I am grateful that the concept of being One-Up has resonated with salespeople and sales leaders. It’s a position that allows you to create value for your clients by helping them understand what they need to do to improve their results. Because you sell whatever you sell every day, you have a deeper understanding of certain aspects of the situation than your One-Down client, who rarely makes a decision about what you sell.
It's important to recognize this dynamic as it pertains to what you sell. It's also important to know that your client is One-Up when it comes to their business, their industry, and how their company will respond to any change initiative you might propose.
Some salespeople are apprehensive to offer their clients a higher resolution lens that can provide insights and a different perspective, one that will help them recognize the paradigm shift they face. The fear is that clients will object to ideas that clash with their existing knowledge.
Overcoming Your Fear of Being One-Up
Rid yourself of the idea that being One-Down means a person isn't smart, thoughtful, well read, and full of valuable insights of their own. Everyone has gained knowledge through their experience.
Both you and your client are One-Up in some areas and One-Down in others. The sales conversation isn't a contest to see which of you is smarter. Instead, the challenge is whether or not you can create value for your One-Down client by helping them see something in a new way, opening up the path to a decision that results in better future outcomes. To overcome any fear you have, keep the following in mind:
- You Are a Peer: As a peer, you can have a conversation that will be valuable to your client. Your client isn't your boss, your manager, or your superior. No leader needs another person to teach, train, develop, and manage; they already have plenty of people sharing their problems, challenges, and issues. What leaders and decision makers need is someone to bring them insights, answers, and ideas that will improve their results.
- You Are an Advisor: Modern B2B sales makes you a business advisor–part of the job is advising your client on what to do. The One-Down salesperson believes their job is to recite all the facts about their company and their solutions and why the client should buy from them. From the client’s perspective, they might as well ask the guy behind the counter at the local Waffle House how to improve their results. Your client needs someone who has the experience that augments what they know.
- Strong Leaders Like to Learn: The great game of One-Up is "I know something you don't know. May I share it with you?" Strong leaders are well aware of the fact that they are not experts in everything they might need to know to reach their goals. It's not an accident that a CEO has a COO, CFO, and a CRO, among other experts they hold accountable for areas where they are One-Down. You may be an external expert for your prospective client, but only if they recognize that you are One-Up. This allows them to outsource the responsibility for keeping up on your industry to you.
How to Deal with What You Fear
There is no reason to fear that a client will push back in the early conversation where you share your perspective, especially if your insights obliterate their current assumptions. There are methods that make these conversations easier for both you and your prospective clients.
- Be a Teacher and a Student: When opening a conversation with your client, explain that you are going to share some insights and their implications and that you expect that your client is already aware of some of them. You can more easily engage your client in a conversation designed to help them learn something valuable by inviting them to share what they see and experience in their world. A client who provides their perspective gives you another data point to refer to later. It's important to recognize that those who teach others should remain students while doing so.
- Clients Reject Your Perspective: It took me years to uncover why some prospects cannot learn something that would help them improve their results. One reason is that I offered them the certainty of better results without first presenting the certainty of negative outcomes tied to the status quo. Another reason why clients rejected my perspective was that it clashed with their incentives and constraints. Sometimes, the existing incentives, especially financial ones, were so powerful they blocked any new viewpoints. Other times, the company had constraints that prevented them from taking action, even though they understood that a change would improve their results.
Fearing the Wrong Danger
One of my most important insights is about fearing the wrong danger. While you might worry about clashing with a client who has their own perspective, your greater fear should be failing to create enough value in the sales conversation. Why? This causes your prospective client to disengage with you and seek someone they can trust to help cover the gaps in their knowledge and experience—helping them become One-Up.