Death of a Salesman

LET'S FACE IT. No one studies law, accounting, marketing, engineering or another field because of a burning desire to become a salesperson. We choose these fields because we want to be lawyers, accountants, marketers, engineers and so on. Unfortunately, business has changed. As professionals we are expected to be experts in our field. We're also expected - and in some cases required - to sell. If we want to move up the corporate ladder, there's a point where we must take on a client-facing role and along with that comes business development responsibility.

So, whether you like it or not, it's all about selling - yourself, your company, your product and your service.

What is selling? If you look it up in a dictionary you may see something like "to persuade others to accept". Not a surprise. And, what words do you associate with "salesman"? High pressure, fast talker, flashy, lying ... the list goes on. Think about your past experiences buying from a typical salesman.

If you have moved into a new flat lately, more than likely the salesperson only had self-interest at heart and used every trick imaginable to help get that commission. It's the "foot in the door" and the "I'll keep calling until you sign" approach.

When salespeople go for the hard sell, they come across as pushing their agenda. What do we do when someone pushes us? We resist or push back. If you've ever taken a sales training course, this is called "dealing with objections".

There are thousands of books out there that will teach you how to "overcome objections" before going for the "close". There's even one called How to Close Every Sale.

It seems the "close" is the point when we have been battered into submission, ready to give up and have nothing else to do but sign on the dotted line.

Most professional services executives would never deliberately employ these hard-sell tactics. However, there's a perception in our minds of how a salesperson behaves. And it's not positive. This is one of many reasons why professionals don't like the idea of selling.

After all, few would want to be described as a typical salesman.

In professional services, many would agree that understanding a potential client is vital to developing a long-term business relationship.

We need to know what is important to them - their business issues, what keeps them up at night, where are their growth opportunities. With this type of insight, we can stop selling products and start selling solutions.

Unfortunately, buyers these days are savvy. They know when questions are being asked "to get to know them".

They have the power. It's the client that decides who gets valuable insight and who gets minimal information. What's important to recognise is that they probably wouldn't describe the suppliers who they share valuable insights with as typical salespeople. Hopefully they would use a word such as "partner" or "trusted adviser".

The distinction here has everything to do with what the client believes is the reason behind the questions. Imagine this: a supplier asks a few questions of a potential client to gain an understanding of their business.

But after a few minutes, the client mentions something that the supplier knows is a service that he or she can provide. All of a sudden, the supplier goes from asking to telling - "we can do that" or "we have a solution that can solve that problem".

When the salesperson starts to push, the client starts to realise what's going on. That they have the typical salesperson in front of them - someone who has their self-interest at heart and only cares about closing the deal.

Even if it's not true, it can still be the perception. And this perception matters. Most of us have a sincere and genuine interest in our clients. We want to be friendly and helpful. Yes, we want to close the business, but we also want to provide a product or service that helps. But this is the problem.

By pushing or "pouncing" at the wrong time, we come across (regardless of our intention) as being interested only in what we want. Think back to the words associated with salesman. This is what's going through the client's mind.

There's got to be a better way. Let's look at selling in a new light. Try this: selling is about "motivating client commitment". This suggests more of a pull than a push approach.

The key to selling successfully with this approach is presenting your "case" in a way that is easy for the client to accept. Tricks and short-cuts won't work. It's about focusing on the buying process, not the selling process. And in the buying process, it's the client that matters, not you.

But when will a client be motivated to commit to a supplier? Only when they trust that the supplier has their interest at heart. Trust is the key word. It's essential to success. It's not easy to gain, has to be earned, takes time and is easy to lose.

Even if it's the first time you've met the potential client, you have to start building trust. Find ways through the sales process. Demonstrate to them your credibility, competence and compatibility.

Some ways of building trust can be learned - they are being an expert in your field or having a proven track record.

Other ways are based on a deep-rooted desire to help - showing that you care, taking an interest in the person and delivering what you promise.

Selling is not an exact science. There is going to be failure. Selling is partially a numbers game. Not every sales meeting identifies an opportunity. Not every prospect becomes a client. You can't close every sale.

But if we embrace different activities, processes and mindset, we can move from a typical "salesman" to a "trusted adviser".

Trust goes a long way in "motivating client commitment". Trust comes before revenue.



Existing Clients Look for sales opportunities within your existing client base. Encourage your clients to provide you with internal referrals and introduce you to other parts of their organisations where you do not currently get work. Expand your contacts. Arrange business and social events where you can meet people from different parts of their company. Reposition yourself in the mind of the client so that the client associates you with a wider range of products or services.

Size is Relative Size can be measured in many ways. It can be the turnover of an organisation, total headcount, number of offices, market share or product range. Big does not always mean the best. The key is to find the size which is most attractive to you.

Discussion Openers Most organisations have promotional seminars where they invite clients to hear from an industry expert, learn better ways of managing their business or introduce them to a new product offering. Before the seminar begins, have a meeting with everyone on your team. Make sure each person has a different opening line when they approach a client after the event. Think of the impression made if five of your colleagues approach the same client and ask: "So, what did you think of the seminar?" Besides getting the same answer, you'll come across as a bunch of clones.

People vs Paper Remember, people win business, paper doesn't. So next time you start to email your proposal to a potential client - stop, pick up the phone and make an appointment. Try to sit down with the client so you can persuasively walk the client through your document and address any of the key concerns and discuss the next steps.

The Language of Rapport People buy from the person who demonstrates an understanding of their business better than anyone else. The best sales people recognise this and go into every meeting with information that shows the client they have a reasonable level of understanding. Find out the easy answers before the first meeting. Don't ask low-level questions on the client's time. All the easy-to-answer questions should be dealt with by asking people other than the decision makers. When the decision maker is available, take the questioning to a new level. The conversation should reflect a mutual understanding rather than the need for education on issues.