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The Art of Sell...Umm...Persuading


Allow me to preface the text by sharing an interesting distinction. When I conduct seminars for ‘sales people’, they relish “the Art of the Sale.” It is, in fact, the lifeblood of their business, and they embrace any opportunity to better their mastery of this “art.” When I conduct seminars for Personal Fitness Trainers, they hate the concept of selling! They chose their careers strictly driven by passion and a desire to help others. The line they often have a hard time crossing is the border of realization that without the ability to sell, your opportunities for sharing your passion are seriously limited!

I’ve learned. When I conduct “sales” seminars for trainers, I don’t call them “sales seminars.” I call them “influence” or “persuasion” seminars. It’s simply a matter of linguistics, as the end result is the same. Whether you “sell,” “influence,” or “persuade,” if the end result is a new or renewing client, your business has immediately grown. The foundation of persuading lies in finding the answer to a simple question, and then presenting the service you offer as the vehicle to achievement. The question?

“What does this person really want?”

Sure, they may say they want weight loss, but is there more? Are they really in emotional pain due to a divorce and the fear that their body will not attract a new mate? Did a friend of theirs recently suffer a heart attack and did they suddenly come to terms with their own mortality?

When somebody is considering hiring a personal trainer, the reality is, they are seeking positive change. Something in their life isn’t exactly where they’d like it to be, and the decision as to whether or not they’ll retain a trainer rests upon whether or not the trainer can persuade them to believe that “Personal Training” is going to be the vehicle that brings them from where they are now to where they want to be.

I believe, with that as a foundation, you’ll find a bit of a new perspective on “influence” with the information I’m about to share. No, it’s not specific to training. I will get to that in upcoming articles. It’s more than that. It’s information that will allow you to view your power to persuade in a whole new light.

I’m thankful for the vast experience I’ve had within this fitness field, with a large portion of it being connected to health clubs. I was involved in upper level health club management and it taught me a great deal about persuading. Most of all, I learned, in a high pressure environment, that the way most clubs sell had nothing to do with anything I chose to do for a living. I knew with a true commitment to fitness, there had to be a better way to win business, and my health club experience gave me extensive exposure to thousands of people with fitness desires. That experience allowed me to develop the persuasion and influence techniques I use and share today.

With that said, here is an excerpt from the March 1997 issue of my Health & Wealth Newsletter which will be re-released later in 2001 :

* * *

In any persuasion, selling, or negotiating situation, remember to ask yourself repeatedly,

"What does this person really want?"

I learned a long time ago that when someone says "No," they really mean "Maybe" if they haven’t walked out the door or away from the negotiating table. I’ve also learned that "Maybe" means "Yes" most of the time if you’re willing to call upon the virtues of patience, caring, and persistence. I’d even add another one....creativity.

You might know my trademarked system of “persuading” which is defined by an acronym: NAVAQA. Each letter in NAVAQA represents a step in the selling process.

In my persuasion seminars I teach trainers to master this technology and the results are staggering.

NAVAQA works incredibly well because in order to master it, you’ve also got to regularly call upon the virtues I referred to. Patience. Caring. Persistence. Creativity.

It’s funny how we can give so many titles to the same act. Whether we are negotiating, persuading, or convincing, we are attempting to employ the art (or science?) of influence.

Influence is attempted in many ways, but at the very moment the "influencee" makes his or her decision to act, the thinking process is precise. The thought "if I act I will suffer less than if I don’t act" jumps to the forefront of the mind.

Isn’t that a pessimistic attitude? Compiling everyone’s thought process into the category of "less suffering?" Don’t people decide to act because they see benefit? Sure! It’s just that the "less suffering" motivation is far more driving than the "benefit" motivation. People often act massively immediately upon seeing their way clear to avoiding or minimizing suffering, and if you understand that, influence becomes much easier to master.

That’s why my NAVAQA system requires that before you begin your persuasion, you must uncover the "Need," the need being the source of pain.

