Last week, Actionable hosted our 2nd Annual Partner Summit—an event designed to bring together the members of our incredible Actionable Consultant Partner community, as well as several members of the Actionable team, with a focus on growth for their businesses and their clients. There were many incredible moments and “a-ha’s” throughout the event, but one moment in particular stands out as really electric for the entire group. My brilliant colleague, Louise Davis, shared the phrase certainty sells—and went on to explain what that means specifically to our partner community. All around the room people were nodding vigorously, scribbling notes, and making pointed eye contact with their business partners.

Before I unpack the “certainty” element of the phrase certainty sells, let’s talk about sales. For many of us, the image of a salesperson invokes a negative connotation. We picture cheap suits, slick tactics, and people who will promise anything to get the sale and reach their numbers, regardless of the needs of their prospect. Maybe we’ve been burned in the past, and are wary of people trying to sell us something—that used car that we didn’t know had been in an accident, that home with a cracked foundation, or the software with limitations that had not been disclosed at the time of sale, all add up to a distrust of “salespeople.”

However, almost all of us need to be “selling” in the course of our daily work.

In To Sell is Human, Dan Pink explores the relationship that we have to sales, and how we can become more effective by embracing the humanity of selling. Pink argues that the ubiquity of information available at our fingertips online has fundamentally changed the way people buy and sell. The salesperson is no longer the expert, as the buyer has unlimited access to information about the product or service. As a result, sales has become a fundamentally human endeavour—it’s about helping people find the right solution for them, and no longer about providing information.

I heard several times during the Summit that our Partner community of consultants and coaches don’t think of themselves as being in sales. They provide solutions. They fix problems. They collaborate with their client organizations. They are partners and teammates, eager to help their clients overcome roadblocks. As they should be! However, if they can’t get buy-in from their clients, or are unable to move past the proposal stage—if they can’t close the sale in the first place—they won’t have the opportunity to do the great work that they are known for.

In order to be truly certain that you have the best solutions for your clients, you will need to do some work to determine who you’re selling to. You need to create a relationship with your prospect that allows you to understand the challenges and pressures that they’re facing, and to sell to their deeper needs.

Far too often, a deep need is disguised in a simple request. For example: you get a call from a long time client who tells you they need you to facilitate a half-day of leadership training for a group of recently promoted sales managers. You could take that request at face value, and deliver exactly what they asked for. Or, you could ask your client about the conditions that prompted the request—an internal conflict, flat KPIs, or the emergence of a start-up taking a bite out of their market share, are making the leadership team nervous. If you are certain about the efficacy of your offerings, and have established a trusting relationship, you can confidently suggest a solution that differs from their original request, and solves the problems they are really worried about.

Sales boils down to trust—if you can trust that someone has your best interest in mind, you’re likely to buy from them. If you get the sense that they don’t care about your needs, or are merely trying to hit their targets, chances are you won’t part with your hard-earned money. Having certainty in the solutions you provide can help build a foundation of trust.

The trust equation provides an excellent framework for helping you to develop your trustworthiness in the eyes of your clients, and to cultivate the kind of certainty that sells.

Certainty Sells - The Trust Equation

While this equation provides a helpful model for developing trustworthiness, it should also be noted that each element of the equation varies according to the personality type of your prospect. If you know that your client is extremely detail oriented with a high degree of trust placed in research, you can establish credibility most effectively through a detailed, well-researched proposal. If your client has a tendency to think big picture, a walk through of the high-level plan paired with a brief story of other times your approach has been successful will do the trick. Make sure you tailor your approach to the individual you’re working with.

Certainty in your offering feeds into the trust equation nicely. It helps you establish credibility and reliability. It can also help you create a sense of intimacy—when you really listen to the challenges your clients are facing, and demonstrate how you can help them with sensitivity and confidentiality, a sense of intimacy begins to emerge. And lastly, certainty in your offering allows you to create a sense of self-orientation—sure, you’re selling them a service (which is inherently self-interested), but with certainty in the efficacy of your offerings, you can focus on the interest of your clients, and solve their problems.

This will create a foundation of trustworthiness that you need to move past the proposal stage and start delivering your solutions. We know that certainty sells, so go ask for the sale with confidence. 

Think to the last time you made a major purchase. Did the salesperson say “This will probably solve your problem,” or “I’m not sure, but I think this is the product for you”? Or did they say “Based on the needs you’ve described, I highly recommend this product” or “I’ve talked to lots of people with a similar problem/need, and they all agree that this solution is the path to success”? I’d put money on the fact that it was the latter. The same principle is true for you and your clients.

Start by striking the following words from your vocabulary when you are presenting your proposals: I think, maybe, probably, likely, not sure, perhaps, possibly (you get the idea).

Think back over the past 6 months to a year. How has your close rate been with proposals? At least a handful of stalled projects were likely due to circumstances beyond your control. But what about those clients who got close, but never crossed the finish line? Maybe you felt certain that you could solve their problem or challenge—but did you communicate that certainty when you were asking for the sale? Was there an element in the trust equation that was lacking? It could be time to revisit those prospects with a renewed certainty in your solutions. You may be amazed by the profound impact of certainty on your sales pitches.