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Is Vulnerability the New Strength?

Not too long ago I found myself agreeing to a partially funded trip out to Las Vegas courtesy of Hilton Grand Vacations to get some much needed rest and relaxation. In exchange for the partially subsidized trip, I had to consent to participate in a one-hour presentation/tour of a time-share property that Hilton wished to sell to anyone that could meet fairly minimal financial standards.

As much as I would have preferred to forego the presentation and tour, it seemed like a small price to pay for a few days in the sun able to do as I wish with the time not allocated to the presentation. However, I have spent some time thinking about the approach employed by the tour guide/sales person and while I did not sign any documents, write any checks, commit to any contracts, or even suggest I had the most remote level of interest in the product, the sales approach did get me to thinking about the whole approach employed in selling the property.

Sure, there was the expected and ubiquitous high-pressure tactics employed, the “Manager” trying to re-open the sale after the initial sales person received a “no” as a response, the “closer” who still tried to save a sale, the “act now or forever lose the chance to take advantage of this offer,” etc. – but the initial salesperson did something else that had me intrigued.

Is vulnerability the new strength?

Admitting Weakness

The salesperson tried to establish some bond or commonality between us.  Commenting on the lack of hair, interest in baseball, experiences traveling – anything that might form a connection to put us on a more friendly footing.  When the answers given were cordial, polite, but more perfunctory than truly relationship forming; he switched gears.  He became vulnerable.

Ordinarily, a sales person perceives his or her role to be; calm, in control, knowledgeable about the product or service, and above all, should be confident.  It is rarely expected that the seller would admit to weakness or failings.

However, this salesperson was very disarming in sharing within the first five minutes that he had a son who was struggling with depression and a niece who was a drug addict in need of treatment at a rehab facility.  As a sales technique, this seemed to contradict everything that has been accepted as a standard selling skills approach.  Rather than focus on the product (the time share property) exclusively, he peppered the discussion with questions about opinions on what he should or shouldn’t say or do, whether it was an experience I had any exposure to myself, and other rather personal questions and topics not ordinarily shared with anyone but the closest of friends.

Now, to be certain, this may have been an approach to do any of the following:

  1. Distract from the focus on his attempt to get me to commit tens of thousands of dollars for what many would consider a dubious purchase.
  2. Humanize himself to the point that a customer would feel sorry for him and offer to help (consciously or not) by making the purchase.
  3. Share a learning or a piece of himself in an effort to get me to disclose something personal about myself which he could then use to bond with me.
  4. Something I have not considered and cannot figure out.

Regardless of what his intentions were, and even with the enormous cynicism that accompanies the presentations, his approach did resonate with me.  He did not get the sale from me – but he definitely has made me rethink whether there is a place in sales for being fallible.  For struggling (and overcoming) issues that could have prevented success.  For recognizing when it is time to take action (and when it is not).   

Is weakness the new power?

I have to admit that getting me to confront these issues was certainly a very new sales approach.   By sharing something very personal and human about his own situation, the conversation took on a very different trajectory.  I was still quite wary of whether this was some “tactic” he had learned to make me part with my money more quickly; but rather than argue about price, product features, or a whole host of “ordinary” objections I might have raised – this conversation was different. 

We spoke about the human condition and shared experiences.  His mistake may have been trying to “go there” too quickly with me.  We had not established a relationship that could support that level of disclosure.  There was not a trust between us and so his openness and candor seemed very out of place for the environment we were in, and the level of intimacy being shared.

His attempt at bridging the wide gulf between us (his wanting to sell something to someone who was not interested in being a buyer) may have been too much to ask for given how badly the deck was stacked against him.  Yet, his approach does deserve more consideration and application when used correctly. 

Relying on the standard methods of selling based on the assumption that I have a problem that needs solving and that he has a solution would not have been any more successful.  In fact, had he attempted that approach, the presentation would have devolved into an argument of objections and claims, points and counter-points, and when all was said and done; there would still be no sale that would have occurred.

David Zahn