I’m going to share with you a few different scenarios from my own life, very different scenarios that all have as their driving force the NAVAQA principles. Don’t learn scripts, don’t learn "closing lines," but rather, learn techniques that allow you to employ the NAVAQA principles and its inherent virtues and you’ll find that whether you’re selling personal training sessions, health club memberships, or a fitness product, your persuasion skills become far enhanced.

Let’s start with the much dreaded act of negotiating.

The Power of Giving People What They Really Want

I hate negotiating. I really do. The word suggests that I’m sitting across the table from someone who is going to dispute my point of view and who is going to attempt to influence me at the very moment that I’m attempting to bring him over to my side. Negotiation is a polite way of inferring that a battle is brewing. That’s why rather than entering a negotiation with the "let’s negotiate" mind set, I reduce the act to NAVAQA.

When brought to a negotiating scenario, I don’t battle each of my co-negotiator’s points with a point of my own. That would put us at even odds. I want an advantage. Rather than going punch for punch, blow for blow, I want to uncover the tactics, the methods, and the motivation driving the negotiation from the other side. Boxers study their opponent’s style. NFL teams study game films to understand the opposition’s defensive formations and offensive strategies. I question.

I don’t take the position of persuader until I understand the "Need." I make it a habit to begin a negotiation by telling the other person what a poor negotiator I am and how much I hate negotiating. I mean it when I say it. I don’t believe I’m a good negotiator. A good negotiator loves the "sport" of the game. His blood rushes from the sense of the battle. I enjoy the benefit of knowing I walk away with benefit and no blood has to be spilled in the process. Why do I share my dislike for negotiation and my poor battle skills with the person I’m about to share this process with? It seems to reduce his guard and give him a sense of an edge. As I question, if his guard is down, he’s more likely to give me honest answers.

I negotiated the lowest rent in my office building by being a poor negotiator and a master of NAVAQA. Over the past two years, my landlord was careful to remind me many times that I got a "steal" and I should expect an increase when my lease is up for renewal in February. Well, February came around, Lee, the agent for the landlord called to set up a meeting, and there I sat in a position to negotiate. EEEYUCK. I reminded Lee how much I hate negotiating. I wanted to make this quick and painless for everybody.

I started asking and Lee started talking.

"...and the average price per square foot in the building is $____, and you’re only paying $_____, so in the past two years we actually could have had $____ more had we leased your space at the average rate. Today we are leasing at far above average so I’d like to be fair and just bring you up to the average with a one year extension."

I simply asked, "Why?"

Lee asked, "Why what?"

"Why do you want to bring my rent up at all? Wouldn’t you be happy just to know you have a solid tenant who pays his rent every month?

Lee went on about how much money has gone into renovation, and how the value of the building is far higher than it was two years ago....and on...and on....and on. I listened. I even made some notes. Lee’s motivation was to bring in as much money as he could with security for each square foot of space. I needed to find out what was more important to Lee. More money today, or security with a promise of more money over time. I offered a bit of a "teaser" and continued to question.

"Lee, I’d be willing to pay your increase if you give me a month to month deal. That allows you to kick me out with 30 days notice if you find a better client, but it will also allow me to look around for more space."

"More space?"

"Well, as you can see, my business has been going through some changes, and thankfully some growth lately." Lee looked around and took note of all of the boxes of videos, tapes, programs, and books. "So you’re interested in more space?"

"I’m not in a position to make that decision right now, but if you allow me to go month to month, it gives me the freedom to look so when I decide I do need more...."

"How much more?"

"Would you be willing to give me more space at the same dollar per foot rate?"

"Absolutely not!" Lee jumped back without hesitation.

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why wouldn’t you?"

Lee again reminded me how much the space was worth and on... and on....and on.

I established that Lee’s goal was not to bring in more dollars per square foot for two months and then be left with an unoccupied space. I also established, with Lee’s able assistance, that Lee would much rather have me for another two years at an increase than run the month to month deal with the risk of me disappearing on short notice. I also established that he’d rather have me occupy more space with a two year lease than run the risk of me scooting out within 60 or 90 days. I found out what Lee "really wanted."

