Selling is a complex art and a tricky science, yet it is an under-trained, undervalued, not respected high skill profession, where people are often hired untested because ‘they are a really nice.’
In a post pandemic era, competing with virtual sales and a marketplace underflowing with available talent, this article will help you to understand the purpose of selling in a different way and what to look out for in your salespeople.
Much of the thesis and content in this original article is based on Conor’s first and bestselling book – ‘Sales Tales: True stories of how great sales happen’
‘Sales … Are You Giving Me a Headache?’
To Understand Sales, You Need to Do It.
If I know anything about sales and selling now, it is largely because of my own experience and that is primarily failures.
If you have not lived in those (I assume) well-polished shoes, then there is a good chance you think you understand it, but you do not. Observing a skilled chef does not mean you know how to cook.
Against the Clock
I was young, green, working in London and the business card said it all, ‘Sales Representative.’ None of the politically correct jargon today that promises a world soon to be delivered by the ‘Head of Customer Magic’ or worse. It was blunt but clear. You were there to sell.
I had one huge corporate account on my patch. Crack that and I could dream of lazy sunny days. Instead, I ended up in a daze. It took a long time, a long time, to get in front of the buyer. Eventually, I did.
His office was the size of a shoebox and the less than athletic head of buying was in a semi-permanent state of anger. Walking into this tiny gladiatorial arena, the first thing I saw was a giant alarm clock facing me. His greeting was four words – “You have ten minutes” With that he started the clock. I was terrified.
I stuttered, stumbled, spoke too much, and forgot what I was trying to remember. It was awful. At 7 minutes he had enough “Get out. You are giving me a headache.” I left. There was no choice.
In some ways, he did me a big favour. He said what many think. He was not a man to waste time and in today’s more considerate world, which would now translate into a warm smile, being shown the door and, as you leave, a secretary being quietly told to make sure you are never given an audience again.
If you ask salespeople, two quite simple questions, you will inevitably be greeted by the same global answers that really mean not very much.
Question 1. What is the salespersons job?
Question 2. What is the purpose of selling?
Arm yourself with these answers and then try it next time.
Question 1. Answers
• To sell
• To make a profit
• To hit my target
• To be successful
• To beat the competition
• To win
Question 2. Answers
• To fulfil a customer’s needs
• To make customers happy
• To keep our customers
• To maintain the growth targets
• To be No.1
• To promote our brand.
It is not that these are ‘wrong’ they are simply threadbare cliches everyone hears, every day. Sadly, as they utter them, they do not realise that is exactly what those before, and those after, will say. That is okay if you want to follow the crowd, not much good if you want to be an alternative.
This is the starting point for lost sales, poor representation and wasted time. If it were a landing light, you will miss the runway more often than you will strike it.
It might be helpful instead to reset how we answer these questions.
Question 1. To make the customers life easier.
Question 2. To provide them with something better.
If you agree, then the entire strategy and focus needs to change and everything you offer from your products and services, to how you recruit, who you recruit, what you train, how you train, must stand up to scrutiny. Remember, the only thing you cannot do in an online world of easy selling – is build real relationships, with real people.
‘I’m an Emotional Person’
So said a young recruit to whom I was talking. It was a pre-loaded defence mechanism that was being polished for use in the event of failure. I asked them if they knew anyone who was entirely devoid of emotion and then explained that there is no such thing as a person with no emotions. Yes, of course, they may be a sociopath, cold, non-empathetic, selfish or whatever, but nobody is without emotion. Therein lies the next challenge.
Psychology (a key knowledge for successful selling) tells us that we are not able to ‘control our emotions.’ If we are lucky and practice successfully and regularly, we may well get to a point where we ‘manage’ our emotions better. We cannot control laughing suddenly, being saddened by something we see. Being angry. Being hurt. All we can do is manage our thoughts better.
If emotions are driving your salesperson, then their personal emotional rudder will be the controlling factor. Let me give you an example.
If someone has a chronic fear of what people think about them, or are terrified by confrontation, criticism, negative feedback and so on, then this will make them make automatic decisions that you may not ever discover, let alone understand.
