Is it flattery when you tell somebody something that’s meant to butter them up, that you’re consciously using to help persuade them, but which — to quote Henry Kissinger — has the added advantage of being true?

It is. And I’m all right with that.

To be sure, flattery can be insincere praise, and insincerity is a trap to avoid. People can feel it when you’re praising them about some talent or trait they know deep down they lack. But flattery can also be sincere, and I see no reason why salespeople shouldn’t use it with buyers, in the right spots.

One of those spots is when you’re facing someone who knows EXACTLY what he wants, and has “done his research.”
You know this kind of buyer: They’ve got reams of printouts and other data to back up their preconceived notions. And they have a hard time hearing you describe anything that doesn’t correspond precisely to the idea in their head.

What can you do to disarm this kind of buyer and prime them to get your message through?

Seek to understand

First, of course, you should listen. It’s always important to listen to your buyer, but this kind of buyer REALLY needs to be heard. They’re often burning to explain the framework they’ve constructed to make them feel justified in buying something.

So listen. For as long as it takes. Then, once they feel heard, you’re at the point where flattery can effectively grease the wheels.

Yes, they haven’t let you get a word in edgewise for 20 minutes while they went on about their ideal product or service. You’re struggling to stay patient. You may not feel particularly warm toward them. But there’s still something here you can sincerely praise: their degree of knowledge and preparation. And it’s true, isn’t it, that they do know a lot about the product category and the market?

Basking in the praise

Sales guru Dave Anderson, who has written extensively about various kinds of difficult customers, suggests using wording like this: “You’ve really done your homework! That makes my job easier, because it’s always better to deal with a well-prepared customer.” Which is true. Or you could even say, in full-on flattery mode, “It looks like you know more about this product than I do! If you’re ever thinking about a career change, we’d love to hire you!”

When buyers hear this kind of thing — provided you really mean it — they can’t help basking in the praise. And because they feel you “get” them, they’re able to relax and open their ears to what you have to say.

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