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LEPA — An Ancient Philosopher Teaches Sales

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It’s funny. We’re always coming up with new sales “techniques”. Every year there’s a hot new book, a new acronym, a new way to help you get better and moving your prospect from lead to customer. But the reality is, nothing is new under the sun. Everyone is always selling, all of the time (whether you’re selling a product, selling yourself in an interview or to a potential girlfriend, or as a small child selling your parents on the idea of giving you one more piece of candy). And since selling is such a fundamental part of human nature, it should come as no surprise, that it’s something philosophers have studied since the beginning of time. And although the ancients may not have had or penitent for acronym creation to aid in memory, still, Aristotle may have had a good one: LEPA.

  • Logos — the words
  • Ethos — your character
  • Pathos — your passion
  • Agora — location

Logos — Words

Of course, words matter. Actually, figuring out the right words is a large part of what all of the “new” sales techniques are all about. SPIN Selling, still one of my favorites, lays out a simple strategy for finding the right words; for asking the right questions to move your prospect through the sales funnel. But no matter what technique you use to find the words, find them you must. You must have a succinct, clear articulation of your value proposition; and you must use the right words for the right person. It’s all dependent on understanding their personal needs and motivations, the value you provide them personally (even in the case of a B2B sale), and where they are in the sales cycle.

Ethos — Character

Left the Salesman tries to sell Ernie the number 8“Psst. Hey buddy. Wanna buy a watch?” It’s such a stereotype that we’ve all seen it, whether in cartoons or Sesame Street — the “shady salesman”. Of course, no professional salesman would ever be this shady, but character — and perception of character — matter. Whoever is buying from you has to believe what you’re saying; they have to believe in you. Part of this is the words you use, part of it is your oratorical skill, part demeanour, part appearance (yes, what you wear matters), part a hundred other little things. But one of the biggest things is your reputation. Building up a reputation, in your company, in your industry, amongst buyers and colleagues alike, is something that takes time. And if you build a bad reputation, it can take much longer to repair it. To be successful in sales, it’s critical that 100% of the time, from day 1, you be completely honest and trustworthy with your customers — that you develop and display a strong ethical character.

Pathos — Passion

Even if you have the best speech writer in the world lay out your words, and even if you’re as trustworthy as an Eagle Scout, the fact of the matter is, people buy from people, and your customers need to see that you’re excited about your product. To be a successful salesman, you need to be passionate about your product. You need to believe it does what it says, and you need to believe that that matters to your client. And you need to convey that in the way you express your words, your eye contact, your body language. You need to be passionate.

Going back to the Ethos point, it’s also important that that passion be real. One of the best career choices you can make in sales is, leave a company if you don’t believe in the product. If you can’t honestly get behind what you’re selling, then it’s much better to move on, even if you have to forego the promise of a huge commission. No matter how much money is in it, if you don’t believe in the thing you’re selling, you’re much better off moving along and selling something else.

Agora — Location

OK. This one is a stretch, as the Greek word “agora” doesn’t really mean location. However, in ancient Athens, it was the name of the market place — where things were sold — and Aristotle did talk about the specifics of selling in the Agora. In the modern world, we sell anywhere and everywhere; nevertheless, selection of “location” is important. At one end of the extreme, this can be making sure that when you go in to give a presentation, that the location is properly acquitted: the right number of chairs are there, and they’re comfortable enough; the lighting is good; the projector works; food, beverage, and breaks are carefully planned. But it can also be something much simpler than this. Sometimes, “location” can come down to choosing between email or phone call; between a phone call and jumping on a plane to meet in person. The right location varies throughout the sales cycle, and depends quite a bit on both the parties involved, and the product under consideration. But no matter the specifics of those things, you need to put some active thought into the location, for each and every customer contact.

If you take this lesson from Aristotle, and focus on LEPA — Logos, Ethos, Pathos, and Agora — you will absolutely improve your sales. And, in fact, as you read through that latest sales “how to” book, approach it with LEPA in mind. See how much of what they’re saying is just this; and conversely see how much of everything they say fits into this paradigm. It really will give you a whole new context in which to approach both your sales, and your sales learning.


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