Nobody wants to feel like they're being sold to. This was true ten years ago, and with today's technology-fueled evolution in consumer preferences, it's clear that businesses must shift away from antiquated sales practices to build the trust needed to convert new customers.

This creates a challenge for entrepreneurs and small business owners under pressure to increase sales performance in a competitive business climate. The key to building that trust is to position yourself as an expert consultant--not a salesperson. Here's how:

Have them come to you.

Marketing that draws potential customers to initiate contact with a business rather than the business initiating contact with potential customers, known as inbound marketing, is surging in popularity across all types of industries.

Search engine optimization, content marketing and public relations are replacing tired practices like cold calling, direct mail and spam emailing. Fellow business owners are often blown away when I tell them I haven't made a single cold call since starting my business--and that the bulk of my leads have come through Google Search and social media.

This approach, while requiring ongoing maintenance and commitment, often generates better leads and higher conversions. And from a sales perspective, one of the biggest advantages of inbound marketing is that, rather than interrupting prospects with solicitations, they are voluntarily coming to you to seek answers, advice or information.

In this dynamic, you are not merely a salesperson. You are viewed as a consultant and trusted to provide insight and guidance in a non-threatening manner.

Be the prize.

To avoid coming off as a salesperson, it's important to view yourself, your product or your service as the prize. When you treat a potential customer as the prize, you lose leverage and risk coming off as overeager, which is a major turnoff that can tank your credibility.

To position yourself as the prize, create a level of exclusivity by having the prospect satisfy some basic qualifiers from the start. You can even make them jump through a hoop or two to get to you in the first place. For example, if an initial meeting is set to take place over the phone, have them call you.

Careful not to overplay your hand here. This is meant to establish your own value, not to diminish that of the prospective client. Additionally, customers will react to this differently based on their own status and expectations, so be aware of verbal and non-verbal cues to know when to scale it back.

Listen and ask questions.

Don't recommend solutions before the prospect even reveals a problem. Instead, start by asking how they found you--this will uncover what they already know and identifies which marketing strategies are drawing inbound leads. Then, ask thoughtful questions that guide them to revealing their pain points.

Last year, a vendor invited me to demo a new media monitoring platform they were rolling out. The timing was perfect, as I had been exploring new options at the time, so I accepted the invite. The demo was off to a great start, but then the representative insisted on showing me their social analytics component.

I politely told her I wasn't interested and asked her to skip over that part for the sake of time. She rebutted. I explained why I wasn't interested in that component and asked her again if we could please move on to another feature. She refused. At that point, I felt like I was talking to a script, not a person willing to listen and adjust, so I ended the call.

By not listening, this salesperson rebutted her way out of a potential deal. You can avoid that mistake by listening and identifying a customer's needs before compromising your credibility by pushing an irrelevant product or service.

Recommend a solution.

Once a potential customer reveals his or her pain points, it's appropriate for you to begin discussing a solution. If you're pitching a product or service at this stage, you're doing it wrong.

Rather than presenting a sales pitch, act like a doctor. When doctors write prescriptions, it doesn't feel like they're selling drugs. That's because you trust that they understand your problem, and you value their recommended solution.

To avoid being viewed as a salesperson, show a level of candor and confidence when recommending your product or service. Assume the sale, and work to seamlessly transition the conversation to any final steps needed to seal the deal.

In the end, trust will have the greatest impact on how a potential customer perceives you. The goal is to establish that trust by refraining from stereotypical salesperson behaviors, while still positioning yourself to win the business. If you have a salesperson mentality, you'll compromise that trust. If you have a problem-solving mentality, you'll set yourself up for ongoing sales success.

Published on: Apr 4, 2018