Great salespeople are your #1 competitive advantage. It’s surprising how many people in business say “I didn’t sign up to be in sales” or worse “I hate selling”.
Such business owners have the idea that as long as they put out a good product or service, customers should simply find them. This idea reveals a basic misunderstanding of not only business, but of human nature. Selling is not a necessary evil, but a type of communication that helps to inform customers on making intelligent decisions. There are several reasons why sales is a profession that truly helps people.
How Selling Serves the Customer
It is often assumed that selling is merely something that benefits the seller. You have a product, you want to make money, so you convince people to buy it. This, however, is only half the picture. Customers don’t make purchases because they want to help someone else make money. Nor are they usually brainwashed into buying useless items. When someone walks into a business or showroom or browses products on a website, he or she is looking to solve a problem or fill a need. The essence of selling is finding the right match, a product that will solve the customer’s problem or achieve the desired outcome.
In some cases, the customer needs something tangible, such as a computer, office machine or tool. A good salesperson can explain the features and benefits of various products to help customers identify the one that will be the best match and achieve the desired outcome. This may be done in a number of ways -in person, over the phone or through sales copy. Either way, it’s up to you, the salesperson, to make a connection with the potential customer and provide education and insight as to how your product fits to achieve the desired results.
The Essence of Sales: Matching People and Needs
When you want to compliment a salesman, you might say that he can “sell ice to Eskimos.” This saying refers to the persuasive power (communication skills) of a great salesperson. However, it also implies that someone who is great at sales can sell people things they don’t need. This isn’t what sales is all about. Sales is actually about helping customers clarify their own needs and then matching them with the right product.
Persuasion can play a part in the sales process. A top sales professional is certainly capable of convincing a qualified prospective customer to buy something beyond what he truly needs. However, this should never be the intent or tolerated in business today. People who don’t need what you sell are not a fit and should not be on your radar. For example, you’d have a much better chance of selling space heaters or parkas to Eskimos than boxes of ice. As a sales professional, the first thing you do is identify and segment your target market -the people you can best serve. You then communicate the appropriate messages to that segment.
The most successful companies don’t reach the pinnacle of their industries by selling people what they don’t need or want. On the contrary, they match customers with products that truly help them solve problems or achieve great outcomes.
Essential Qualities for Selling
Contrary to popular opinion, being a great sales professional is not primarily about persuasion. You can seldom convince people to buy something that they don’t need, want or like. The most important quality possessed by the best sales people is an ability to understand their customers. The first step involves doing thorough market research. This is, however, only the beginning. Those who excel at sales begin with research and then get to know their customers in a more thorough and personalized manner.
To understand people, you have to communicate with them and listen to them. The way you do this depends on the type of business you have. If you have an auto showroom, you will want to ask people who come in about their needs, budget and preferences. If you have an online business, you will have to find ways to connect with people virtually, which may include social media, conducting polls and having an email list. Even if you never meet people in person, it’s essential that you connect with them and elicit their feedback.
A great sales professional does not stop communicating with the customer once the sale has been made. Initial sales are only the first stage in building long term relationships. That’s why you should always follow up after sales. This should not be simply to try to up sell customers or get them to additional products, but to make sure that they are happy with their initial purchases. This process is called the “customer life cycle”.
Constantly following up not only helps you bond with customers, but it allows you to fine-tune your products and entire business in a way that best serves people. You may find, for example, that people like your product but are not happy that it takes over a week to reach them. This should motivate you to seek more efficient shipping options. You can make similar tweaks based on other types of feedback you receive.
Everyone is in Sales
Another common myth about sales is that it’s a distinct profession. Some people have the word “sales” on their business cards. Everyone, however, is in sales to some degree or another. If you’re an employee, you must first sell yourself to your employer to get hired. In this case, your product is yourself. Even after you get the job, you must convince your employer that you are worth keeping and, hopefully, deserving of raises and promotions.
Service providers, whether doctors, plumbers, accountants or website designers, are also in the sales business. No matter what type of service you provide, it’s up to you to let people know that you have the ability to solve their problems. This includes, but is not limited to urgent and obvious problems.
In some cases, you have to educate people about problems of which they’re not even aware. This is consultative selling. For example, a pest control operator will inform homeowners of signs that termites are present. A dentist’s promotional materials might discuss the early symptoms of gum disease. In these cases, the sales process is extremely helpful to the consumer, who is warned of problems before they become more serious.
Customers Are Always Getting Smarter
Sales may, in fact, be the true oldest profession in the world. It’s certainly as old as civilization itself. At the same time, the nature of this profession changes as society and technology evolve. Today, these changes are occurring at a rapid pace. What are some of the changes in society that are affecting sales?
For one thing, consumers are better educated than ever. People have so much access to information that it’s increasingly difficult to get away with distorting the truth or exaggerating, at least for any length of time. People can compare your products, services and prices with those of your competitors. They can read ratings and reviews for many businesses on sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List.
Because customers are getting more sophisticated, it’s imperative for the true sales professional to focus on honest communication and education. This is the only way that you can connect with today’s educated consumers.
Sales Requires a Personal Touch
Another way that sales is changing is related to technology such as mobile phones and social media. These are more than trends, but represent a real shift in the way many products and services are purchased. On the one hand, this creates unprecedented opportunities for people who are selling -which, as we just discussed, is almost everyone. On the other hand, it creates certain challenges as well.
The best sales professionals understand the need to reach their audience in a way that’s authentic, honest and personal. Others try to leverage the latest technologies by simply placing lots of ads and sending out as many messages as possible. Email marketers who send out one promotional message after another are also guilty of this.
If you want to succeed with the latest technologies and platforms, you have to stay true to the fundamental principles of good selling, which is listening to your customer, developing long term relationships and focusing on their needs above your own. This can be done using social media, email and mobile marketing, but you have to resist the temptation to use a cookie-cutter approach.
Why Sales is a Noble Profession
If you are reluctant to think of yourself as a salesperson, it’s time to rethink this position. Sales is not a necessary evil, but an essential form of communication that helps match customers with products and services that improve the quality of their lives. Whether you are a sales professional, a business owner or an employee, you are frequently in the position of having to sell something to someone. Likewise, you often play the role of customer. Selling is part of the very fabric of our world. You should not try to avoid this, but make the most of it.
Great businesses have great people who can communicate. Don’t fall into the trap that sales professionals are no longer needed in our world. Selling is education. Selling is insight. Selling is differentiating. Most of all – selling is disrupting for the good of your client or customer. Hire, train, and retain great people who can grow your business.
If you are a sales professional – remember the nobility of helping people achieve their desired outcomes. Train. Practice. Provide value everyday!
Check out the new 2016 version of Bruce’s book, “I Didn’t Sign Up to Be in Sales”. 10% of purchase will be donated to the JOHN 3:16 Mission.
G. Bruce Riggs serves as an executive sales coach and marketing professional located in Tulsa, OK. If your sales force or business is lacking the skills necessary to compete in today’s ever-changing marketplace – Bruce brings nearly 60,000 hours of practical sales experience and is well known for his results. Bruce also is the author of the popular book series, “I Didn’t Sign Up…” and “Coaching The Super 5%”.