[IMGCAP(1)]Close your eyes and imagine a young child—two or three years old perhaps. Opinionated, loud, brave, obnoxious, sensitive, thoughtful, uncouth, stubborn, covered in mud, scratches, and Sharpie marks, this child can be the best sales teacher you will ever have.
Surprised? And yet it is true. Young children are amazing sales people, because selling is what they do all day. Instead of hawking consulting services and tax returns, they might be pitching their latest crazy stunt (will Mom be OK with me attempting to balance on one foot while standing on top of the couch and wearing pants pulled over my eyes?) or negotiating for a tasty treat (can I have ice-cream instead of breakfast?). The idea is the same, and their success rate might give you pause.
In order to be better at selling, you can read a dozen books, attend expensive seminars—or you can simply observe a garden-variety toddler for a couple of hours. Here is what I have learned.
1. If you never ask, the answer will always be no.
A young child does not have a preconceived notion of what is and is not possible, allowed or conventional. Even if he does, he can manage to set it aside long enough to ask for what he wants. It is not in the toddler’s nature to say no for you.
How often have you held back from making a request, pitching an idea or reaching out to enroll someone in your vision simply because you thought they might say, “No, thanks”? If this sounds familiar, can you see that effectively you have said no to yourself on their behalf? Your success rate in that scenario is zero, every time. Next time, set aside that discouraging little voice in your head and ask for what you want—statistically, your chances for success are better that way.
2. Just because you got a no once does not mean that you will continue to get a no.
“No” does absolutely nothing to discourage a persistent toddler. If you are lucky, he or she might walk away, wait a few minutes, and come up with a different way to ask again. If you are not lucky, you will be treated to an exact repetition of a previously denied request immediately following that request.
Grown-ups can be a little more sophisticated in applying this lesson. The bottom line is that all too often, what we take for an absolute no is steeped in real-life context. Perhaps it really means “not now” or “not in this exact manner.” If you don’t probe, you will never know what they actually meant. Which brings me to the next point.
3. Ask why.
Toddlers ask “Why?” all the time. The question can be directed to their parents, extended family members and strangers who may or may not care to listen. Their goal is not to drive you to reach for that wine bottle well before 5 PM, although sometimes it may feel that way. They just want to get to the bottom of the issue. They want to understand: deeply, personally and fully. They won’t rest until they get there.
You could use some of that. Ask yourself and others “Why?” and don’t let it go until you really know.
4. Explain it more than one way.
Never mind their limited vocabulary—toddlers are masterful communicators. If one way does not work, they will invent another. If a verbal request for ice-cream before breakfast is not enthusiastically approved, they will act out a pantomime that would make Charlie Chaplin proud, complete with hand gestures and an emotional storm all over their little faces.
While I would not ask you to put on a performance every time, there is something here that you can take away. A little more flexibility. A willingness to try another way. Perhaps even a joke to make the other person smile, or a story to illustrate the point.
5. Don’t make it personal.
At the end of the day, no matter how many crazy ideas with potential for serious bodily harm have been rejected, a toddler knows beyond any doubt that he or she is loved. They don’t take your “no” to mean that they are a complete failure. They don’t go into a tail spin of self-pity and self-doubt, thinking that they are doomed to miss the mark next time. They simply try again, without judgment. Frustration maybe, but not judgment.
And perhaps this is the best sales gift from a toddler— this spirit of never giving up. They pitch, ask and negotiate tirelessly all day, and then wake up the next day ready to do it all over again. Their whole life, full of exploration, learning and personal fulfillment depends on it.
So does yours.
In her professional lives across the United States, Natalia Autenrieth has audited Fortune 500 clients as part of a Big 4 team, built an accounting department as a controller of a large hospital, and served as a CPA consultant to municipalities. As part of the Autenrieth Advantage team, Natalia coaches high-achieving CPAs for sustainable growth, helping them build highly profitable careers, avoid burn-out, and have more fun! Natalia lives in Southern California with her husband Doug, who is an author, an executive coach, and a kung fu teacher, and their son Mason. They share a home with Tasha the German Shepherd, who is highly trained and exceptionally well behaved, and Kaya the Abyssinian cat, who is a frequent candidate for a one-way ticket to Siberia. Read more about Natalia and her practice at www.AutenriethAdvantage.com.
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