How to sell to smart people

How to sell to smart people

Pay-off: Pick someone smart you need a ‘yes’ from. Follow the advice below and you’ll increase your chances
Investment: 5 mins.

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You’re reading this because you sometimes have to persuade or sell to smart people. And you’re reading this because you’re smart enough to care about getting it right.


The thing is, smart people tend to know they’re smart. And they tend to quite like feeling smart. It makes them feel all warm and special, the clever old sticks.

So my main advice when you have to sell to smart people is, be smart, know this, and play to this.

And don’t fall into the ‘smartest person in the room’ trap which I’ve written about here.

OK. Let’s break this down.

The first rule of selling to smart people is:

Be smart enough to understand how they’re smart.

Smart people aren’t smart about everything. (Even if they think they are, but then, if they do, that’s not that smart is it?)

It’s contextual. Smart is relative. A lot of smart people do some very daft things. So the question is how is my buyer smart, in this context?

Smart buyers are hopefully smart at their actual job. This should then make them smart (or at least smarter than YOU) about their business, their role, themselves and hopefully their customers.

They’ll be smarter than you about how the challenges and pains they face make them feel! They know it. You don’t.

And they are smarter than you about what they’re currently thinking about. Especially what they think about the solutions they’re exploring.

They’re smarter than you about the internal voice going off in their heads that’s really behind their buying decision. You know, that voice going off behind their eyeballs as they look at you?

They’re also smarter than YOU about how you’re coming across to them. Which is where rule 2 comes in…

The second rule of selling to smart people is:

Be instantly as smart as them.

How? You ask. I’m just little old me! No, stay strong, oh smart one. All you have to do is make sure that the very first thing that comes out your mouth is something that they agree with. Get a nod.

Once they nod at your opening moves, get another nod by making the second thing that comes out your mouth something they also agree with. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just something that they agree with. It might be a case of just referencing a step you both took prior to this conversation. Anything that gets a nod! Go back to the start of this article and you’ll see I hopefully got you to nod twice right at the start (the bold text that reads, “You’re reading this because…” Maybe you even nodded three or four times, or perhaps even more? (Alright, don’t overdo it…))

So, your smart buyer will be building a picture up of you as being someone who’s ‘right’. “This person’s right! They keep saying things there are right! This is incredible!”, their subconscious will think.

And so what do you think will happen when you make some suggestions later? Exactly.

Tip: Whatever you do, don’t start by saying something they disagree with. And if you do, don’t follow it up with something else they disagree with, or it’s game over.

So, let’s recap. You’ve acknowledged how they’re smart in this context of making a buying decision. Check. And you’ve got them nodding. Check.

But whilst you’re instantly smart in their eyes (well done, you) you also know that they’re still smarter than you about the things we mentioned above that are going on in their world.

So how do we address that? We follow rule three.

The third rule of selling to smart people is:

Become smarter, quickly.

You start off as the empty vessel. They know their challenges, goals, pains, business, organisational jargon and so on. You don’t. But it’s time to learn it, fast.

Ask the right questions. What must you become smarter about in regards to their situation and buying decision? Listen hard. Parrot phrase things back so that they keep nodding at their own words and ideas. And paraphrase back to confirm that you’ve understood.

You started as the empty vessel, but now you’re filling up on knowledge. You’re getting smarter about how they see things. And how they feel. And perhaps how they might want to move forwards. (Because your expertise can shine clarity on the path ahead where they cannot see what you can. Brilliant.)

Now you’re the full vessel. Your understanding is sufficient to be able to help them. So now you can put your well earned smarty-pants hat on and enjoy yourself. Time to follow rule four…

The fourth rule of selling to smart people is:

Bring the smartest version of yourself into the conversation.

Remember, you can see things that they can’t. No, not dead people, don’t tell them that, I mean the things within your expertise that you’re paid to be able to see. (If you can’t, you’re wasting your time being there). It’s why they want your help. So, at this point, rather than just getting nods from them, you need to introduce whatever it is that they need to hear or think about in order to make the highest value buying decision.

You’ve won them over and they trust you by this stage. (This is important and a prerequisite for doing what I’m about to suggest).

So you’ve earned the right to be listened to. And this is where you can (and should) push back on them. Disagree with them – not for a laugh – but if they’re about to do the wrong thing. Acknowledge their thinking, and mention that other customers in their position have often thought the same. But be frank and tell them how their thinking can cause them problems further down the line. Help them think things through. Speak up. Don’t be shy. They respect you. They want a white knight to guide them to a better place. So do that. But be prepared to follow the fifth rule…

The fifth rule of selling to smart people is:

Have proof to back up your claims.

Just in case you need it.

You wouldn’t make solid claims if you didn’t have evidence would you? Good.

Well, by now, you’re almost there. Time to follow the sixth rule…

The sixth rule of selling to smart people is:

Invite them to make a decision.

Hand the reigns back to them. Have them own it. Nothing happens until decisions are made. It’s all talk until someone acts.

To recap, once you’ve..

a) respected how they’re smart
b) learned from them and about them
c) earned the trust and the right to guide them
d) pushed back on where they could be going wrong
e) provided proof where required..

…it’s over to them. But you must ask for a decision of how they’ll move things forwards from here. You can help them over this decision hump by making some suggestions of how others typically move things forwards. They like that. But ultimately, there’s no need to push here. You’ve highlighted the impacts of their thought process and decisions, and now you’re asking them for a simple step to progress things. A kind of “so, it is what it is, so what are you going to start doing about it?”

And, if they’re smart, like we assumed at the start, they’ll probably make a smart decision by this point.

Well done. You’ve just sold to a smart person. Push your chest out, smile, take a deep breath and glance around the room to see if anyone’s applauding. (They won’t be, because everyone’s really busy these days. But you could always be proud of yourself?)

If you want more help along these lines to help you sell, I do some work one to one, you can get in touch with me here.

Or if you’re part of a team or lead a team of people selling, you can reach me through this site.

Also, I could really use your help…

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