The Walls Are Up — How to Get Them Down

Forgive the post’s title having perhaps too familiar and emotional a connection with many. It does serve well as an “attention getter” though, yes? The title refers to the walls customers raise when they begin to feel as if they’re being sold or marketed to. The question for me and my colleagues working in sales is this; how do we keep customers’ defenses and skepticism down so we can more effectively develop our business?

The top rated teacher at The Wharton School for five straight years and in the top 25 of the Thinkers50 [Global Management] Ranking, Adam Grant published “Originals” in 2016. Sheryl Sandberg, founder of, wrote in the Foreword:

We accept the status quo because effecting real change seems impossible. Still we dare to ask: Can one individual make a difference? And, in our bravest moments: Could that one individual be me? Adam’s answer is a resounding yes. This book proves that any one of us can champion ideas that improve the world around us. 

The book goes on to provide many details and insights on how we can be original and effect change.

For anyone working in sales and business development, a noteworthy insight emerges in “Originals” when he highlights the research of Marion Friestad and Peter Wright. One aspect of their research says, in short, when we feel as if we’re being sold to, we tend to put up walls or defenses against this persuasion attempt (Friestad and Wright; Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 21, No. 1, June 1994, Oxford University Press). When you connect with that customer and the doctor will see you now, what will you do with that time? Will you launch into early persuasion/selling attempts??? You may have just had your last meeting with her.

Educated consumers have defenses against persuasion. Grant highlights a selling strategy of Rufus Griscom who founded Babble, an online magazine and blog network for parents. Rufus pitched Babble to investors and ultimately to Disney. He pitched his business by highlighting the top reasons they should not buy Babble. Interestingly, presenting these data points to his skeptical audience caused them to disarm. Rufus observed in meetings that this unconventional approach caused audience members to chuckle, relax their physical postures and lower their shields. They were no longer being sold. Rufus sold Babble to Disney for $40 million.

From the very first contact our customers have with us, they expect they will be sold to. We are known as “sales reps.” Their shields are up before we say our first word. Our job is to get them down so we might engage in constructive, useful dialog and develop mutually beneficial business.

After several meetings with me, during two of which she mentioned many of her patients were on a competitor’s therapy, a physician customer of mine switched almost all her patients on a competitor’s therapy over to mine. During our previous encounters I never confronted her or sold her on my therapy. I presented resources potentially of use to her, listened to her priorities, and supported them. When I felt the time was right, my question to her was a simple one: what do my competitors do for you? Without hesitating, her reply was, “Scott, they do nothing, absolutely nothing.” In disarming her during all prior meetings, I was able to connect with her, meet with her, learn her priorities and interests and provide genuinely helpful resources and training. Had I sold her on day one or two she could have easily thrown up the shields and cut off all communication. What would be my chances of developing any business then?

Learn more in “The Doctor Won’t See You Now,” available on Amazon.


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