To illustrate, if I had a deep rooted fear of flying then I am unlikely to succeed in a role that requires international travel. You see, the thought process is not widely understood but to explain it better, our thinking, in a microsecond, goes through this process. Trigger - something unexpected that might remind you of your anxiety. For example, if you had a fear of going to the dentist, were happily walking down the high street and suddenly saw a sign saying ‘dentist’ then the trigger now leads to the thought. In this case, the thought is ‘I have a bad toothache, I need to go to the dentist, but I am too afraid.’ The thought leads to the emotion. Fear. Fear leads to action or no action and finally, the body, now believing it is under threat produces what we call anxious adrenalin – the fight or flight turbo built into our bodies.
Needless to say, it is often too late before these barriers to successful selling become obvious and my point is that you must interview, test, check and combine the art with the science before making an appointment.
If you do, you will reap the reward. If you do not, you are gambling. Remember, salespeople are the best at interviews and often, the interviewer is blinded by charm, charisma, and personality.
Never confuse urgent with important.
Many years ago, I sat in a Café on The Kings Road in London’s Chelsea. It was a treat to watch the world go by and see famous faces look normal. They drank coffee too.
Across from my perch sat a very English gentleman in his cavalry twills and immaculate brown brogues. This man had mastered the art of turning and folding his Sunday paper with pinpoint accuracy and immaculate lines. Every time he created a bite sized chunk, he also created the reverse side for me to read too.
An article had made him chuckle and I wondered what it was. I would have to wait to see if he folded the paper my way so. He did. The title has stayed with me all these years. I never did get to read the article in detail, but I did not need to. The article subject was all in the title and it is a wonderful reminder to be alert.
And the title? ‘Beware the man who says trust me.’
Of course, the salespeople we trust never say ‘Trust me.’ It is the first decision that we subconsciously make, and we all know the little revelations that quickly move us towards trust or away.
No salesperson will last long if trust does not exist. To borrow a quote.
“Better to trust the man who is frequently in error than the one who is never in doubt” Eric Sevareid
What’s The Problem?
Too many people in sales rely on the old adage of presenting features versus benefits. It is not a strategy; it is a tool. One of many.
Ask a salesperson about their strategy and you might get deeper insights into why your success rate is only bobbing along. Strategy is the step by step removal of removable constraints. It means assessing those obstacles and figuring out a way to get around them.
The impatient salesperson runs a bit like a bull at a slow walking unwelcome visitor to his field. Rushing inevitably generates mistakes and mistakes are not easily overcome in the customers eyes. A good strategy takes thought, time, and planning. More importantly, it takes a huge amount of self-discipline and patience. Characteristics that are not prevalent in the general cadre of sales professionals.
A really simple test to begin to help you explore this gap is to sit with a salesperson, yours, anyone. Briefly look at your watch and take note of the time. Now, look at them naturally but say absolutely nothing. I will wager you that eight out of ten will break the silence first and inevitably, their uncomfortable desire to fill the uncomfortable silence will have them pouring out information and thoughts that just cannot stop.
Of course, the person you are looking for is a listener, not a talker because most talkers do not really ever get to ask the most simple and obvious question which is – What problem are you trying to solve?
The difficulty (and opportunity) is to seek people who are comfortable in silence, know how to turn the tap on and off, know how to listen, know how to summarise and then, and only then, agree to come back with a proposed solution in a timeframe that suits the customer.
Firing Too Soon and Firing Too Late
I was about to finance a car early in my career, a ‘nice’ industry generated phrase for buying expensive money. A friend recommended a young man who could help. We met and I was green. He was full of charm, compliments and a smile that flashed on and off with ease. I was impressed.
He talked facts, terms and conditions and I was slowly trying to process all of this. He was leaning on one side of the car I hoped to buy. I was on the other.
Who was I to negotiate? Who was I to challenge this absolute expert? What did I know. Trust him Conor. You do not really understand it all but just trust him.
I looked across the roof at him. He was still smiling, still patient and I was drawing in just enough oxygen to tell him confidently (or so I hoped it looked) that we had a deal.
At the precise moment, the smile evaporated, the face darkened, and his immortal words etched forever in my memory said in a cold dispassionate voice “Look, I am here for the last thirty minutes. Either we are doing this deal, or we are not”
I was shocked. This ‘nice’ man turned in an instant. In that memorable line, he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I gathered my thoughts, chose my words and his impatience masquerading as patient, was about to be harvested.
