The New ABCs of Selling: A Is for Attunement

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What is attunement in reference to sales? How can you use attunement to move others?

In the new ABCs of selling, the A stands for attunement. Attunement is the ability for a salesperson to tune into their buyers’ needs and to change their approach depending on the circumstances and the needs of the buyer.

Continue reading to learn all about attunement as part of the new ABCs of selling.

A Is for Attunement

The economic and technological changes gave rise to a whole new philosophy of selling, also called the new ABCs.

Traditional ABCs

  • Always Be Closing”
    • The dynamic between seller and buyer is akin to predator and prey
    • The singular goal is making the sale

The new ABCs

  • Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity.
    • Each of these serves the newly dominant skillset of “movement”
    • You need all three to effectively move people

This article explores the quality of attunement. Attunement is having the capacity to tune into the context or perspective of others and align your own perspective or behavior accordingly. Like a frequency, it allows you to adjust depending on the circumstances, and the needs of the buyer or target. There is a difference between attunement and lying, however. It still needs to be human-centric (not mechanical, or transactional).

There are four forms of attunement we need to effectively move others:

  1. humility
  2. strong emotional intelligence
  3. curiosity
  4. adaptability

#1: Humility

When you are humble enough to allow the other person to be the focus, to have the power in a transaction, you are more likely to move them.

#2: Strong Emotional Intelligence Without Overt Focus on Emotions

This demonstrates a form of attunement where you are connected to the emotional needs of the buyer, but are also considering their thoughts and beliefs. This helps them to feel supported in the transaction. For example, let’s say you have a devout Christian buyer who wants to find a catering company for her wedding. She says she wants the cheapest option. You have a cheap option you can offer her. You also have an option that costs a bit more, but the company offering it has a Christian background. Considering both emotional needs and belief systems, you might suggest the Christian catering company. While the cheaper company would fulfill her immediate need, the Christian company would likely create a better overall experience for her. 

#3: Curiosity

Another form of attunement, demonstrated by being thoughtful about the buyer, and asking lots of targeted questions. For example, if you’re a salesperson trying to sell an iPhone, you can ask the buyer what some of their favorite daily activities are. Let’s say their answer is something relating to exercise—you might later show them the benefits of Apple’s “health” app. 

#4: Adaptability

This is the ability to receive and respond quickly to changes in your selling environment. It also allows you to attune to changing needs of the buyer. Ambiverts, who adapt their qualities of introversion and extroversion to their environment, are great at this (which is why they often make fantastic salespeople).

Tools for Practicing Attunement

To properly practice attunement, use these three Core Tools.

Tool #1: Practice perspective-taking

In order to sell effectively, you need to understand the preferences and biases of the buyer. Many assume empathy is the best way to achieve this. Empathy is an effective connection and persuasion skill, but it’s emotion-based, and it can be detrimental by limiting creative solutions or sacrificing self-interest. An example of this is overly-empathizing with a customer who doesn’t have great finances, making a sale that serves them but doesn’t allow you to profit at all (sacrificing self-interest). Another example is catering to a buyer’s emotions so much that you lose objectivity, and fail to suggest otherwise effective solutions. 

Perspective-taking, a head-based approach, is more effective at moving others than empathy. Individuals are not islands—they are connected to other people, circumstances, and greater contexts. Perspective-taking is the ability to get outside yourself and deliberately imagine the experience of others. It facilitates openness, clarity, and achieving efficiency without sacrificing profit. Let’s say you have a client who is from a different generation from you. You can consider their needs from that context. For example, you’re probably not going to sell a 20-year-old a life insurance policy.

Good salespeople have the ability and willingness to think outside of themselves to get into the heads or hearts of others. That way, when a customer comes to you with a problem, not only do you find a solution, but you identify additional problems, and provide solutions for those too. 

Perspective-Taking Test

Employers who want insight into their employees’ openness to perspective-taking can use this quick exercise. 

  • Ask your employee to use their dominant hand to snap their fingers 5 times as quickly as possible, then ask them to, with the same speed, draw a capital E on their forehand with that same dominant hand.
  • Whether they draw the E as though they will be reading it, or as though you will be reading it, determines whether or not they have the natural inclination to think outside of their own experience or needs enough to consider the needs and experience of others. They can use this information to improve their sales skills.

Tool #2: Empower yourself by assuming you don’t have the power

Manipulation, coercion, and ignoring the needs of the buyer are all practices that prevent success in today’s sales environment. The shift in balance from sellers holding all the cards to buyers having equal power makes perspective-taking a crucial component of selling, and perspective-taking is impeded by assuming you are the one with the power. When you believe you have the power, you are more attached to your own perspective and dismissive of the perspectives of others. The perception of power causes you to attune less to those around you, obscuring your view of reality. 

