I recently spoke with one of my clients and friends, a highly successful executive, who lamented the hesitant reaction he received from his wife when he shared his dream to get into the business of Sales performance training and coaching. “She thinks sales is sleazy,” he said. “I just don’t get it. When I think of the great work I’ve done over the years with top notch sales professionals to help our customers - I think sales is CLASSY!”
I remembered back to very early in my sales career when I had what was admittedly, an identity crisis. While I enjoyed my work and knew the quality I brought to my customers, whenever someone asked “What do you do ” I would inevitably respond with “I’m a consultant”,” I’m an Account Executive”, any words except for, “I’m a salesperson.”
So my conversation with my friend got me thinking: Why do so many people have that visceral negative reaction to that “dirty” word, Sales?
Everyone has had a bad experience with that salesperson, who has given what should be a noble profession a bad name. When I unpack the skills of a highly successful consultative salesperson - listening, problem solving, creating value, negotiating win-win, sharing insight, challenging thinking and creating new possibilities, and helping, I wonder how “sales” became such a dirty word. I think that this negative reaction to “sales” boils down to one thing: Intent.
Let’s look at two very different examples of Intent:
1. First, think of a time when you decided NOT to buy from a salesperson. Assume the product was right. The pricing was right, the circumstances, and delivery – all right. Assume the salesperson was competent and knew their product. So why didn’t you buy? I’m guessing because something about this salesperson was, um, sleazy. Maybe they didn’t listen, or stopped listening when they found a “hook”. Maybe they interrupted or were arrogant or pushy. Whatever it was – you may have felt like they were trying to manipulate you into buying and you certainly didn’t TRUST this person to help you.
2. Now, think of another time with a different salesperson when you DID decide to buy. I’m betting there was something about the way this salesperson acted that led you to the conclusion that you could trust them, that they had your best interests in mind. Skill aside, everything about this person communicated an authentic, positive intent of “I Want to help”, not “I’ve got to sell.“
This, of course, is the salesperson’s dilemma. Salespeople are paid to sell. But somewhere along the way, whether through training or experience, the most wildly successful salespeople learn that they will sell more if they help more. If everything they say and do comes from a positive intent to help, even when, especially when, that means “Sorry, I’m not sure we’re the best fit for you”, they will sell more in the long run, and enjoy their work a whole heck of a lot more.
So, how is it that the consultative salesperson is able to remain patient, focused on solving problems and bringing value?
How can the well intended salesperson truly put the interests of their clients first, instead of their own personal gain, knowing they will be far more successful in the long run?
I think it comes down to three key components.
1. Leadership and Organizational Support: As a sales leader, are you supporting the “long view”? Think about your sales cycle. I remember a former sales manager who used to ask, every day without fail: “What did you sell today?” And this was in a business where the typical sales cycle was 6 months long. He should have been coaching his salespeople to move the process along with clear next steps. What message are you sending with your coaching? Are your systems (performance management, rewards and compensation) set up to reward the “quick fix? Or do you reward a deeper relationship and better, well-timed solutions that will make a real difference for the client now and far into the future? And are you encouraging your team to respectfully decline business that’s not in the client’s best interest?
2. Mindset and Intent: Ask yourself, what attitude do you lead with: “Gotta Sell’, or “Wanna help”? Does an authentic desire to bring value drive all of your activities and behaviors?
3. The Right Skills: Assuming the salesperson has the right intent, the right skills will help them use the right behaviors to authentically demonstrate this good intent. But again, it all starts with good intent. Otherwise, the skills just seem technique-y, and we can all read through that a mile away.
Now, I love to tell people that I’m a Counselor Salesperson. And I love working with consultative salespeople, professionals who are passionate about solving problems and bringing value and helping others. In the process of making a positive difference for others, they are wildly successful themselves.
What could be more classy than that?