I’m going to tell you the end of the story. Lee agreed to extend my lease for another two months without any increase at all. Not bad, huh? Oh, but that’s not the end of the story. Lee also walked out with two of my video tapes since during our meeting (no longer a negotiation) he mentioned that he works out but isn’t seeing the results the before and after photos around my office illustrated that others were achieving. He also jotted down some notes as to how I suggested he handle the recent contract dispute he was having with a health club regarding his membership. The following morning Lee walked in with a great big thank you for the video and with a key. He handed it to me and told me it opened the door to a vacant office on the same floor. There were 500 square feet of usable space. It was mine....for the next two months...for free!

Let’s understand what happened. Lee walked in without any question at all that he was going to leave my office with my signature on a sheet of paper documenting that my rent would go up. His perception was "Phil got a steal of a deal, and now it’s time we catch up." Somewhere along the line, Lee realized that his real goal was not to get me to sign a piece of paper, but to generate more revenue for the property. He came to understand that if he creates a loyal dedicated customer (tenant), the likelihood of my sticking around and paying his asking price was far increased. He also weighed the benefit of a month to month increase against that of a new two year deal. His perception of what he wanted to get out of this meeting was altered. "It’s time to catch up," turned to "I’ve got a pretty solid source of revenue here if I’m willing to employ a bit of patience."

I also have learned that all people are people. How stupid must I be to have had to learn that? Actually, it’s a valuable lesson all people ever put in a position where influence will be of value should commit to learn. If I looked at the person sharing my office during the rent negotiation as simply "the landlord" at the exclusion of "a person," the likelihood of my getting him to talk about his personal fitness challenges and his health club membership snaggle would be reduced greatly. So, the learned combined skill of questioning, of understanding the true need, and of seeing your "adversary" as a person has made a poor negotiator like me someone who can value greatly from meeting with other people.

I share this with you because given the same perception, you can do exactly the same! I find it offensive when people in sales training sessions I conduct accuse me of having some innate skill for persuading. I don’t. Yes, much of what I describe here is now habit, but it began as struggling to learn these skills, and then struggling even harder to apply them.

Sometimes a potential client shows up thinking he or she just wants to learn how to use the machines, or how to perform exercises for the lower back. You know better. This person doesn’t want “exercises,” but rather a result. A positive change. Questions that elicit the true intention offer the power to influence ethically and without conflict. Using the same conversational structure I used with Lee, you as a trainer capable of facilitating results can easily sway someone thinking “I just want some exercises” to believing “I will benefit greatly by a long term relationship with this trainer.”

Let’s bring this application of NAVAQA, of the virtues of patience, caring, persistence, and creativity into another arena. Let’s bring it into the health club . . . and the frustration of going through the "selling" process when the prospect just doesn’t want to buy....or....gives that impression.

I’ve made Influence a study. You know when I say "salesperson" the images that come to mind are mean, nasty, and evil. That’s because a profession has been abused.

"Sale" is a good word. It means save money. "There’s a big "SALE" at Macy’s." Why have we come to affiliate sales + person with rip off and the loss of money? It doesn’t matter why. We have. I don’t suggest you try to fix America’s perception of the sales person. It’s too large a task. I’d rather suggest that you reposition yourself as....an influencer.

The last "A" in NAVAQA stands for advisor. That’s when the rapport that you’ve established throughout the presentation shifts the Perception of the person you’re talking to. Rather than perceiving you a mean, evil, nasty sales person, they are perceiving you as a wise friend, an experienced mentor, someone who knows the ropes and is willing to share knowledge. I’ve learned an incredibly effective method of bringing about another perception shift, one where you turn the tables, and this perception shift has turned so many lost sales into deals for me...it is worthy of a book in itself.

Turning No Into “Absolutely!”

