The Biggest Barrier to Influence in Sales (and in Life)

Photo by Martin Olsen on Unsplash

The biggest challenge facing sellers today is that most customers in the marketplace are unreceptive. They are resistant, not to a solution to their problems, but to salespeople and their attempts to engage. 

With the amount of readily accessible information, customers no longer want or need to interact with sales reps. And when customers are unreceptive, any attempt to “sell” will only backfire. This is why the traditional approach to selling often fails in today’s world. The way we’ve been taught to sell actually sabotages our ability to convert the disinterested. We don’t have a selling problem, we have a receptivity problem. 

Here’s our simple but counterintuitive solution: stop selling and start by cultivating receptivity. That is the key to gaining real influence with your customers. Sounds simple, right?

Yes and no. 

In our 30+ years of selling and training people to sell, we’ve encountered five main barriers that sabotage sellers on their way to achieving true influence. 

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our blog post on the first two barriers to influence:

Barrier #1 – Changing the customer’s perception of you.

Barrier #2 – Opening a closed door (i.e. getting access). 


Today we’ll discuss the third barrier, discovering the unfiltered truth

If you’d prefer to listen to a podcast on this topic, check out SALES with ASLAN episode 122:


The Barriers to Influence 

The decision maker’s willingness to listen (their receptivity) to you as a sales rep actually has more to do with your ability to influence than the strength of your argument (value proposition). 

Think about a farmer growing crops. There are two elements to be considered: the seed and the soil. If the soil is not fertile, the quality of the seed doesn’t matter – it won’t grow. 

The same idea applies in sales. If the customer is not receptive, your message doesn’t matter. 

Let’s dive into how to gain influence by removing those barriers, specifically the barrier between you and the truth. 


Barrier #3 – Getting Your Customer to Share the Unfiltered Truth

Influence truly begins when your customer opens up and shares the nitty gritty truth. You can tell when this occurs; they might lean in, or say something like, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this…” or “I haven’t shared this with anyone but…” or “To be honest with you, I really want…”


Finding the unfiltered truth is the key to discovery. Sales rep who conduct discovery best are the most successful – it’s the most common trait in high performing sales professionals.  Said another way:

You win more deals by demonstrating that you understand the problem rather than demonstrating your ability to solve the problem.


That is how you cultivate receptivity throughout the entire sales process – by seeking to understand before being understood. 

Finding the truth is all about digging beneath the surface. You may think you know what your customer’s decision drivers are, but chances are, you don’t. When you’re in front of a customer in discovery, remember to shift your mindset: “I’m here to learn, not assume.”

There’s always an informal (unstated) decision driver beneath the surface – and you need the customer to tell you what it is. Get them to invite you behind the curtain. Once you’re there, you can really start to have an impact and be able to differentiate yourself from the competition. 

It’s about tuning into the nuance of the individual and what drives them. Because if you don’t know what your prospect really believes, fears, or wants, you can’t address those factors. 

Granted, this isn’t the most natural thing to try and accomplish. We’re typically comfortable sharing our own perspective, beliefs, and reasoning. But how can we authentically and genuinely ask someone to share theirs?


Getting to the Truth

The key to finding the truth is to Take the Trip with your customer. Taking the Trip is ASLAN’s “antidote” to this truth: when someone has a different or opposing point of view to yours, the only way to help them see your perspective is to first understand (and validate) theirs. 

Remember, at this stage your goal is not to change their mind (sell), it’s to understand where they’re coming from (find the truth). 

For example, you may be on “North Pole” and you see that this way is up. But your customer is at the “South Pole” and they have a completely different viewpoint. They see the world in an entirely different way from the way you do. 

Until you Take the Trip and journey from your position in the “North Pole” down to the “South Pole” and see their point of view, they will never embrace your point of view, no matter how good your sales strategy is.

You need to first understand your customer’s perspective and get them to share the truth.

Here are three of our best practices to help sales reps uncover the unfiltered truth when Taking the Trip:


Watch For Clues

Customers will give you clues if you learn to really observe behavior. For example, you may want to consider:

Why did they ask so many questions about ____? Why did they respond in that way? Why did they tune out when I asked about____? What does that facial expression mean? Why do they look over at that other person when they talk? 

Pay attention to the context and conversation clues. Tune into what’s implied. 


Begin Your Questions With a Reason

If we ask self-centered questions that advance our agenda, customers are not likely to lean in and share the truth. 

But if we can ask questions positioned in a way to make it clear that it’s about them, their needs, their goals, etc., then your customer will be much more likely to open up. 

As humans and as sellers, we are constantly fighting the gravitational pull towards self. We know what we want and what we’re interested in, so it’s easy and natural to make any situation about ourselves. The challenge (and the success) come with shifting that focus onto your customer. 

For example, begin your questions with, “The reason I’m asking is….” or “In order for me to better understand how I can help with ____, could you explain…”

This automatically eases the tension that your customer might feel in regards to the motive behind your question. 


Respond to Learn More

How sellers respond to a customer’s answer is equally as important as how we ask those tough questions. How you respond will ultimately determine your customer’s continued level of receptivity and the destination of your interaction with them. 

Especially when customers give us an answer we don’t want to hear or didn’t expect, it can be difficult to respond in an Other-Centered way. Either we try to argue their answer, we ignore it, or we engage with it. “I can totally see that, would you mind telling me ____?”

Remember, your goal at the moment is simply to uncover the truth, not to sell. So change your objective. Your goal is to get them to tell you the truth – because you can’t influence their viewpoint if you don’t know what it is. Your goal is to understand them. 

But it’s so important to respond thoughtfully in a way that cultivates receptivity. It’s the path forward. If we find ourselves arguing with a customer’s perspective, we’ve already lost. Because when arguments start, influence ends. 


Summing it Up

Remember, your customer’s willingness to listen is always more important than your ability to communicate your message. Even if you think you know what they’re going to say, the information you gain from conducting discovery is secondary to the emotional connection and receptivity that occurs when you set aside your agenda and listen

Only then will you be able to find the unfiltered truth and begin to influence. 


What Next?

If you found this blog helpful and want to go deeper into the concepts we covered, check out the new book, UnReceptive, at


As Co-founder and CEO, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively. Find him on LinkedIn

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