Book Review—unReceptive: A Better Way to Sell, Lead, and Influence

This in-depth book review is about unReceptive: A Better Way to Sell, Lead, and Influence by Tom Stanfill, Co-founder and CEO of ASLAN Sales Training Program. unReceptive will be available from HarperCollins Leadership on October 12, 2021, but you may pre-order your copy now.

I’d like to thank HarperCollins Leadership and Mike Onorato at Smith Publicity for giving me an advanced copy of the book.

Today, everyone has too much coming at them, from emails to meetings, text messages, and more. It’s no surprise that receptivity to sales pitches, calls, and emails has decreased throughout the years. And the more you try to sell, the more resistance you’ll face, especially in today’s virtual world.

In his book, unReceptive: A Better Way to Sell, Lead, and Influence, Tom Stanfill shows you a simple and effective and alternative to traditional selling. He talks about the five barriers to sales and how to overcome them; you may not hear about these in your typical sales training program.

The book’s main point is that sales leaders and their teams should focus on the receptivity of their audience. Why? Because most focus on the message, which may get lost in translation.

Let’s take a deeper look into how unReceptive may work for you and your business.

Traditional Selling Doesn’t Work Anymore

Chapter One of unReceptive: A Better Way to Sell, Lead, and Influence begins with why traditional selling doesn’t work anymore. Here’s a story from the chapter that sums up why some sales leaders and their teams may be sabotaging their chances of converting the disinterested.

Tom met Henry Owen, mid-sixties, a fourth-generation farmer who had managed over a thousand acres in Southern California. On the eighth hold, Tom asked Henry what the most important aspect of producing a crop was. Henry’s answered with, “If the soil ain’t fertile, it just don’t matter.” He explained that certain seeds lead to better fruit, but the most important element is the soil. If it’s not good soil, it doesn’t matter how good the seed is; you’re never going to turn a good harvest.

If you’re in sales and sending multiple emails or leaving many voice messages, you haven’t prepared the soil and gauged the receptivity of your customers. If you keep pushing or making a better argument for your product or service, you could make things worse.

The traditional approach to selling sabotages our ability to influence the rapidly growing number of unreceptive customers.

Tom makes a great point when he writes, “Emotions, not truth, prevail, no matter how determined, smart, talented, or skilled you are.” Even though you’re selling your software, CPA services, etc., you’ll speak with a person or a team of people. Therefore, you can’t dismiss the emotional element of sales. If a VP or Director makes the wrong decision, they may lose their job. It makes sense that people are reluctant to be receptive to what you’re selling.

Sales management and leadership must keep in mind that communication is a two-way street. The first thing to do is assess your customer’s willingness to give you their time and energy. Keep in mind that you can’t change others or force them to become open. If they’re closed, good luck trying to get them to listen to you.

No matter how much you think you can use your influence, it will backfire on you. It’s better to assess your prospect’s openness and think about how your best approach. And even if you do get your foot in the door, make your presentation, there’s no guarantee  you’ll make the sale. That’s all right because you’ve planted in your prospect’s mind that you’re a different type of salesperson—one that puts the customer first before the sale.

The Five Barriers to Sales

Tom is a seller and understands you may need immediacy when finding sales techniques that may take your selling to the next level. It’s why each chapter in unReceptive is written as a stand-alone so that you can find the lesson for your particular situation. He does a great job breaking down each sales barrier into five parts, which means you can find the one you need to overcome, study it, and apply what you’ve learned.

Here are the Five Unique Barriers to Persuasion.

The First Barrier–Changing Their Perspective of You

If you’re in sales, you already know that selling starts with you. And if you don’t have the right mindset, it may be impossible to convert a prospect who’s unreceptive. Remember, a customer “buys” is you, not your product/service or company. If they can’t connect with you, it won’t matter how great your presentation is or how much money your product may save them. They’ll be out.

Tom mentions that everything hinges on two questions asked consciously or subconsciously by every customer: “Are you going to pressure me? and “Am I the priority?”

Remember, most customers are closed, and it’s your job to help them to become open. If you develop and keep the right mindset, you may eliminate pressure and convince your customers that you are the hero or heroine of the story. So, how do you do this? By dropping the rope and resetting your compass.

Dropping the Rope

Let go of your agenda; aka drop the rope.

Tom gives multiple examples of how to do this. For instance, you may say something like, “My goal today isn’t to get you to sell more of “X” but to work together to solve a problem we both have: How do we get more people to embrace the need for “X”? Whether you buy more “X” from us or the competition, my goal today is to learn how we can work together to improve “X” outcomes. If we’ve burned too many bridges, I understand. I hope we can begin working together to solve a problem we both face. How does that sound?”

As you can see from the above example, you “drop the rope” and don’t push your agenda.

Tom gives you steps to drop the rope, from identifying every path customers can take to communicating that all options are acceptable. He also discusses some common myths, which you may have heard of before. For instance, “If I play my cards right, I can control the customer’s behavior and get the result I want.” Good luck with that because the only person you can control is you!

