The Subtext of Selling

A few weeks back I was asked to tell a story illustrating a moment of advocacy for the products and services of Microsoft, my employer.  Being someone who’s very passionate about technology and how it helps people, this wasn’t difficult.  So I told the story about a time I recently sat next to a frustrated iPad user who was unable to do something he needed to in an Excel spreadshee whilst I was working away on a complex spreadsheet on my Surface.  I told the story to camera and it was cut together with other stories and shown at a recent internal event to about 600 of my colleagues.

The video concluded with the final few seconds of my story which I ended, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with the phrase “I knew that he knew that I knew”, making the point that I didn’t actually speak to the gentleman (he was on his phone the whole time trying to explain to someone what he wanted) but glances and nods were indeed traded.  This was met with some laughter, but more surprising to me was the amount of discussions it kicked off and the number of people coming up to me after to say “what a great line!”.  So I wondered…why did this resonate so well with people?

Subtext.  Subtext can be the hidden meanings behind spoken words.  Subtext can be when a lot has been said but not a word has been spoken.  Movies build psychological tension, conflict and drama between characters through subtext, and as an audience we love it.  We love reading between the lines, identifying with what a character is thinking and not simply what they’re saying.  Everyone in the room could relate to a situation where there was a powerful underlying subtext.

Through my story I was pointing out the subtext of the situation – and it got me thinking….how powerful is subtext in selling?  In my situation, I’ve no doubt the gentleman would have gone and looked up more information about Surface or at least had a conversation about it with someone, his interest piqued.  Yet I didn’t give him a canned demo, or ask him questions, or in fact speak to him at all.  What occurred was an action within close proximity of the gentleman, and within a context which was immediately relevant to him and with just some subtle human interaction.

So is there such a thing as “subtextual selling”?   Do you deliberately use subtlety in your selling techniques to foster a more powerful buy-in from a customer by letting them connect the dots rather than spelling out the obvious benefits?


Posted in Thought & Opinion Tagged with: ,
2 comments on “The Subtext of Selling
  1. kennm says:

    Hey, I’ve used this a lot in my selling career…but never knnew it had a name.
    Working in the data protection and on-line ID space I often tell stories of the hassle that some ficticious character called “Kenny” has been through to prove he is who he says he is due to cyber crime involving stealing his online ID.

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