It was 1987ish, and I was running a pre-sale for a club that was more than 6 months overdue in its opening the day I took over. Construction hadn’t taken place in about 8 weeks. Angry people called all day long. I learned a lot about altering perception back then. In fact, it probably saved my life. On frequent occasion, an angry member who was told the club would open weeks or months ago would come in so enraged, murder might have been the thought pervading in his mind. In a frenzy to learn more about selling with integrity, about doing people some good without bringing about anger and remorse, I went to seminar after seminar, read books upon books, and at he drop of a hat ran off to study anyone who was influencing and satisfying. As I began to combine and test everything I was learning, I began to experiment, to learn, and to measure people’s reactions.

I found it extremely powerful to go as far as I could from my side of my large desk, and then, to move over and sit next to the prospect. It was amazing to me how their reactions softened and their receptiveness was magnified. I remember having to explain to my girlfriend, at the time, why she’d often see me move around the desk and sit next to the woman in my office. I even remember she would sit across the gym and narrate my presentations to her friends. "Watch....he’s gonna get up and sit next to her. Watch....he’s gonna take the contract out from under his desk calendar." It became a study that soon developed into habits, and I find great reward in teaching these techniques to others. It’s just important to understand, these are all bits and pieces. The basic technology of influence lies in finding the need, gathering ammunition, etc. (NAVAQA) Everything else acts only to reinforce the power of the NAVAQA principles.

Too often somebody gets a kick out of one of the little feats I demonstrate in a sales training (influence training) session and they think that is, in and of itself, going to help them close sales. Master the basics first, then experiment all you want. With that said, I’ll tell you about the method of perception shift I alluded to earlier. I’ll tell you about a specific incident, back in that 1987ish presale.

Jeff sat in front of me, arms folded, full knowing he wasn’t about to buy a membership. Sure, there were times I had his guard down, and of course we had skimmed "The Need," but he was a tough one. He was cautious. Anytime he felt himself "falling for the salesman’s line of sh__, his arms folded, he sat upright, and he’d blurt out some knucklehead line such as, "I’m not gonna join today....I just want to know the best price I can get."

I persisted. I got Jeff to make a few concessions, even a few confessions. He admitted that he hated his body. He admitted that he drank too much and wanted to stop. He didn’t like himself when he drank, but without alcohol he didn’t feel comfortable going out to clubs at night. He told me about the great shape he was in 10 years earlier in high school. He told me that two years ago he started working out and enjoyed it, but he quit because his girlfriend got pregnant. He opened up quite a bit, but never went longer than 10 minutes without returning to his "you won’t get me" stance. I hadn’t, at the time, turned my selling methodology into a system, but many things were becoming habit as I learned to appreciate their value. I realized that each bit of "Ammunition" I had collected made up a small victory. I just had to keep going.

Jeff admitted he wanted to join. Keep in mind, there was no club, only a shell with some drywall. Still, no matter what I did, I just couldn’t bring Jeff to a commitment. He stood up, thanked me, and headed for the door, membership sheet (price list) in hand.

As he was leaving, one foot out the door, I called him. "Jeff!" He hesitated. I made certain I had a confused, baffled, feel-sorry-for-me look on my face as I pleaded, "Can you do me a favor?" He stepped back inside and the door closed behind him.

You know, Jeff, this is not easy for me. I’ll tell you why. I’ve been taught tricks, lines, and techniques I’m supposed to use to get you to join. I’m supposed to tell you the membership is more money than it is, and then drop "if you join today." I’ve been taught to use "closing lines" to overcome your objections. I refuse to do any of that. I think you can tell I honestly believe in fitness. Can you?

"Yeah. Man, I wish it was as easy for me to workout as it is for you."

"Well.....I guess that’s a compliment of some sort, but I don’t know if you’re getting my point. Sit down."

Jeff sat as if I were the hypnotist and he were the hypnotized. I was tempted to say, "Speak" or "Roll over," but I didn’t. I went on....

