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Is it OK to discuss Politics and Religion During Sales Conversations?

September 23rd, 2020

I suspect you’ve heard the assertion that “you should never discuss politics or religion!” There is certainly an argument to be made to support this statement. There is also a counterargument.

Do you (or should you) ever discuss sensitive “taboo” subjects like these during sales conversations? Let’s explore the pros and cons:

To say the least, these are interesting times.

Fires, storms, floods, and power-outages are devastating significant swaths of geography across the United States. Stay-at-home policies have destroyed many businesses and frustrated millions of parents. Traditional media, social media, and political activists are whipping people into a frenzy. Emotions are high, tempers are short, a number of cities are burning, crime is on the rise and the nation seems to be more polarized than at any point in recent history.

Unfortunately, many people have stopped listening, closed their minds, and dug into their respective corners. Confirmation bias is rampant.

With all of this upheaval, it might seem insane to broach any potentially emotional subject.

Before we decide to totally avoid these stormy waters during sales conversations, let’s explore selling a bit further and start with some very basic questions.

Why do people really buy?

Why would they buy from you, versus your competitor?

How do (should) you currently differentiate yourself from your competitors?

During sales interviews, what percentage of time do (should) you spend talking and sharing your pitches, benefits, expertise, opinions, demos, and product knowledge versus questioning, listening, understanding, and connecting with decision-makers at both an organizational and personal level?

Fortunately, we know the answers to these questions, backed by many dozens of studies and tons of research. In the interest of keeping this article relatively short, I’ll provide you with a summary of what we know:

Why do people really buy?

First, companies do not buy. People buy. Individual people who represent companies. You may be thinking, “duh, everyone knows that”. But in reality, few salespeople understand it, and even fewer use this reality to gain advantage. Most reps focus on selling to the company, not the decision maker.

Next, people who buy do not buy for intellectual reasons from experts. They buy for personal, emotional reasons from people that they trust. Buyers trust people who make them feel comfortable and connect with them at a feeling level. Some buyers may attempt to justify their purchase intellectually, but they will always ultimately make their purchase decision based upon how they feel. This is another basic fact overlooked by the vast majority of sellers.

Finally, purchase decisions include two primary components — Product and Process. Buyers decide based upon the product you offer and the process of buying (their experience). Most sellers believe that Product is most important, but research proves that the Process a buyer experiences has a much greater influence on their ultimate purchase decision.

 Why would they buy from you, versus your competitor?

Contrary to popular belief, buyers do not buy from people they like. They buy from people they trust, and they trust people they perceive share their values & beliefs. They trust people that they feel connected to from both a tangible (conscious) and from an intangible (subconscious) perspective.

 How do (should) you currently differentiate yourself and your company from your competitors?

If your company is like most, your product or service is not totally unique in the marketplace. If it were, it would sell itself. You likely have serious, tough competitors. Seeking to gain incremental advantages, your competitors probably pay more attention to your features, benefits, and marketing messages than your prospects do. Today, unlike decades ago, innovation and product development occur at lightning speed. In other words, if your product or service currently offers a significant advantage, you can bet that your competitors are working on erasing that advantage right now.

The bottom line here is that the only sustainable way a small to medium sized company can effectively differentiate itself is the manner in which their sales reps interact with their customers and prospects.

During sales interviews, what percentage of time do (should) you spend talking and sharing your pitches, benefits, expertise, opinions, demos, and product knowledge versus questioning, listening, understanding, empathizing, and connecting with decision-makers at both an organizational and personal level?

The correct answer is far less than you are spending today. If a salesperson is opining and presenting more than 15% of the time, they are boring the prospect, probably destroying trust, and rapidly diminishing their chances of success.

Instead, reps should invest their time seeing the picture through the buyer’s lens, not their own, and hopefully facilitating mutual discovery in pursuit of a new, better buying vision. Salespeople should be laser-focused on caring, connecting, infinite curiosity, facilitating discovery, sincere interest, and learning — not only about a buyer’s organizational or technical needs, but also about the personal, emotional, compelling, TRUE buying motives of the decision maker. These feelings and motives will never be revealed via pitches and demos.

Now that we know the answers to these foundational questions, let’s return to exploring whether or not it is prudent or wise to discuss politics or religion during sales conversations.

To review, we understand that people buy from people they trust, people they believe are like themselves, people they perceive to share their beliefs and values. Simon Sinek (and several others) have shared many stories and plenty of data supporting the fact that people buy from companies and people who care about the same things that they do. And it seems most care more today than usual about their respective ideological and political beliefs. With this in mind, do you think it might be advantageous to know how your buyer feels about these ultra-personal issues?

I’m not suggesting here that you start spewing your personal beliefs or ideological and spiritual views upon your prospects. I’m also not suggesting that you begin asking who they are voting for in November. Doing so could be extremely dangerous.

However, knowing about your buyer’s most personal views could be priceless.

So, proceed carefully, but assertively.

Salespeople must always earn the right to explore sensitive issues (like money or decision processes), and remember, questions are always more effective than statements when facilitating discovery. We never learn by telling.

The more you know about your prospect and the things they care about at a visceral level, the greater your chances will be of doing business together.

The more information you have about what your buyer cares about most, the better. Period.

The more a buyer is willing to share with you (about any subject), the better. And the more personal the issue happens to be to the buyer, the better.

In this regard, there should be no “taboo” subjects. The most successful salespeople know that there no good news or bad news, there is only information. And personal, emotional information is the most valuable.

So, the question is not really which subjects you should or should not explore with your buyers.

The crucial thing is the manner in which you explore them.




Copyright © Joe Zente 2020. All Rights Reserved.