Reset Your Compass

Figure out “who” you are serving. You want to refocus and reset your compass and focus on ‘who’ really matters.

Once again, Tom provides a brilliant example of this with a story about Joe Max Higgins, who was in charge of the economic development for Mississippi’s Golden Triangle area. He heard that Yokohama (considering 3,100 locations) was searching for the right spot for its plant. Joe went to work on a plan to win over the execs from Yokohama. I won’t spoil the outcome for you, but I’ll tell you this:

Joe Max Higgins went above and beyond to ensure the Yokohama execs that Mississippi’s Golden Triangle area was the best location for Yokohoma’s plant. How did he do this? By having all of his employees learn about the Japanese culture. He reviewed competing communities’ planning and zoning minutes. The list goes on and on.

The most important point is that Joe “reset his compass” and was other-centered. Meaning he “set aside his agenda and what made him feel comfortable, along with his goals and desires and focused on meeting both the needs that related to the solution he offered and a deeper, more important need as well.”

Before your next sales meeting, you may want to consider dropping the rope and resetting your compass.

The Second Barrier–Opening a Closed Door

In “Opening a Closed Door,” Tom teaches you how to engage a prospect, what it takes to get their attention, and what to say when you have a meeting. He breaks this down into the following:

  • The RAS and the Power of Your Position
  • Email and the 10-30-3 Introduction
  • You Can’t Overcome a False Objection

I won’t cover all of these, but the one I found fascinating was the reticular activating system (RAS).

Reticular Activating System (RAS)

What is the RAS? It’s “an automatic mechanism that brings relevant information to your attention, acting as a filter between your conscious and subconscious mind, dampening down the effect of repeated stimuli such as loud noises, and preventing the senses from being overloaded.”

If our brains process thousands of messages every day, some of them may or may not get noticed. In fact, some may end up in the Junk folder as emails do.

The RAS always looks for either a known problem or anything disruptive and is triggered when it notices something that may be important to you. For instance, you may see or hear an advertisement for retirement accounts and remember that you need to call your financial advisor.

What does this have to do with sales? Everything.

As Tom points out, prospects are expecting:

  • To receive a generic message about your company and solution.
  • That you don’t know anything about them.
  • You don’t have any expertise to offer.
  • You lack unexpected insight on how to address their unique problem or need.
  • You’ll bend the truth to get a meeting.

If you want prospects to notice you, pay attention to the reticular activating system (RAS). Understand how it functions so that you can develop your position and be effective at persuasion.

Tom provides you with a three-step framework to develop your position to bring it all together in one framework: the  Other-Centered Position. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about your customer.

The Third Barrier–Discovering the Unfiltered Touch

Letting go of your point of view and seeing things from another perspective may help you close more deals. But it’s crucial to discover the unfiltered truth, whether you want to know it or not. Tom breaks down the third barrier into the following:

  • Take the Trip
  • The Discovery Roadmap
  • How to Get Anyone to Tell you Anything

What I liked most about this section is Take the Trip because most people don’t or won’t do this. Tom, of course, provides excellent examples of how others have “taken the trip.” One, in particular, caught my attention because it was about how a fifty-two-year war in Columbia ended.

“President Juan Manual Santos hired ad executive, Jose Miguel Sokoloff who convinced thousands of fighters to give up without firing a shot.” How did he do this? He “took the trip” to understand their point of view. Jose listened, which most people don’t do.

Take the Trip

To take the trip, you must put away your agenda and validate your prospect/customer’s point of view. Tom is correct when he writes, “We are unreceptive to an opposing point of view until we feel our position is heard, understood, and validated.”

In unReceptive, Tom also points out that “taking the trip is our greatest opportunity to meet the need. When the other person is the central figure in the story, they feel chosen and valued. The emotional connection may have more impact on your success than information.” I agree with this. Customers want to know that they’re not numbers in your Salesforce CRM or ATMs.

When you understand your a prospect’s point of view, you’ll know how to position your solution and have the chance to develop a unique message. Plus, it may significantly increase the liklihood of the other person seeing your point of view as well.

The Fourth Barrier–Changing Their Beliefs

Knowing how to deliver your recommendation effectively is important. However, you’ll want to know how to address your customer’s fears and concerns and change any strongly held beliefs. If you can’t do this, you may lose the sale and the relationship. In the fourth barrier, you’ll learn about:

  • Setting the Stage
  • A Formula for Changing Beliefs: Action = Belief + Care
  • Word Pictures and Success Stories: Making the Emotional Connection
  • Six Myths About Objections

If you’re in sales and marketing, you probably understand the importance of pictures and stories. After all, these are easy ways to connect with an audience. But what some sales team members and marketers may not know are the myths about objections.