"I chose to take on this club, not because I love selling, and not because I love managing, but because I love helping people, and the way I’ve learned I can be most effective in helping people is to help them make fitness a part of their lives. Everything I’ve told you was from the heart. You told me you wanted to get fit, even needed to get fit. You even told me you hate your body. I wish I could say I was sorry to hear that, but in some weird way, it gives me a sense of opportunity. It’s like you’re saying to me, "Phil, I’m someone you can really help." Do you know what I mean?"

"Yeah. I know I really need this."

"I know you know that. That’s why I feel as if I’ve failed you. What I mean is, you know you need this, I know you know you need this, yet I couldn’t help you. Can I ask a favor?"

"Sure."

"Well, I never want to feel as if I should resort to the tactics they want me to. I mean, I sit in meetings with the other managers, the ones who need those tricks. Half of them smoke cigarettes during the meetings. I guess that in itself says something about their commitment."

Jeff laughed. He looked relaxed. His "you won’t sell me" posture hadn’t been displayed since he returned to his chair.

"I was hoping you could tell me what I did wrong. I mean, why didn’t you enroll?"

(Remember, "What does this person really want?")

"Phil, I just had a bad experience. I joined another club, I never used it, and when I stopped paying, they kept calling me threatening to ruin my credit if I didn’t pay. I’m not about to do that again, especially because you don’t have a club for me to work out in right now."

"You mean, if we were open, you’d enroll?"

"Maybe."

"Is it that you’re not sure I can help you get to the point that you don’t hate.....that you actually are proud of your body?"

"No. I believe you can. I just don’t know if I’ll stick to it, especially if I join today and you don’t open for three months."

"Jeff, let me ask you a question, and I hope you’ll be honest with me. Is the membership affordable for you?"

"Yes," he responded without a bit of hesitation.

"I’m going to propose something I haven’t done for anyone before, if, and only if, you’re really serious about wanting to make the changes in your body that you told me would make you much happier. Would I be wasting my time?"

Jeff was still relaxed. No guard rose up. "What’s the offer?"

First of all, as I told you, you can use our Fort Lauderdale location (12 miles away), which I know is not as convenient as this will be, but keep in mind your membership doesn’t actually start until we open. That should give you a 90 day head start, but I’ll do something for you only because I know what your potential is and I’d hate to see you come back during our Grand Opening, facing a higher price, a bit more unhappy with your body than you are right now, still thinking about getting started. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to bring the weights from my home in here, and I’ll design a routine for you, one that you can either do in your home, or at the Fort Lauderdale club if you decide to."

"But I don’t have weights at home."

(OK. Time for some caring and creativity.)

"I know. That’s why I’ll give you a routine that you can do with nothing more than a pair of dumbbells, a pair of dumbbells you can pick up at Sports Authority for $15 or less, and if you ever decide you don’t want them, I’ll buy them from you. My commitment is, I’ll bring my weights here, all I ask of you is that you enroll and invest $15 in a no-risk pair of dumbbells."

Jeff not only enrolled, he brought in four of his friends within a week. In fact, Jeff became my self proclaimed Club Ambassador.

Was it worth it? I had to take the time to design a routine, and had to bring in my complete weight set from home. So, was it worth it? That conversation with Jeff opened my eyes so wide it turned a troubled pre-sale into the most profitable club in the region.

I learned that when someone doesn’t enroll, if I put them in the position of "Advisor," they will tell me how to sell them! I also learned that people weren’t looking for a "club" to join, but a relationship. They wanted a sense of belonging, a sense that someone truly cares about them, and a sense of pride in knowing that they’ve just made a very positive change in their life.

It’s when I truly learned to put myself in my prospect’s place. I asked him to tell me how I would feel if I were him. Once I understood that, once I truly felt the sense of being in his shoes, I better understood what I as the seller needed to do to bring him to the point of a decision he felt good....er...."great" about!

As I write about the "role reversal" "please advise me" scene, many other scenes from that club come to mind. The only things that made that club successful were the creativity and caring that I and the team I developed began to learn to employ consistently. The whole experience taught me a great deal about influence, about caring, and about...well....about handling desperate situations.

