I saw this title in a magazine article recently. Rather than read the article, I thought about the perceptions out there that could characterize the sales process as “Evil.” If your experiences with sales revolve around the pushy car salesmen, late night infomercials about ladders that turn into transformers, or the faces at your door expounding the virtues of joining their religion, then you may tend to vote in the affirmative. If you get no value from the experience, then it’s only natural that you feel pestered, pressured, and uncomfortable throughout any form of a sales process.
Now, having given the adjective ‘Evil’ some credence, are there any arguments supporting selling? Of course, but I feel that it all revolves around the salesmanship of the process. By that I mean: what is truly running through the mind of the sales professional? There are too many different ideas of the right mindset to catalogue, but we should remember that the customer always knows when he is being ‘sold’ something, and when he’s being counseled.
Most true front line salesmen make their living through straight commissioned fees based on closed sales. By its nature, this format tends to add pressure to the sale process, and many times results in the prospect feeling he is ‘being sold’. How does this common car lot question make you feel: “Say Tom (because they always like to sound so friendly), if we find the right car at the right price today, will you buy it?” It’s a given that if you’re at the dealership you’re probably interested in buying a car, but when this is one of the first questions asked, you probably feel as though the lid has just sealed you in, and the pressure cooker is turning on.
The fault here, and why it leads to the perception that selling is evil, is because questions like this tend to happen before the salesman ever inquires about you, your situation, your reason for being here, your timing, and your needs. Not only is his need to close the sale more important than satisfying your needs, it’s more important than his even learning what your needs are.
Whenever this happens to me, I know I’m dealing with a rookie salesman, and one who is probably desperate, as well. My stay at that car lot won’t be very long, and I’m already mentally gone, and thinking about where else I can go.
I can’t recall when I personally made the shift from this approach to the more consultative attitude I take today, but it’s been quite a while. It was a big shift in my mindset, and it has affected every aspect of my sales process, as well as the quality of my client relationships.
By counseling my prospective clients, I try to position myself as a valued member of their management team – one who just so happens to have all the professional skill and local knowledge necessary to the task. However, that isn’t enough. There is one critical element missing: knowledge of their business, and their goals. The Internet is invaluable for learning about an industry, a business within that industry, and even the individuals within that company; but the awareness of the client’s goals comes through building trust, otherwise the client may never share their goals and needs. To me, that is the key of the sales process: building trust. This is where a true sales professional earns his stripes, and brings value to the prospective client — and it all comes from choosing a consultative strategy, not a selling tactic.
If a sales professional can determine the client’s actual needs, and then direct the client to the very best solution for the client, then significant value has been injected into the process. And guess what? Sometimes the best solution for the client isn’t yours.
Is this a potential conflict with the commissioned sales fee structure? Sometimes, yes, but think of how the client feels when they initially asked for something they thought they needed, and the sales professional showed them a much better solution at a much better price! Immediate trust. And who knows, maybe the client still buys the initial solution because of some other factor, but one thing is for sure — that salesman just made a very positive impression, and referrals and future business should follow.
My conviction is that customers always know when a salesman is taking that rare approach of consulting with them based on their needs, and really listening to them, and that the trust-based relationship that results should be the true goal – not the immediate sale. Make it a conversation from one businessman to another, and then the concept of the “evil salesman” won’t enter their mind.