By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer
Whoever coined the term “work like a dog” must not have owned a dog, at least not one of our modern-era pets who have earned family-member status. As our love for our four-legged companions has grown, so too has our desire to understand them through formal training, books, and podcasts. Despite all this expert advice, I believe our pets’ ability to understand us far outpaces our ability to understand them. How do they do it and what can we learn from them?
A Dog’s Influencing Skills
Having been around dogs for most of my life, I’ve concluded that dogs engage in three fundamental activities—eating, resting, and playing. When it comes to play, our pets can be mighty persuasive in eliciting our participation. I believe it’s their superpower.
I work from a home office, and my dog Duke is never too far away. Each morning when I typically like to take a walk, he positions himself where he can observe me. If I stand up, he becomes alert, eyes fixed on my every move. He looks for any familiar behavior that would indicate I am getting ready to go for our walk. When he discerns the key activities related to walk preparation, he quickly rises and stretches, his tail wags with excitement, I instinctively react positively to his excitement, and he closes the deal by grabbing his leash.
The foundation for Duke’s influencing skills is that he’s taken the time to understand me. His observational talents are brilliant. Duke discerns my intent from the subtlest of actions. There are times when Duke doesn’t come near me, for instance when I am especially busy with work. He seems to know that sometimes I cannot be influenced to walk, and I might even consider his influence annoying. When he determines I am not open to influence, he doesn’t waste his time, nor mine.
Common Selling Advice
Like the pet-ownership industry, there is a cornucopia of books, webinars, guides, and conferences intended to help businesses sell better, faster, and more. Few of these fail-safe methods urge the seller to begin by better understanding their buyer. Even the rare customer-centric sales models tend to focus on helping the seller get what they want, rather than helping the buyer. Sales advice may offer clever questions intended to guide the buyer down a path that, for the prospect, feels like a trap and the leading questions can be downright comical from the buyer’s perspective.
Too often, sales professionals operate under guidance and conditions that are ill-conceived and poorly communicated, causing them to be downright cruel as they pursue prospects. The practices can damage business reputations, sometimes without leaders even knowing, until that damage starts to negatively affect revenue growth and sales team turn-over. While “helping our customers” is a common refrain, few organizations know how to live it with their actions.
Let’s consider Duke’s model of selling like a dog for some help.
Duke’s Principles: Understanding, Discernment, Excitement
Duke has logged many hours in observing my behavior. He understands the subtlest of cues and likely understands me better than I do. He does have a natural advantage: he cannot speak, so he spends nearly all his time watching and listening. Get the idea?
Marketing technology—coupled with a sound content marketing strategy—can deliver an incredible amount of information on buying behavior. By observing buyer behavior, marketers and salespeople can gain a meaningful understanding of their prospects and customers to include issues that concern them, topics they find most compelling, and opportunities that attract them. Over time, carefully tracked observations will create a body of data for marketers to chart buyers’ journeys. Armed with this understanding, marketing and sales leaders can develop effective plans and policies to help drive positive business results.
Duke couples his observation skills with sharp judgment to support an outcome, like my participation in a walk. As he observes, he appropriately reacts to my cues. If I am head down at my computer, he doesn’t annoy me by running into my office with his leash. He times his actions to my actions.
What salesperson wouldn’t like to know the problems their prospects are facing before their first attempted contact? The insights gained from the observational data described above can be powerful but must be used judiciously and responsibly. Sales professionals ought to discern where the buyer is in their journey and reach out to them in a way that is appropriately aligned and helpful.
If a potential buyer has been active in reading content related to a specific topic, it means they have a great interest in the topic. If your content marketing strategy has been planned well, that topic is tied to a solution your company offers. It does not mean the potential buyer is ready to buy the solution, but they will likely be open to learning more about the subject. A salesperson jumping ahead of the buyer in their journey will likely cause the buyer to assert their control of their process and potentially leave them with a negative perception of the seller organization.
As Duke detects actions that indicate I’ve committed to a walk, such as changing into my walking shoes, his posture goes from calmly observant to animatedly excited. He rises, head up, tail wagging, grabs his leash and positions himself at the door ready to go. I naturally get excited too as he invites me to envision myself walking with him in the fresh air.
Displaying excitement about closing a business deal is not something that salespeople struggle with, but often the excitement is seller-based and not oriented on the buyer. Rather, try summarizing their buyer’s journey. Recall the problem they faced, the value they saw in the helpful content they accessed, and what their world will be like once the solution is adopted. And observe their excitement!
The traditional meaning of "work like a dog" conjures images of exhausting, thankless work. It doesn’t reflect the realities of a dog’s life, one in which they apply the influencing superpower of the “5 Stages of Follow Your Buyer.”
If your sales routine feels exhausting and unrewarding, and your business results are gloomy, consider adopting Dukes “sell like a dog” principles of understanding, discernment and excitement.