You have a misbehaving child, prone to tantrums and disagreeability. You don’t seem to be able to get him to do as he is told. It’s always a battle to get him to do what you want.
Who do you turn to for help and advice? Teachers, behavioural scientists, parental coaches, grandparents, psychologists, medical professionals may all have something that they can offer but – perhaps rather surprisingly – the real expert on improving a child’s behaviour is the successful sales executive.
They’re the people you should be taking advice from and seeking to emulate. They have the skills and expertise to shape and manage behaviours. They can get the stubborn to yield; the antagonistic to acquiesce; the uninterested to engage. They are experts in human behaviour; in the manoeuvring and manipulating of others towards a desired end.
Expressed like this, it makes the whole process, particularly in relation to children, seem rather disdainful and underhand. It isn’t. The reality is that both the sales person and the customer have a need (one to buy and one to sell) – the sales person is merely seeking to ensure that the needs of both parties are fulfilled.
The best sales people are not those who get one-over on the customer but are the sales people that conclude the deal with the customer also leaving happy – a win-win situation. After all, the sales person knows it’s the best way to getting extra business, repeat business and, following recommendation, new business.
Parents have a similar underlying motivation. They want to achieve what they need to do but they also want it to be a positive and favourable experience for the child.
Therefore, the sales person and the parent are operating with the same intent. Hence, the suggestion that parents can learn a lot from sales people.
In observing sales people, there are two things to notice. Firstly, their general behaviour and manner in relation to the customer and secondly, the actual techniques they use to get a sale.
The first part of any successful sale is the building of a relationship between the sales person and the customer. Without that relationship it is unlikely that any sale will be forthcoming. Similarly, between parent and child if the relationship is weak, strained or false then the bond will be tenuous and parents will struggle to control their child.
That is why parents should devote time, effort and resources towards building a durable and resolute relationship with their child. It is the surest way to nourish good behaviour. Sales people go to great lengths to initiate, develop and sustain the relationship they have with their customer. Parents must realise that they too have to work at maintaining and strengthening the parent/child bond.
In terms of their general behaviours, sales people have specific ways of working in order to ensure that they establish the right sort of customer relationship.
- Sales people want to avoid the building of barriers between themselves and the customer. They want to come across as approachable and accommodating. Their body language, their attire, their pleasant manner are all designed to charm and disarm the customer, to make it feel that both parties are in it together, that they are on the same side, that they’re working towards the same goal.
Similarly, when interacting with a child, parents need to adopt child-friendly behaviours – such as lowering themselves to the child’s height and being more expressive in their facial movements. Such actions make the parent seem more agreeable. It lessens the divide between parent and child.
- Sales people tend to ask open questions rather than closed questions. What, how, why rather than do you or can you. Open questions encourage the customer to talk and to tell them things. The more the sales person knows about the customer’s needs then the more the sales person can direct their sales pitch to those needs.
The same applies equally to parents when speaking to a child. Asking a child questions that only require yes or no responses provides little insight into what that child is thinking. This is especially true if the child is naturally shy. Parents will learn more about a child by asking more open questions.
“What have you been doing today?” rather than “Did you go to the park today?”
“How did you make that?” rather than “Did you make that?”
- Sales people give the customer their full attention. It makes the customer feel important and valued. It improves the chances of building a relationship; it improves the chances of making a sale.
A child also requires a parent’s focus. Distractions such as a mobile phone, a television or other people can make a child feel as if they are of secondary importance, as if they are having to compete for attention.
Time spent one-on-one with a child in a concentrated, undistracted manner is a great investment in the relationship bond.
- Sales people seek to recognise, understand and indulge the customer’s emotional needs. The more the sales person knows and understands the customer, the more the sales person will be able to target those needs. They also know that emotional needs are the most powerful motivators in shaping behaviour.
Just as the sales person wants to know why a customer is interested in a specific product a parent needs to know what makes their child tick. It is only when they have that knowledge that they can tap into it and develop positive behaviours.
A parent doesn’t tell their child that they need to go to the pet shop to buy some pet food – that’s a chore. To the animal-loving child it’s far better to tell him that he’s going to the pet shop to look at some of the baby animals.
- The sales person will speak in terms that the customer will understand; adapting their language and tone accordingly.
There is no point talking about the technicalities of a product if the customer is only interested in the basics. The sales person is just going to confuse and distance themselves. Again, this is about getting to know the customer so that the sales person can modify their sales pitch accordingly.
