As far as ancient Greek philosophers went, very few had side jobs cold-calling local amphitheater builders to convince them to switch stone suppliers. But if Aristotle were alive today instead of during the 4th Century BC, he could have a nice little career in B2B sales. Because when it comes to selling, it’s all about the art of persuasion, and Aristotle laid out three tenets that still form the basis of any persuasive argument:

  • Ethos – the personal character and credibility of the speaker
  • Pathos – convincing an audience of an argument by creating an emotional response or a convincing story
  • Logos – compelling an audience through reason, using facts and figures

Sounds pretty straightforward, but how can we apply these doctrines to the modern age of sales? After all, most trade shows nowadays are not toga-friendly. (Except maybe during the after parties.)

B2B sales, once closed during three-martini lunches billed to unquestioned expense accounts, have not survived the onslaught of technology, which (thanks especially to the advent of social media) has evaporated once sacrosanct norms in just a matter of years. And the salespeople, often with decades of training and habits, have been scrambling to catch up. But what if, instead of looking to the future for a new solution, we rely on old Aristotle to show us the way?

Here are three practical applications of Aristotle’s maxims for the modern B2B salesperson:

  1. Ethos: Provide Unique, Compelling Content

    Yes, most good B2B companies know the value of “content” as a sales tool by now. And the response (to the thousands of articles written on the subject) has been to simply create more and more content – more newsletters, more blogs, more webinars – with no real concept behind what it’s driving. Content needs to be more interactive than just pushing information out the door; you need to follow-up and follow reactions.

    In the desire for more content and newer technology, we’ve lost the human element behind our communication channels. Consider not only the passenger, but the vehicle. How are you positioning the content? What type of credible narrative are you building for the prospect? And ultimately, what methods are you using to deliver it? B2B salespeople need to use content to share and enhance the human experience, not replace it. Focus on quality over quantity, and not just how a story is told, but when and in what environment it’s heard.

  2. Pathos: Create Emotion through Empathy

    You’re a B2B salesperson and you’re at the biggest trade show of the year. Your company has invested a ton of money in this event, the booth space is huge and you’ve barely made a sale since the Carter Administration. In this situation, it’s easy to get a bit anxious to close new business. But put yourself in the shoes of your prospect. They are at the show to learn and get usable, tactical information. Have you even heard the other pitches they are getting? Have you experienced the breakout sessions they’ve attended?

    No one wants to feel like prey, so instead of treating your potential client as a conquest, try to relate to them instead. Buy an extra ticket to the event, go experience some of the same things, learn more for yourself and then learn what they’re learning. Afterwards, you’ll be able to communicate with your prospect on their level, relate to their experience and connect on a more emotional level.

  3. Logos: Prove Your Value

    When you’re so focused on capturing new clients, it can be easy to forget the value of current clients. Why did they come on board? What benefits do they see to the relationship? How has their bottom line grown? Don’t be afraid to interview current clients to determine intelligence on how to land new ones, because many times they will be speaking the same language as your targets – the language of results. Tangible, proven return-on-investment is a powerful aphrodisiac, and providing your B2B sales team with that data can be gold.

    How do you mine this precious data? It’s best to use a third party, like a research firm or an advertising agency. (Maybe one named Brownstein Group?) There is a lot of honesty that can be gained through talking to a third party instead of someone you have a close relationship with, and objective facilitators can also help determine current customer satisfaction. (Just be sure to try and identify the happy clients ahead of time.)

Remember – sales (whether B2B or B2C) is inherently about persuasion, and forming a rational, persuasive and logical argument is something that’s been going on for thousands of years. So the next time your sales team is out of ideas, call in Aristotle to help close.