Several years ago, when I was first thinking about entering the coaching business, I asked a respected acquaintance if he would ever use my sales training services. He said, “Dan, you’re the type of guy I enjoy hanging around with and would completely trust with confidential information.” What he meant was, “You and I have a great rapport, but I don’t have enough respect yet to do business with you.”

Respect, rapport and role are often confused and misused in the sales process. This is where many salespeople go wrong. As a sales professional, you need to understand the difference between the three “R’s” of sales.

The Role of Respect

Don’t get me wrong. It’s always important to be respectful. Too many salespeople confuse being respectful with a subservient mentality – always providing, sharing and giving. It’s important to give, but only when the recipient is open and ready for it.

Many salespeople find a safe haven in subservience. It doesn’t take a lot of confidence, preparation, or risk to acquiesce to the prospect’s decision process. It’s a safe play, especially when the sales pipeline is low.

Like the rest of us, prospects have needs and pains that go unsolved every day. But they’ll avoid certain realities because it’s easier than taking the risk of making a change. That’s why I think pain and need-based selling models are inadequate and only scratch the surface. There’s safety in what’s known versus the unknown, with the unknown being your solution.

Who Would You Respect More?

  • Salesperson A:

    Someone who’s subservient and “nice to be around” and allows you to feel safe by supporting you in doing things the same old way, even when the same old way isn’t really working.

  • Salesperson B:

    Someone who’s willing to ask you the tough questions about what’s best for you and your business.

If you said Salesperson B, you’re on the right track.

The Three R’s of Sales Outreach

  • Rapport:

    Happens naturally, is not created. It’s only effective when it’s genuine. Trying to soften up the decision-maker before you bludgeon him or her with meaningless questions you learned at a sales seminar doesn’t work. It happens when you let go of your needs and wants to focus on playing the role of a sales advisor. That role of an advisor is to challenge the decision-maker’s status quo so that you can determine “how” and “if” you can help or create change. Be careful to not challenge a prospect’s decision or assumption just because it doesn’t fit what you want to hear.

  • Respect:

    If you truly want to build respect, you have to focus on the decision-maker’s best interests. Respect isn’t earned through the polite banter of finding common ground. Friendships are started this way. In sales, your role is to hold decision-makers accountable to what they’ve said they need to accomplish. This is what drives respect. It’s earned by focusing on what’s best for the prospect and his or her company, even if it means challenging the actions and assumptions he or she has already made.

  • Role:

    (Your role) is to ask the important questions that help your prospects assess and redefine risk so they can break through their decision comfort zones. Whenever prospects contemplate decisions, there is an automatic and corresponding increase in their expectations. If they recommend switching to your product or service, they’re taking on the risk of potential disappointment that could jeopardize their careers or reputations.

There are plenty of salespeople I respect highly as individuals. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I would trust them to solve my problems or help me create opportunities for my business. Rapport feels good and can get your foot in the door, but respect is what your prospects buy.

Now more than ever, prospects (and their decisions) are facing close scrutiny. The margin for error is zero. A decision that is perceived as “wrong” or “bad” can impact the next performance review, and warm-and-fuzzy feelings don’t pay the bills.