The secret selling ingredient, Pt. 1

By SteveLewit

United Advisors

Without self-respect, people can’t trust themselves. And, without the ability to trust themselves, they cannot trust you.

Last week one of my clients, Italian in heritage, was nice enough to share her family recipe for tomato sauce (which she calls “gravy,” as many from the old country do). After a long set of instructions on how and when to put the ingredients together, cooking time, temperature and all that, she finally looked at me and said, in a much lower and secretive voice, "And now, for the secret ingredient …"

“The secret ingredient,” I said to myself, “I’d better listen carefully.” So I leaned in to meet her eye to eye and to hear the ancient secret to gravy, which, it turns out, was so simple and yet so profound that it knocked my socks off.

Now, for all you gravy fans out there, I would love to share Rose’s secret with you, but if I did, I would violate the sacred promise of secrecy Rose demanded from me in exchange for her words of genuine wisdom.

What I can say, however, is that the taste test for Rose’s gravy did two things: 1) it made the very best gravy I have ever tasted; 2) it started me wondering if there was a secret ingredient in all selling systems, that absolutely guarantees higher performance.

The result of my pondering was that there definitely is a secret selling ingredient. Let me share it with you.

Let’s reverse roles with your client. Let’s put your self interests aside and step into the client's shoes for a few minutes. What would you find? Probably something like this:
    1. They are fearful that something in the future will upset their applecart.
    2. They are disappointed that they have not gotten something that they wanted.
    3. They don’t know whom to trust.
    4. They don’t like change.
These four emotions are the more obvious ones. And, as sales professionals, we know the elimination or satisfaction of these emotions is what drives the willingness to change. That’s why I am always saying: No emotion, no sale!

But there is a deeper subset of emotions of which many of us are not aware. These deeper emotions have to do with our clients’ feelings of self-respect — that they are in some way OK with who they are, with the decisions they have made in the past, and with what they believe. Without self-respect, people can’t trust themselves. And, without the ability to trust themselves, they cannot trust you.

The secret ingredient to modern-day selling, the ingredient that surpasses all other ingredients, is to build a client’s self-respect.
You have a selling choice

The natural inclination for most sales professionals when meeting with a client is to point out all the things that are wrong with their current financial strategy. The belief is that if you don’t find something that is “wrong” with the client’s finances and point that out to them, a sale will not be made. This single belief undermines and loses sales, because pointing out what is wrong with a client’s finances causes the client to lose self-respect and their belief in their own decisions — and doing business with you is their next decision. It’s the old story of shooting the messenger when he delivers a message you don’t want to hear. In this case, you’re the messenger and most people don’t want to hear about all the mistakes they have made.

You, as a sales professional, have a selling choice and could take a totally different approach — one that goes against everything you’ve learned in selling — and that is to support the client in his or her choices, even if they haven’t been well thought out or haven’t performed well. Supporting people in their choices sends a distinct message to them that you respect what they have done and that they can respect themselves for what they have done.

Now, you may be saying to yourself that this is ridiculous. How can you support someone in their bad choices and make a sale? That’s the secret to the secret ingredient. The more you support someone, the more objective they will get about their own decisions and, eventually, instead of you telling them the decisions were poor, they will tell you. In other words, you make the client the messenger. When the client is the messenger, nobody gets shot, since the client will not shoot himself.

You have this choice, but most sales professionals will not take it because they believe that building the client’s self-respect — by seeing their glass half-full rather than half-empty, by putting your arms around them (figuratively or for real) and saying, “You have done an outstanding job, one for which you should be quite proud,” — will not deliver a sale. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In part two of this series, I am going to go into more detail about how to reverse the roles and make your clients the messengers of bad news instead of you. It’s simpler than you think, and more effective than you can imagine.


We all want to feel OK or better about ourselves. We all want to believe, and want others to believe, that we are bright, that we make good decisions and that we are OK as we are. In reality, we are all perfectly OK just as we are, and the decisions we have made in the past were the very best decisions we could have made given our personalities, the information available, our upbringing, environment and so on.

The question for us and our clients is: Are we willing to make changes so that we can do better? In my world, you have to give up old ideas of selling, ideas of how to convince people that change is good for them. In the client's world, they need to know that they are embraced and respected by us as intelligent human beings. When you get to the point of discarding old-time selling and, instead, helping people build their self-respect, not only will your business go through the roof, but your own feelings of self-respect will, too.