Similarly, parents must use words and expressions that their child understands. A young child is especially appreciative of the use of more tones and when extra emphasis is placed on key words as it helps them to better grasp the meaning of what is being said.
If a parent does not use “child-speak” in conversing with their child then there may well develop a discord between them which will have behavioural consequences.
- The sales person must know what they’re talking about. The customer must have confidence in the sales person to be sure that they are being offered the right product.
From a child’s point of view, a parent must also act with confidence and self-belief. After all, they are the grown up. They should know what they are doing. Any parental doubt may be seized upon by the child as a reason to question what the parent is saying.
Once the sales person has established a good relationship with the customer they can then build on that in order to achieve a sale. However, this relationship, in itself, does not necessarily guarantee a sale. The sales person has to be rather more astute and will use certain sales techniques in order to close a deal.
These techniques are just as useful for parents in managing their child. It might even be said that such techniques are even more necessary for parents given that a young child can be such a tough negotiator. They may also not be so rational and considered in their arguments!
These sales techniques when used in a parenting situation can make life so much easier and less fraught for the parent.
- The Diversion Technique. If a customer is concerned about a particular feature of a sales person’s product then the sales person may well shift that focus to a different feature, one that is more appealing. The sales person hopes that the attractiveness of this second feature will overcome any concerns elsewhere.
With a child, so long as it is phrased correctly, the diversion can be an effective tool for changing the child’s primary focus. A child that doesn’t like wearing green socks might be appeased by being told about the appeal of his orange shirt. A child that won’t share a toy may be persuaded to give up that toy for another toy which interests him more. A child that doesn’t want to go to the shops might reconsider if he thinks those shops also include the sweet shop.
- The Positive Benefit Technique. Sales people don’t sell product features; they sell product benefits. A good sales person will never sell you a widescreen television. Instead, they will impress upon you that this is a widescreen television that gives you a complete visual cinematic experience. They sell you the benefits – this is what the product will give you. And the more benefits you can see in a product, the more likely you are to buy it.
Similarly, in being asked to do something, a child will want to know what’s in it for him. This is especially true if the child is already doing something. Why would they want to stop what they are doing unless the new activity seemed to be better?
Saying to a child that he’s off to the beach is not quite as attractive as telling him that he’s off to the beach where he can build a massive sandcastle. A parent may get a very different response between just telling a child to put his coat on, to telling a child to put his coat on so he can go outside and jump around in the snow.
- The Alternative Technique. By offering defined options, the sales person limits and narrows down the customer’s range of choice. If the sales person says that it’s only available in red, blue and green then there is no point in the customer wanting it in fuchsia. The sales person is able to control the conversational parameters.
A sales person will perhaps seek to close a deal by using this technique, “Would you be wanting it in medium or large?” By choosing one, the customer has effectively agreed the deal.
With a child, when trying to get him to do something it can become a battle of wills. He can all too easily get it into his head that he doesn’t want to do something. The trick is to not let it get to this stage.
By offering a child limited alternatives, the parent is setting out the child’s options. In choosing which of two shirts to wear, he won’t think of the third option which is to not want to wear a shirt at all.
- The Agreement Staircase Technique. This is a subtle but rather more complex technique. The sales person will confirm to the customer what has already been agreed building up the positivity and agreement until it, in effect, becomes a done deal. The skill is to make sure the staircase is built correctly and there is no negative encroachment.
“You like the size of it?”
“You like the colour of it?”
“You like the extra storage it gives you?”
“You like the fact that we can get it to you for next week?”
“Okay. I’ll sort that out for you then.”
Similarly, in relation to a child’s behaviour, the agreement staircase can also be used as a tool to get the child to a particular destination.
“You like playing football, don’t you?”
“And you’ve got a new ball to play with, haven’t you?”
“Do you think your school friends would like to see your new ball?”
“Okay, let’s get off to school and show them.”
(Note: in this scenario it is important to ask closed questions to create agreement momentum).
The key to the success of this staircase technique is to only ask questions that the parent already knows the answer to and that they can be sure of a positive response.
These proven sales techniques, on the bedrock of a strong established relationship, can be as useful for affecting a child’s behaviour as they are for generating sales.
That’s why parents, even without slicking back their hair and donning a sharp suit, can certainly acquire some valuable parenting skills from a bit of sales training.
So, my top tip for improving your child’s behaviour is to pop down to your local car dealership and spend some time watching and listening to their best sales people. As parents, you’re sure to learn a thing or two