Six Myths About Objections

In the military (or if you’re a pilot), you may be familiar with “Check your six, Maverick. There’s a bogey behind you.” Twelve o’clock is straight ahead, while six o’clock indicates the back of the plane. As a sales leader, you want to lead your prospect to their twelve o’clock.

Tom reveals the six myths along with a framework for creating the best response to each one. For instance, Myth Two is Don’t Talk About Prices Too Early. And let’s face it; it doesn’t matter if you’re buying email marketing software for your company or a TV for your living room; you want to know the cost.

“Top sellers periodically check their six to make sure the customer is still following, especially when receptivity is low: Are they on track? Are there any concerns? Is what I’m sharing making sense?”

Most salespeople get trapped in a game of going back and forth about price. They may have a case why the customer could invest more than what they think they can afford. It’s a fair assessment. However, you can always provide a range and say something like, “Based on the scope of need, the platform may range from $5,000 to $15,000 per year.” Done!

Haggling over price can be exhausting. Drop the rope (see what I did there) and answer your prospect’s questions about the range of costs. Do that, and you can have a conversation to determine the best solution.

The Fifth Barrier–Taking Action

The final barrier determines how to ensure receptivity of your prospect and help them take the next best step. Tom wraps everything up with An Other-Centered Approach to Advancing the Relationship and Receptivity is a Way of Life.

Other-Centered Approach to Advancing the Relationship

We’re too busy and overwhelmed. And what may be a good idea today may be replaced with another priority tomorrow. But don’t worry. Tom gives you three things that you can use to confirm your path forward. They are:

  • Perfect Fit
  • Potential Fit
  • Not Fit

Each of these can guide you to the truth (it’s not about winning or losing).

Getting an “honest yes or no is progress.”

Remember, neither you nor your prospect wants to waste time, especially on a win-lose relationship. There’s nothing wrong with discovering that a relationship may not work. If you discover this, you can move on to the next customer. However, keep in mind that timing is everything. The prospect that turned you down today may come back tomorrow.

And speaking of YOU.

Tom does a great job of reminding us that the “top sellers understand that what they choose to spend their time on is the single most contributing factor to their success.” And that “you don’t have time to waste on emails, calls, etc., about nothing. You want to determine the best course of action and agree on that action. Your motive should always be to serve the customer and remove the tension by dropping the rope—communicating that all options are acceptable.”

The last part may be difficult for some because they may be used to “winning” or be subjected to a dreaded “Friday Wins” meeting. Unfortunately, you don’t always win in life. It’s okay because progress may come from progress and perhaps, a better way of looking at and doing things. You get a perspective that you may not have had before.

Tom provides plenty of examples on how you may advance the relationship. Remember, you want to “communicate an “other-centered reason to move to the next step.”

Receptivity is a Way of Life

The final chapter in unReceptive: A Better Way to Sell, Lead, and Influence brings everything together with the simple message that “receptivity is a way of life.”

If you’ve ever sat through a sales training program, can you honestly say that you learned this? Furthermore, if you’re taking a communication course, did the instructor or professor talk about receptivity?

Probably not.

Above all, do you know what your driving purpose is? Is it to land a huge sale? Or is it use your resources and talents to help others?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to earn a great living or being the top salesperson at your company and receiving a bonus. However, you may find that it leaves you hollow and asking, “Is this it?”

Whether you’re serving your customers, family, or friends, have a desire to exceed the expectations of those you’ve chosen to serve. “Care more, learn more, and do more.”

You may also want to “assess your motive, assess your performance, and get feedback from others” (don’t listen to your inner critic).

Tom wraps up everything with the following:

“Who you are and how you live have more impact on your ability to convert the Unreceptive than what you do in the moment. The most influential and fulfilled people in the world live differently; they are other-centered. And almost everyone they meet is receptive to what they have to say.”

If you do the work, you may become someone others are receptive to, which may change your life on many levels.

Final Thoughts on unReceptive

I’m grateful for receiving an advanced copy of unReceptive: A Better Way to Sell, Lead, and Influence by Tom Stanfill and will re-read it. Not only is the book well-written and easy-to-read, but it also provides practical and helpful information that you can apply right now, whether you work in inside or field sales; at a call center, a real estate company, etc.

“The top sellers understand that what they choose to spend their time on is the single most contributing factor to their success. Gaining a commitment at the end of every meeting regardless of the outcome, ensures you are investing in only real opportunities. Be unwilling to waste countless hours sending emails, making calls, drafting proposals, or attending meetings about nothing.” -Tom Stanfill

Tom’s book will also help marketers or those seeking a new job opportunity or considering a career change. Because at the end of the day, we’re all in sales. It doesn’t matter if you’re a parent, an enterprise account executive, business development manager, digital marketing manager, etc. You want others to be receptive to you, which, of course, may lead to an outcome that works for both of you.

In the end, it’s essential to know and understand your audience and speak (or write) to them, and ensure they’re receptive to you, which will make them more willing to listen to your message.

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