceive sellers as takers. This immediately sets up a wall of distrust in the buyer-seller dynamic that is incredibly hard to overcome. This sometimes leads to salespeople overcompensating and shifting radically to giving mode, which does little to earn trust or create balance in the relationship.
There is also the situation where salespeople begin to stonewall in order to get concessions or information. This rarely works because prospects often have other options and the effect of being difficult creates even further distrust. This is most often seen in overly confrontational qualifying questions or invasively overreaching for internal information, like company org charts, before a level of trust has been established.
Successful sales professionals instead employ a give-verify-ask approach. While specific tactics will differ, the concept has three specific actions taken by the seller. First, you provide something of value to the buyer, which might be information, a demo, pricing, etc. Second, you verify that what you provided was valuable and addressed the need. Third, once the buyer confirms that the thing you provided is adequate, then you ask a question in context with the ask that gives you insight into their buying process or request that advances your deal forward.
As an example, let’s look at the following conversation:
Buyer: So what would be the per seat pricing over the course of one year?
Seller: The price based on what we discussed is $1080 per seat for the year. Does that give you a clear view into costs?
Buyer: Thanks, that helps.
Seller: Given the overall costs to bring in this solution, would that be in the expected range budgeted for your initiative?
The above exchange looks basic enough, but it can be extended to any interaction a seller has with a buyer. The elements of this snippet of dialogue is that it follows the give (providing price), the verification (does that address the question of cost), and the ask (is it in the budget).
There are also two other critical elements of the give-verify-ask approach. The first aspect is that the “ask” is in context. You can see a natural progression from what was given to what is asked in a way that flows. If the seller had instead asked about the names of the stakeholders, that could trigger the buyer to mistrust the seller. The second aspect is that the size of the “ask” is proportional to what is given. If the “ask” was to set up a meeting with a decision maker, that would also cause the seller to pull back.
Hopefully this provides some practical guidance to enhance the level of conversations with your prospects and customers. The point is not to dwell on whether you are a giver or taker, but to weave between each in order to earn trust, build credibility, and foster rapport. And also, if you do connect with a prospect over LinkedIn, think twice before you immediately ask for an org chart of their company.
Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum
The Enterprise Sales Forum is a professional community championing the practice of sales through monthly sales talks at chapters globally. Our chapters provide an open, collaborative and diverse environment to share new ideas, network and learn actionable insights for professional sales development.
Man, such a topic for both sales and entrepreneurs. Good read.
My lunch break thoughts:
True givers in sales are rare (< 1/5). I'm marrying one of them. I'm not one. They often struggle with saying no. And can get taken advantage of, as some of Adam Grant's research suggests. There's a book called Boundaries that is like the bible for givers. Probably if you are in sales, you are not a giver. And that's okay.
Because a lot of people (most, IMHO) might be trying to be a giver because they think it's the "right" thing to do. Then they say something like "it's not working / why are people like this". Maybe they are/were looking for something in return. And didn't get it. They we're looking for a fair trade. This is most sales people. And that's okay.
Takers can be a pain in the ass. But also quite rare in sales (<1/10), I think. Just can't succeed at scale like that. I've seen more buyers be takers than sales people. Mining folks for free stuff and then ghosting them because they feel like they deserve it or something. But usually they've just been burned in the past and feel like they have to be a certain way. Or they have really big egos. But say no, be blunt, and usually takers respect you for it.