One of the greatest moral and emotional challenges facing those in the sales field – especially those who are new to it – is the gnawing, consistent question of ‘is what I’m doing wrong because its manipulative?’

And you know what, even after training and mentoring hundreds of business owners and salespeople through this pressing realisation, I still must say ‘I get it’.

Sales is extremely manipulative. It can be persuasive, it can be influential, it can be empowering, it can be demeaning, it can be life-changing, it can be so many things… but the truth is that if there is one thing that it definitely is…. it’s manipulative.

Now, before we go crazy with this straight-to-the-bone realisation, let’s take a step back and realise what the actual definition of ‘manipulation’ is, which is essentially ‘to be moulded or bent into shape’.

That’s it. At the end of the day, ‘manipulation’ really just means to move something from one state to another – which is what every single salesperson is doing whenever they connect with a potential buyer. In fact, it’s what every single person does whenever they are getting their point across to anyone, whether that even be a parent to a child, a dentist to their patient or a dog barking at another dog to defend its territory. Which begs the question where did it get such a negative vibe to it? It’s like someone has been spreading rumours about manipulation around the schoolyard that weren’t even true. Nonetheless, we as a collective have made our connotations with the word and it looks like it will be staying that way for a while.

So what is that makes a sales strategy (negatively…) manipulative?

Essentially, it can boil down to three distinct perspectives or desires that all have one thing in common: selfishness over selflessness.

1. The intention is to gain first, give later and not give first, gain later.

The act of selling becomes negatively manipulative first and foremost when the act is being done for the salesperson’s gain over and above anything else. When it comes to selling – or any human interaction at large – we will always have our own ‘secret’ ambition, so to speak. We will always be aware of what we can get out of a particular situation, that’s just human nature. But the order in which we believe we are entitled to giving and receiving is what makes all the difference. If we believe we should be entitled to receive before we give, then we are likely to be negatively manipulative, but if it’s the other way around (we are ready to give before we receive) then we will always put the needs of others first knowing that we will be taken care of in the process.

2. There is no clear outcome set for the use of the strategy. It’s a strategy or technique for the sake of a strategy or technique.

When we first learn how to sell and as we go on our journey of education into the world of selling, we learn a range of – well, let’s call them exhilarating – techniques and strategies for moving a conversation into the direction we’d like it to go.  They’re extremely powerful and can come with them a temptation to use them at any opportunity just to remind oneself of the conversational power they now hold. So where does the use of these become manipulative? Simple: When they are used without an outcome in mind and are simply just used for the sake of being used. Nothing screams selfishness like feeling good about your own abilities at the expense of someone else’s clear thinking, just because you had a technique you wanted to try out.

3. The use of the strategy is used to solidify the egotistical worldview of the person using it. E.g. to reinforce they are a smart person, or that they are likeable.

Being able to direct a conversation in a particular way can also come with another superpower: having people agree with what it is you would like them to agree with. This superpower can become negatively manipulative and selfish when the conversational skills are used to make the salesperson feel better (or justify) a part of themselves they’re not necessarily proud of (“I sold to someone last week that didn’t even need it, but we’ve all done that at some stage, haven’t we? You’d agree with that, wouldn’t you?”). This moral covering for one’s own mistakes causes a lack of responsibility to be taken for them and is the selfish way of escaping the lesson they need to learn from going against their own values and morals.

As you can see, we are always manipulating, we are always persuading and we are always influencing. That can’t be denied nor stopped. What can be changed however is the level of selfishness or selflessness with which the manipulation occurs.

What do you think? Was anything missed from this list? Let us know!

Darcy J Smyth is the lead trainer and creator of the Tonal Persuasion Method for Sales, the methodology designed to ensure you are closing sales without the need for the dreaded Hard Sell that turns so many buyers away in the modern business landscape.


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