It was an early morning meeting chaired by the Senior Vice President. There wasn’t any reason to anticipate fireworks on that particular day so the atmosphere was rather relaxed. A sales manager was the last to arrive, and as he sat down, he whispered to the person next to him, “All I want to do is sell.”
The meaning was clear. He viewed meetings and all other “non-selling” tasks as unnecessary interruptions that keep him away from the job of selling. His intolerance for meetings was palpable, and he announced that he would be leaving early for an appointment.
Taking a strong stand against all the ‘stuff’ that interferes with ‘making sales’ may seem like a breath of fresh air for many in the insurance and financial industry.
But before getting too excited about it, the “all I want to do is 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. That includes salespeople, lawyers, Members of Congress, business executives and lobbyists.
It’s ironic that the greater the emphasis is on “making the sale,” whether it’s 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 or 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 three 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 eventually away for good, 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 an opportunity to win customers by:
- Asking questions that engage the customer
- Listening intently and reflecting back to clearly understand customer issues
- Encouraging feedback when offering choices
- 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 that every salesperson must pass with flying colors. These words have reached ‘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 what your company can do for customers clearly and with enthusiasm 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 that line is to put a sales career in jeopardy.
That said, anyone who wants to reach the top in sales should think seriously about reaching the top of the trust scale. The three pieces of advice above should help boost you up a few notches.