How One Simple Question Dramatically Transformed a Decision-Maker’s Opinion of a Sales Rep

trust-in-salesWorking across the country, Anthony had successfully implemented his company’s products and services in 12 of the 32 territories for a Fortune 1000 company. Somehow, though, he had a feeling that the next territory was going to be a challenge.

When he first arrived at the office, everyone seemed to be nervously awaiting Diane’s arrival – the Regional Vice President. When she arrived, it was easy to see why. After several years in her position, Diane had surrounded herself with sycophants—what used to be called “yes men”. Everyone—young and old, men and women—agreed wholeheartedly with anything she said – no questions asked.

That told Anthony that her management team was reactive, and that was going to be a problem. The new process emphasized proactivity. Unfortunately, everything about his interactions with the team led him to believe that they were anything but proactive. They were obviously riding a strong brand reputation to overcome serious gaps on their team.

Armed with these observations, Anthony introduced himself and his company, and then began presenting the new process to Diane and her team of managers. When Diane made a statement, everyone quickly nodded in agreement. When she answered a question, all seemed awed by her wisdom. That’s when she had anything to say at all. Most of the time, she acted disengaged, her eyes on her smartphone or the small pile of paperwork in front of her.

In fact, Diane seemed bored.

Finally, Anthony wrapped up his presentation. All heads turned to the vice president. Without looking up, she asked, “How do I know this is going to work?”

There were plenty of answers Anthony could have provided. He could have pointed to increased sales in other territories, anecdotal evidence, statistics, or simply made promises in hopes that she would buy into it. He could have attempted to say something to get her to like him. He didn’t.

Anthony knew that the new process wouldn’t work, unless Diane truly engaged with it. He needed a way to make that happen, so he politely answered her question with a question of his own:

“Are you going to do what I tell you?”

Diane quickly looked up at Anthony from her paperwork – stunned. No one in her office had ever spoken to her that way. Her opinion of him changed instantly – and for the better. Surprisingly, she admired Anthony’s polite, yet confident response. She didn’t have anyone on her team to challenge her, so this was actually refreshing.

It was the turning point in their relationship.

From then on, Diane and Anthony had a strong rapport. She was fully engaged, even to the point of eliminating a couple of people on her senior staff who could not or would not adjust to the new process and who refused to own problems and performance gaps.

If Anthony had answered Diane in a way calculated to make himself appear likable, the territory would never have become as successful as it ultimately did. Instead, he positioned himself as credible by arguing that if her team followed his direction, they would see the difference in their results. Anthony avoided the trap into which so many people—and not just salespeople—fall. He didn’t care if Diane liked him, as long as she trusted him.

He also put the ownership for results of the project back where it belonged—squarely on the shoulders of the Regional Vice President. I’ll give you the tools, he said, but you have to do the work.

In the end, Diane’s territory implemented Anthony’s process successfully and saw the results he had predicted. Everyone involved benefitted— Diane, her regional team, her customers—and, of course, Anthony and his company. And all because Anthony had enough self-confidence not to worry about being liked…just so long as he was trusted.