What Can Aristotle Teach Us About Value Selling?
Value selling? Aristotle? The link between one of the greatest thinkers of the Western world and value-based sales processes is stronger than you would think!
Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, shaped much of how we think about and organize things. His Treatise on Rhetoric, which was completed in 322 BC, describes and breaks down the art of persuasion into four elements: Ethos (ethics), Pathos (emotion), Logos (logic), and Kairos (timing).
In the end, selling is all about building a persuasive argument that demonstrates why a customer should buy your offering. Hence, Aristotle’s timeless relevance to today’s sales environment.
This post explores the benefits of incorporating Aristotle’s concepts of Ethos, Pathos, Logos, and Kairos into your approach to selling and persuading. Here’s an overview of how you can use them to your advantage to improve sales success.
Ethos: The Right Thing to Do
Ethos is an appeal to the ethical fabric of the buyer. It has two primary components: credibility and correctness. Successful sellers must demonstrate credibility with their product, technology, and the market. Most companies support their sales reps with education and training, and do a nice job of covering the Ethos component of the argument.
Sellers must also demonstrate how buying the offering is ethical or “the right thing to do.” This can mean that it is the right thing to do for the company, but it can also mean that it is the right thing to do in a broader or even societal sense.
Pathos: The Desire to Do Business
Pathos speaks to the emotional part of the buyer’s psyche. It addresses things such as, do I like working with this person? Do I trust working with this company? What pain am I experiencing that is being caused by a problem I want to eliminate? Pathos requires both a relationship with the buyer as well as an emotional appeal to change.
As with Ethos, most companies do a great job choosing sales reps with the personality to develop productive, mutually beneficial relationships. They also go one step further by teaching even greater relationship skills, and helping reps uncover and highlight the customer’s pain.
Logos: The Confidence to Move Forward
Logos is an appeal to the logical mind. It’s about facts, figures, and evidence. In a B2B setting, the Logos part of the sales process appeals to the financial or economic impact of buying your offering. It demonstrates that the business will be financially stronger as a result of buying your offering, and puts forth a solid business case.
There are two traps when it comes to the Logos argument. The first is using false or misleading data to convince a potential customer to buy your offering. Tricking someone is not only wrong, it is rarely successful in the long term.
The second and more common trap is not building the Logos or business case argument at all. Even if you can make strong Ethos and Pathos arguments for your offering, without the Logos component, your customer may not move forward and conclude the sale because they don’t have the business case to justify the investment.
Kairos: The Right Time to Take Action
Aristotle’s final and lesser known component is Kairos. Kairos relates to the timeframe for making an investment decision. This is less about building the case to buy, and more about creating a sense of urgency to buy now. A key way to use Kairos is to show the cost to delay. This takes the Logos business case and shows the measurable financial impact of not moving quickly to implement your solution.
Tailor Persuasion to Each Sales Opportunity
It’s important to note that all modes of persuasion do not apply equally to all offerings. Nor do they apply equally across all buyers (or people within the buying and decision-making process).
An offering with a low purchase price needs less Logos persuasion because there will likely be less, if any, scrutiny of the investment. On the other hand, a large investment that will significantly disrupt how your customer operates will need strong arguments for both Ethos and Logos. Although Pathos will almost always be a factor (no one wants to buy from someone that they don’t like or trust), it doesn’t always matter how much the customer likes you. If they can’t build a business case to justify the investment, they won’t be able to move forward.
You should also tailor your modes of persuasion to the individuals involved in the decision-making process. Larger investments typically involve more people in the buying process, and offer fewer opportunities to meet with and/or present to everyone on the buying committee. If an investment requires approval from the CFO or someone within finance, and you have the luxury of making a presentation, keep in mind that the Pathos part of your argument is not likely to have much impact.
A CFO’s decision will be based mostly on Logos and secondarily on Ethos. Thus, be sure that you are equipping your sponsors with material to demonstrate that buying your offering is a good thing for the company to do, and that there is a strong financial business case to justify the investment.
In the end, I suggest building your selling pitch and approach to address Ethos, Pathos, Logos, and Kairos to be most successful. Although there are many articles, presentations, and sites dedicated to the education and application of Aristotle’s philosophy, my experience shows that most sales processes fall short in Logos and Kairos.
To build the most effective case for why someone should buy from you, think about what you are selling, who you are selling to, and who will be involved in the buying decision, but don't forget to keep in mind when and why they will ultimately buy from you.