“Are we doing the deal? Well, I am a little taken aback by your statement so let me put it to you this way. We sure were but now, we definitely are not”
Ironically, he educated me what to consider, the questions to ask and when I eventually went to his direct competitor, my monthly payment turned out to be 20% less over the same term.
It was a wonderful lesson for me and an expensive thirty minutes for him.
Strike Whilst The Iron Is Hot
It is a term I loathe in sales and selling.
It translates into hit him as hard as you can when his back is turned. No. That is cynical, opportunist and no different to a raven grabbing your lunchtime snack when you were not looking.
Of course, there is a good time to move and there is also a bad one. First, you have to earn the right to make a sale – that means the work and patiently too. Second, you have to do what is right for the customer – not you. Third, you need to answer that original question – what problem are you seeking to solve?
Once you have ticked those particular boxes then you have the right – not to sell – but to propose a solution to the problem. That is your expertise and now it is time to put a commercial benefit to that knowledge.
And how do you guide yourself as to when your solution will be of greatest benefit? When the problem is right in front of the customer, their priority, and their need. Simple.
Remember, your timetable is not theirs. More often than not, theirs is not yours.
Theow the hot iron in the bin, do not strike. Instead, put in the hard yards, work out a solution that has integrity and the sales will follow all by themselves.
Inevitably, the ‘right thing’ will never be the easy option.
What Are You Trying To Say?
The most common problem I see in every sales masterclass I deliver is one that sounds so easy, yet it rapidly ties confident people into the most dreadful knots.
The question is simple, and you can divide it in two.
What is your message?
What are you trying to say?
Take your pick.
Effective sales are never about industry jargon, never about current cliches and never about trying to conjure up fancy words. In any communication, there is only one goal, only one. It is this – do I understand? In your head, take out a highlight pen and underline the word ‘understand.’ To quote a famous Irish playwright – George Bernard Shaw - “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Buying motivation must have buy-in, without that, there will be resistance and, in extreme cases, rebellion.
Language changes. Over the years, words are sometimes diluted and substituted for easier, softer, and more politically sensitive expressions. In my lifetime (so far!) “died” has moved to “passed away” and now to “passed.” This is the evolution, but some words have lost their clarity in favour of ease. Similarly, a world of cliches has become the norm and the thing about cliches is that although they are easy and enjoyable, that is why they have become just that – cliches. For some, they work for others “boiling the ocean” makes no sense. Again, ambiguity reigns and where there is confusion, there is no risk to not buying from you.
Businesses have unwittingly sacrificed clear messages for a simplicity they believe works. It does not. How many times have we all watched a small white van drive by promising solutions as their only message? Solutions to what? Even advertising has fallen into this murky trap. What exactly is a magical experience? What do we really mean by “For a fresh perspective on life and a new outlook on living”? When they actually meant really nice apartments for sale.
Communication is more than words. It is our tone, our presence, our voice, our accent, our mood, our intent and, of course, our body language. Whether we like it or not, how we communicate sets the compass for what happens next and a useful guide before we talk, write, or communicate is to remember the words of George Bernard Shaw above.
If we do not, we may just be the ones living the illusion and wondering why our audience did not understand.
Going To The Dentist
I have a wonderful dentist and during the last recession he told me that all the cosmetic and most profitable procedures had dried up.
I was naive. I thought dentists did not sell. They do. Of course, they do but a good business can learn from their process.
Problem. I am in pain.
Solution. I must go to the dentist.
Question from the dentist. What seems to be the problem.
Diagnosis. The dentist goes in search of the problem.
Expertise. Then he tells you what is wrong.
The Solution. Next, he tells you what needs to happen.
The Customer (or patient) You agree.
Closing. He sends you to reception to make an appointment. You book in.
Solution provided, sale made, and nobody talked about getting three more quotations.
You should see how close your process is to the dentist’s chair? If it is not, change it.
But a word of warning. I may well agree with you that I have a problem. However, the hurdles are not all jumped just yet. I must also agree that you are the right people to solve my problem, not just identify it. In other words, the dentist may well confirm the problem but is this the dentist I want to fix the problem?
The Only Reason I Will Ever Buy From You.
If you want to increase your sales, then the only proof anyone will need is that the purchase will be something better than the existing alternative.
Isn’t that why we change hotels? Our schools, our clothes, our brands and even our people.
Better is the only reason that will inspire action and, everything else is process, padding and pomp.
Conor Kenny © all rights reserved. 2022.