A Top Down or Bottom Up Approach to Selling

There’s old saying that applies to persuasion and selling, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I don’t actually know anyone who’s ever skinned a cat so I have no idea how many ways you can do it but I’ll trust there are multiple ways. When it comes to persuasion there are many approaches you can use to hear “yes” more often.

What I’ll share this week is directed towards salespeople but the application goes beyond just sales. When it comes to landing a sale, there are a couple of ways you can approach it: top down or bottom up.

Top Down. Sometimes you want to go for it, pull out all the stops and be bold. After all, you have no chance of hearing “yes” if you don’t ask for the sale. Too many salespeople censure themselves with a belief that the prospective client will never go for their top of the line proposal. What they end up doing is reducing their offer…and their chances of making the sale.

I’ll give you an example from my industry – insurance. I can tell you from more than 30 years of experience that far too many people are underinsured when it comes to their homes, cars, businesses, and lives. Here are just a few reasons this happens:

  1. People feel “forced” to buy insurance. The state says they have to insure their car and the bank that holds their mortgage requires them to insure their home.
  2. Laws require business owners to carry certain coverages like workers’ compensation.
  3. Nobody wants to contemplate the end of life so the decision for life insurance is put off again and again.

Because people don’t like to buy insurance they can be quick to dismiss coverages and suggestions from their insurance agent. It’s always in the best interest of the customer that the agent recommends the policy and coverages he or she believes will afford the proper protection. During my time in the insurance industry I’ve never heard someone say after a loss, “Darn! My agent sold me the right coverages and I’m fully protected!” However, many people have said, “Damn! My agent didn’t sell me the right coverage (or amount) and now I’m paying out of my own pocket!”

By offering the right policy and coverages up front the agent risks being rejected and that’s okay. First, never underestimate that some people will buy what’s presented because they recognize it’s in their best interests to do so. If the individual rejects what’s presented the agent has the opportunity to engage what’s known as “reject and retreat.”

If someone rejects your initial offer and you step in with a more moderate offer, one that still affords the essential protection they need, the likelihood that the prospect will say “yes” to the second proposal is higher than if you’d have started with it outright. Why? Because of the principle of reciprocity. This principle of influence tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. In the case of rejection, when you make a concession, take a step to the middle, quite often people will make a concession too and meet you part way.

My advice to salespeople is always this – don’t censure yourself! Put the proposal on the table that you believe is right for the customer. When you do so, anticipate they might reject it and be ready with reduced offers you can use in case you hear “no.” Anticipating “no” is not pessimistic, it’s strategic because it allows you to strategically engage reciprocity.

Bottom Up. Sometimes it’s best to tackle the situation from the opposite direction. There might be reasons you can’t go for the whole enchilada because it will surely result in hearing “no” without any fallback options. This might happen because:

  1. You don’t have enough experience with the type of account you’re trying to write.
  2. You don’t have a strong enough relationship with the business owner to warrant going after all the policies associated with his or her business.
  3. The main part of the account comes up for renewal at a different time.

Your best opportunity under these circumstances would be to try writing something smaller like the prospect’s home and auto or part of their business account (auto, worker’s compensation, etc.). The reason you want to approach the sale in this manner is to get your “foot in the door.” If you write any business for the prospective customer you become their agent. Assuming you do a good job for them that little step forward will make it easier for them to give you an opportunity on the bigger parts of their insurance package.

The psychology behind this approach is the principle of consistency. This principle of influence alerts us to the reality that people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. Once you’ve become someone’s agent it’s a consistent next step to see if you can help him or her with their other insurance needs. Now the whole enchilada is within sight!

Persuading a person isn’t always as simple as some would lead you to believe. Due to situational factors and individual differences you can never predict what a single individual might do any more than a doctor can predict which person will live a long life. However, just as a doctor can confidently predict more people will live longer if they live healthy lifestyles, we can confidently say more people will say “yes” when you correctly tap into social psychology. We can make this claim because there’s more than seven decades of research you can rely on to significantly increase the odds that you’ll hear “yes” when you make a request of another person.

So, next time you go into a sale consider whether or not top down or bottom up is the right approach. A little strategic planning could make the sale much easier.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® on FacebookBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on GoogleBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on LinkedinBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on TwitterBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on Youtube
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer at influencePEOPLE
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is a sales trainer, coach and consultant whose specialty is applying persuasion and influence in sales and customer service situations. He is one of 20 individuals in the world who currently hold the CMCT designation. Brian’s blog, Influence PEOPLE, is followed by people in 200 countries and made the Online Psychology Degree Guide Top 30 Psychology Blogs in 2012.
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