It was an early morning meeting chaired by the senior vice president. There wasn’t any reason to anticipate fireworks this particular day so the atmosphere was, to say the least, rather relaxed. A sales manager was the last to arrive, whispering to the person next to him as he sat down, “All I want to do is sell.”
The meaning was clear. He viewed meetings and all other “non-selling” tasks as unnecessary interruptions keeping him away from the job of selling. His meeting intolerance was palpable, announcing at the start that he would be leaving early for an appointment.
Taking a strong stand against all the ‘stuff’ that interferes with ‘making sales’ may seem long overdue to many in the business.
But before getting too excited, the “all I want to sell” message cuts another way. Although the results are anything but new, the Gallup organization’s 2013 “Honesty/Ethics in the Professions” survey puts the so-called ‘persuasive professions’ at or near the bottom of the trust scale, including salespeople, lawyers, Members of Congress, business executives and lobbyists.
It’s ironic that the greater the emphasis on “making the sale,” whether of a product or an idea, the more customers pull back mentally, physically or both. No one wants to be cornered and made to feel inadequate and manipulated. When that happens, some customers run, while others cave in and buy what they don’t want or understand. Later, they’re angry, not just at the salesperson, but at themselves for not saying no.
It doesn’t need to be this way. For salespeople who want to stand out from the crowd, here are four actions that will put them where they belong — high on the trust scale:
1. Manage the selling process instead of trying to control it. What drives customers crazy — and away — is a feeling of impotence when faced with someone who is skilled at taking control. Until recently, customers couldn’t do much about it. Now, they view themselves as better informed (sometimes more than they are) and refuse to be passive.
Now that control has passed to customers, savvy salespeople have a unique opportunity to manage the sales process. This is a game changer and the opportunity to win customers by:
1. Asking questions that engage the customer
2. Listening intently and reflecting back to clearly understand customer issues
3. Encouraging feedback when offering choices
4. Clarifying objections for gaining insight into what a customer is thinking.
All of this helps move the sales process forward to a conclusion that best fits the buyer.
2. Talk about what your company can do for customers instead of talking about your company. “One of the most important things a businessperson can do — especially an owner or someone who is involved in sales — is to learn how to speak about their business to others,” wrote Aileen Pincus in Bloomberg Businessweek several years ago. Being instantly able to speak clearly and persuasively about their company is a test everyone in sales must pass with flying colors. These words have become near ‘sacred text’ status to those in sales.
Unfortunately, if you have such a ‘sales pitch’ or ‘elevator speech’, it’s time to get rid of it because no one wants to hear it.
Of course articulating what your company does should be second nature, but the ability to express clearly and with enthusiasm what your company can do for customers holds far more interest and value.
3. Cultivate self-doubt to enhance your self-confidence. No one questions the immense role of self-confidence in sales. Even so, it’s easy for self-confidence to morph into being too confident. This is when customers back off; no one wants to be around someone who comes across as self-centered and arrogant.
This is why self-confidence needs to be balanced with a healthy amount of self-doubt. Having too much self-confidence makes it easy to dismiss criticism, ignore the need for improvement, and disregard suggestions from others. Most importantly, it keeps us from asking the important sales questions:
• Do I understand what the customer is looking for?
• Am I sufficiently prepared for this presentation?
• What have I missed? What don’t I know that I should know?
• Do I have a clear understanding of the competition’s solution?
• What could go wrong and am I ready to handle it?
• Do I have the answers to the questions the customer is likely to ask?
There’s a very fine line between self-confidence and arrogance and to cross it is to put a sales career in jeopardy.
4. Cultivate the response you want. Bill Pineo at The Tile City in Avon, Mass. is not an average salesperson. He came up to a couple looking at bathroom tile and gently entered the conversation. He asked a few questions and listened intently to what they said. He then guided them to several displays, where he asked more questions and pointed out certain tile characteristics, while encouraging them to take pictures of their choices.
When finishing up, Bill asked for the order and the couple let him know where they were with their project. “Would you mind if I stayed in touch with you?” he asked. And he followed through, checking in with them regularly for several months. A few days after they hired a contractor, Bill called again and the couple placed the order.
Bill Pineo did two important things right. First, by positioning himself as a facilitator or helper, someone who knew the tile business and wanted to assist his customer, Bill managed the sale. Second, by staying in touch, he let his customers know he was going to be there when they were ready. The process convinced the couple that Bill was serious and wanted the sale. “He deserved it,” they said.
This story is an example of what Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, the famed persuasion expert, calls ‘The Principle of Reciprocation’. It’s what occurs when the salesperson helps customers and manages the sales process so they want to respond positively by placing the order or making referrals. It’s the difference between a good experience and a bad one.
Anyone who wants to reach the top in sales should think seriously about reaching the top of the trust scale.
John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategist-consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at [email protected], 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com