Take the bull by the horns


The more-flexible dialogue-based approach to selling that we introduced in the last blog isn’t easy. In fact, it’s outside the comfort zones of many selling professionals. 

Of course it is! Adopting a flexible, dialogue-based approach that provokes the complacent buyer creates tension and stress in the sales process due to fear of failure and lack of seller confidence. The natural but ineffective response of most sales professionals when tension with buyers increases is to find ways to reduce it.

Do you recognize your or your team’s selling behavior in any of these?

  • Agreeing with the customer’s assessment of their needs and solutions, and moving too quickly to pricing discussions. 
  • Abandoning your questioning strategy prematurely, and retreating to the safety of the planned sales presentations or product demonstrations. 
  • Calling in an executive, sales manager or technical-support person to mollify the customer and take the pressure off the situation. 


Well maybe it’s time to step into a new pattern.

Today’s most successful sales professionals don’t try to remove tension from the sales dialogue. Instead, they work to harness the tension, using it to control and create value at every point in the sales process.

This is courageous selling; it requires sales professionals to work outside their comfort zones and do what needs to be done to achieve challenging goals. 

Recent behavioral-science research suggests that this kind of courage — and the ability to manage tension — is driven by an individual’s attitude to stress. And because of this, resilience, and courage in the face of selling, stress can be practiced and improved through training. 

In a previous blog post, we explored Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s TEDTalk ‘How to Make Stress Your Friend’, and it’s worth applying her lessons here when we’re talking about the sales process.

Handling the predictable tension in the sales process is stressful. Stress increases the heart rate, causes the adrenal glands to go into overdrive, elevates blood pressure, causes dry mouth, and can even make it hard to speak at all. It takes courage to carry on and do what needs to be done when things get tense in sales settings. 

Tension needn’t be negative, though. In fact, when it’s harnessed effectively, it can be incredibly positive, improving body chemistry. As McGonigal says, “When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress.”1

To get the benefits of tension in selling, try these two shifts in thinking:

Believe that stress is a natural, positive force in life rather than a negative, harmful one.

Research shows that by doing this, the body reacts more as if it were experiencing joy than stress, opening the arteries and letting blood flow freely and allowing the tension to be a natural, expected, even positive aspect of the selling process.

See yourself as someone who is actively helping others rather than just looking out for yourself. 

It is the seller’s role to reach out to help the customer make a genuine connection, and to add value in the face of that tension (rather than focusing on getting through the tough situation and winning the business).

By digging through industry data, reports and best practices on a hunt for Nuggets of Value, you will naturally engage more with your customer. You will learn more about them and their industry. In everything you read, be aware of how you are able to help your buyers, to benefit them. The more you do for them, the better it will work out for you!

In short, the best way to be more effective in stressful selling situations is not to get rid of the tension. It’s to embrace it, and then focus on collaborating to solve the customer’s problem. 

What were your most tense sales situations and how did you deal with them? How could those situations have gone better if you’d allowed the tension to be positive?

1 TED talk, “How to Make Stress Your Friend”

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