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When you look back and think about who has had the most profound influence and impact on your life, you probably remember the people who challenged you most, who created discomfort, who pushed you, and who felt like they were a huge pain while taking you to new heights. They have likely left a lasting positive impact on how you turned out.

Maybe there was a teacher who kept on you until you got the answer "the right way," or a hockey coach who moved you from third stringer to starter by being "in your face." If you've done military service, there might have been a drill sergeant who wouldn't accept "okay." These people believed you could do more, and they made it their mission to make you great by not letting up, by doubling down and challenging you to stretch, which validated their efforts and their belief in you.

Now think about people in your private or professional life – friends, colleagues, "good relationships," many forgotten – who rarely come to mind when you think about impact or influence.

What makes these two groups different?

The former focused on your desires, objectives and abilities. They were willing to do whatever it took to get you there – they didn't get hung up on whether they were making you uncomfortable by confronting your viewpoints, convictions and limits. They pushed you to expand your horizons – at times vigorously and in a hands-on way – taking you closer to your goals. They respected your vision and enhanced your abilities.

Members of the other group were probably more concerned about building and maintaining relationships than they were about the outcomes. Not wanting to rock the boat, they cared more about appearances and your comfort than your objectives – keeping things easy in the process.

Outstanding results don't, as a rule, come easy. Breakthroughs take work. Rationalizing results is very different than doing what it takes to remove obstacles to action and success. Many in the latter group place a higher value on how you feel than what you can achieve, which respects your space but not your real abilities or real objectives.

Let's take these two scenarios and apply them to a sales situation, where the subject is the buyer, and the person having – or not having – impact is the seller.

Which of the two groups do you think is more successful over the long term, drives more revenue and profit, and makes more money? Just as important: Which one is in greater demand?

Salespeople with the ability to provoke in the right way for the right reasons and who often vigorously challenge buyers will always outperform passive relationship sellers or sales "facilitators." This is especially true as buyers continue to bypass relationships and purchase from other parties, a trend that has accelerated in the past few years.

One big reason for this is that there are sellers approaching customers you have "relationships" with who are pushing them beyond their current horizons and comforts – in other words, beyond you – leading to new areas of discussion, valuation and sales. These sellers are provoking buyers in a number of ways, but they're all tied to buyer objectives. Buyers will tolerate being pushed if they understand the intent is helping them achieve.

Just as you will tolerate a line of questioning from a lawyer or doctor – understanding their intent and the beneficial outcome – buyers will too, if you can demonstrate that your intent is to help them.

Provocative sellers understand and leverage people's averseness to risk. The fact that 70 per cent of the population is risk averse has been a barrier to change, both in buying habits and the propensity to act, especially given the risk of the unknown. "Better the devil you know" has been a great friend to the relationship seller, but not always to their buyers.

Raising the risk profile of a buyer, and making the "do nothing" option more risky than something new and different, takes a direct and, at times, aggressive approach. Not by browbeating, or by being rude or belligerent, but by asking the hard questions around a buyer's real objectives and obstacles, and the risk of not achieving them.

Given the right intent, executed professionally, there is no reason your buyer should not feel the same elation you did when your teacher pushed you to get that A on the final exam.

Tibor Shanto is a principal at  Renbor Sales Solutions Inc.  He can be reached at His column appears once a month on the Report on Small Business website.

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