When Steve Jobs was 12-years-old, he called Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, to ask for some spare parts so he could build a frequency counter. At the time, Hewlett’s home phone number was in the Palo Alto, CA phone book. Not only did Hewlett agree to give Jobs the parts, but he offered him a summer job at the company assembling frequency counters! Jobs had this to say:
“I’ve never found anybody who didn’t want to help me when I’ve asked them for help. I’ve never found anyone who’s said ‘no’ or hung up the phone when I called.“
Jobs learned a very important lesson about human nature: humans seem to be hardwired to want to help others. When we give our time and energy to helping another, it promotes feelings of self-esteem and satisfaction. When we help, we feel good because we feel like good and useful people. Salespeople can use this trait to their advantage when they make sales calls.
“Help” Is a Magic Word
Next time you are gathering information on a prospect, try changing your line of questioning. Rather than request direct information such as, “Are you the right person to speak to regarding software sales?,” turn your question into an ask for help:
“Excuse me, I was hoping you could help me. Who do I need to speak with regarding software sales?“
It’s a very subtle change, but the entire dynamic of the request is shifted. You have asked for their help, and failure to provide that help means they may disappoint you. The responsibility for the outcome is now on them, and whether or not you get the help you need is up to them. Just as helping others makes us feel good, not helping can make us feel guilty. If you don’t get the help you need, it’s they who let you down–not company policy, not their boss, them.
Will People Always Help?
Most of the time, but probably not. Spend more than a day in sales and you’ll know rejection is a part of the gig. Not everyone needs or wants what you are selling, so you won’t convert every prospect no matter how charming and compelling you are. People may still tell you no, but there will be one major difference: when people deny a request for help, they feel a need to justify why they have to say no. Not only will people be kinder to you with their “no,” they will explain WHY. Basically, you increase the odds of getting additional information cloaked in context and justification.
An answer like, “I’m sorry, it’s against company policy for me to direct you to that person,” is far more useful to you than a flat refusal without context. A “no” with context may tell you whether or not future efforts with this prospect are worth your time.
“Help” means more yeses and more useful nos. Try it today and see the surprising difference in results from a simple rephrasing of the question.