The club was located in the corner of a shopping center in which the anchors were a movie theater and a Winn Dixie supermarket. My advertising budget was zero. (I guess that sort of forces creativity).

This is not a recommendation, but rather my relaying how far I was willing to go in those days. The first time I did it it was sort of a joke, but we had a quota, it was 8 PM, and we needed two more deals. Previous to this idiotic but effective idea, I asked my sales staff to stand outside Winn Dixie handing out flyers and guest passes. Nobody wanted to come in. They knew they’d be pressured. Well, at least they thought they’d be pressured. I knew they’d be influenced.

I took my place outside the electronic doors. A woman came out with her cart filled with shopping bags. "Can I help you with those?" I asked with a big smile on my face.

"Sure."

I lifted two of the bags and headed right for the door of the club.

"My car’s over there," she yelled.

"I know," I responded and kept walking. She of course ran after me, and followed me directly in to the club. Her anger was lifted by the jovial attitude of my staff. We all began laughing and we immediately offered her a guest pass if she’d just allow me 3 minutes to explain what we had going on. I followed that with a few similar excursions and we blew away our goal that night. For the following two weeks, when things got desperate, monkey see, monkey do.

Terri, the beautiful 18 year old I hired when I saw her riding by on her bicycle, Angie, the very attractive college student, and David, the amateur bodybuilder, could be seen several times each day carrying people’s grocery bags right into our little office!

We had angry women complaining that they signed up months ago (before I arrived) and were told the club would be open. That’s when I hired Tanya to teach aerobics...right in the middle of the parking lot! Of course Terri and Angie were present at every class in aerobic outfits...we were tripling membership sales!

I offered the owners of the movie theater, two fit brothers, the opportunity to come in and use my weight set any time if they’d allow me to get up on the stage before each movie and make an offer. Right before the lights went out, I offered passes to the first 25 people to visit the club with their ticket stubs. Angie, David, Tanya, and Terri could hardly meet the demand, each one a prospect, each one receiving a phone call the following day. Our numbers leaped again!

After a few complaints, the Winn Dixie manager came in to ask me to please stop kidnapping his customers. The meeting ended with his department heads, cashiers, and bag boys receiving free memberships. They began to take the aerobic classes, I began to offer weekly clinics in the weight area in the back of my presale office, and every Winn-Dixie customer began to accidentally find a guest pass inside their grocery bags.

I made up a menu for protein drinks and energy drinks for the yogurt store several doors away to sell in his place at a discount to members. He began sending people to my clinics and our parking lot aerobic classes. They ended up buying more drinks from the yogurt store. He sent more...and more! Of course my staff was treated to free frozen yogurt on a daily basis.

As I said, I learned a lot from that experience. I was thrown into a messy situation, and I can’t even express to you the camaraderie that existed in that tiny little presale office among members and staff. So, what did people really want? A health club with fancy machinery?

Think about it.

I share this with you, not because I want you to kidnap anyone from a supermarket. Those were desperate measures, but I made certain to follow through by delivering value.

Read between the lines here. Know that influence is not mastered easily, but mastery of influence gives you a great power. Also know that when it comes to influence in the fitness industry, there are lots of people and organizations using fraudulent claims and hype to influence people to make unsupportive decisions. They’ve neglected to understand the value of the "caring" part. I believe as the public becomes more educated, those who have mastery of NAVAQA, perception, influence, and value, those who have been creative without giving up the virtues of patience, persistence, and caring, will watch the others fall from a point high at the pinnacle of an industry we find out true passion in on a daily basis.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank you for the outpouring of mail I received regarding the last issue. Thank you! I wish I could respond to all of you personally. I hope it’s sufficient to share my appreciation here, and since my motivation for writing each issue is the knowledge that I’m bringing some good to each of your lives, I’ll recognize that in writing your letters to me, you apparently did ask the question, "What does he really want?" For that I thank you.