To be a good salesperson, assume you do not have the power. Assume the power lies with the buyer. You will more naturally attune to their needs and be better able to serve them. In this way, you are taking a “weakness,” and turning it into a strength.

A recent study conducted research on the relationship between perspective-taking and power. Prior to the experiment, one research group did activities to increase feelings of empowerment, and the other did activities to decrease feelings of empowerment. Then they were given the Perspective-Taking Test (from Tool #1). The results showed that participants who did activities to increase power were more likely (3x) to draw an E from a self-oriented perspective. The implication: Even a modicum of perception of power decreases your likelihood of attuning yourself to someone else’s point of view.

Tool #3: Use deliberate mirroring 

It’s innate for human beings to mimic. Scientists see mimicry as demonstrating trust and fulfilling a social contract. They call it “the chameleon effect.” Mimicry is effective because in primitive times we lived in smaller groups of people we trusted. Now, the population has expanded. It’s not as easy to determine who can be trusted, so we look for environmental cues and signs of trustworthiness. We trust those who match our behavioral patterns or vocal patterns. From a sales standpoint, we can consciously mimic others to enhance buyer trust, or to increase genuine connection between buyer and seller.

A Dutch study demonstrated the efficacy of mimicry from a sales context by showing that waitresses who were able to mimic back customer orders (repeating it back verbatim) were more likely to receive large tips than their peers who didn’t. Similarly, a study conducted at Duke University tested mimicry’s impact on the perception of a new sports drink. The interviewer advertised the drink and found that subtly mimicking the participants made them more likely to respond positively to it. 

Steps to Successful Strategic Mimicry

Step #1: Watch

Observe the other person, their patterns of speech, their body language, their facial expressions, and mannerisms.

Step #2: Wait

Don’t immediately mimic them. Take your time and test the mimicry sparingly. Don’t bombard them with mirroring.

Step #3: Wane

Once you’ve used conscious mimicry, relax and try not to think much about what you’re doing. Mimicry is already natural to humans, and it will eventually become instinct. 

The Ambivert Edge

There is often a general assumption that extroverts are the best salespeople. Why? They’re naturally outgoing, more likely to converse and connect, and so on. Truthfully, though, there is no evidence that extroverts are the best salespeople. While extraverts may be likable, that doesn’t necessarily translate to results (sales performance or volume). 

In one study comparing personality traits of over three hundred sales reps with their sales performance, extroverts only minimally outperformed introverts. Ambiverts outperformed both extroverts and introverts. Results of the study indicate that being too extraverted impedes performance, and being too introverted also impedes performance. Why? Extraverts can be overly assertive and persistent in a way that is a turn-off to buyers. Being too introverted can cause you to be too shy to open a deal or push a deal forward. 

Ambiverts fall in the middle of the spectrum between introversion and extroversion. Therefore, results imply that ambiverts are the best salespeople. Why? Extraverts can be classified as responders, while introverts would be categorized as inspectors. Inspectors listen, observe, and evaluate. Responders question, communicate, and advise. Sales requires a careful balance of both inspecting and responding, and ambiverts tap into that balance most easily. In other words, they are naturally more skilled at attunement. 

Other Ways to Practice Attunement

#1: Become a conversation starter

Conversation is the most natural and powerful way to practice attunement. Communicating with each other allows us to feel connected, and understand one another on a deep level. In a sales context, having the willingness to start genuine conversations with potential buyers sets the foundation for trust. 

For example, let’s say you sell bikes. Maybe one week you find a new coffee shop you like, and strike up casual conversation with the baristas. You start going regularly, always making sure to chat with baristas and customers during your visit. One day, you’re chatting with a barista and they tell you their car is out of commission. Now you have an opportunity for a mutually beneficial transaction. 

#2: Use the “empty chair” mentality

Always consider the image of an empty chair when preparing to sell something (sales or non-sales). If possible, literally put an empty chair in the room with you while you’re preparing. This encourages you to maintain awareness of other peoples’ perspectives (a critical part of attunement).

#3: Take a personality test online to determine where you fall on the scale of introversion versus extroversion 

If you find that you’re an ambivert, continue building on your existing skills. If you’re more of an extrovert, focus on practicing skills of introversion, or vice versa, if you are more of an introvert. Becoming more balanced makes it easier to adapt and attune to others.

The New ABCs of Selling: A Is for Attunement

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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