The rules of the hardest part of any business: sales and sales management. Check out the first three of eleven chapters.
STARTING FROM ZERO
There are probably several thousand books written about the art of selling, so why another? The answer evolves from the fact that the business of selling is so diverse there is a constant need for the professional salesman to keep abreast of new techniques to put in his arsenal. Moreover, selling, as compared with most other vocations, brings with it a type of stress that is unique. For the true professional-commissioned salesperson every day starts exactly the same, no matter who you are, you are Starting From Zero.
This book is an exploration of those attributes necessary to cope with this extraordinary occupational stress. Additionally, it is deliberately designed to answer some of the questions anyone seeking a sales career will undoubtedly have. Concurrently, management should recognize its own need to provide the correct sales support system through their understanding of the position most salespeople find themselves in on a daily basis.
As with any other occupation, there are certain standards each business maintaining a sales force develops to tell itself if its sales people are producing up to satisfactory levels. Very often those standards are established using criteria that is too generalized to make intelligent analysis that can be useful to the business as a whole. In the case of low sales volume, the reasons are sometimes not even related to the sales force. Examples that come to mind immediately would be; poor packaging, inadequate market research, or improper product design. Nonetheless, the sales force is often charged with the obligation to put the product on the shelf. Over time, these problems can be resolved; but for the poor salesperson who has to suffer through management harassing him to move the merchandise, it is especially frustrating.
It is imperative then that the input of the sales staff carries legitimate weight in the marketing and production of the merchandise or service they are expected to sell. But, for that input to be valid the sales staff must be adequately trained and equipped with a well rounded knowledge of the processes required to bring those products to the marketplace.
To that end, this book will attempt to deliver to the sales professional, the tools that are proven to work consistently and to assist him, or her, in developing a successful mind-set. To management, it will point out the areas that are unique to the sales force and the alternative methods of bringing the sales volume up to maximum expectations.
Destroying Some Myths
"Boy! That guy can really talk. He would be a great salesperson."
DECIDING TO BE IN THE SALES GAME
Ask any salesperson why they chose a career in sales and the response is likely to be, "Well, I needed a job that would pay me what I thought I was worth." It was the same for me. I was trying to earn my degree, going to school during the day and working as a fry cook at night. Then, I married a woman who had four children, obviously I needed to redirect my priorities.
My decision to become a salesman defeated the odds against our marriage and gave me the opportunity to earn a decent living as quickly as I could learn. We had three more children and have been married now for forty-plus years. We wouldn't have made it without all those commission checks and manager’s overrides.
But, before you run out to grab the nearest sales job because you have some similar need, you might want to consider what it takes to succeed in sales. Necessity alone won't keep you in the profession. You should examine the character traits and work habits which are common to the best sales people in every industry.
Talking vs. Listening
Of course, some traits you can do without. At the top of that list is the mistaken idea that the biggest asset of a salesperson is the ability to talk relentlessly. Successful salespeople know how to listen. They train themselves to hear the buying signals incessant talkers always miss. When they do talk, their purpose is to ask only questions which will assist them in helping their clients reach the decision to purchase: "What colors do you prefer?", "How does this feel to you?", "What kind of payments can you handle?", "How soon do you need it?" This process begins when they meet a prospective client and continues until they have completed the sale or have determined the customer is not a bonafide prospect. Like an artist using just the right mix of color for his painting, the sales person learns to ask just the right questions to complete his or her sale. Avoiding excessive talking keeps the focal point on their canvas, which is a successful transaction for their client. By using questions to target the needs and the qualifications of the customer, they increase their productivity.
Competition and Preparation (perspiration)
It’s no surprise many of the most productive salespeople are ex-athletes. Their competitive nature, or mental toughness, helps them overcome the rejections they are bound to receive before completing any successful transaction, which happens, for most industries, only fifteen percent of the time. Obviously, eighty five percent of the time the customer is saying ‘No’.
No wonder rejection is the biggest single factor in the turnover of sales people. It takes a special kind of person to maintain the positive focus needed to overcome those odds. The competitive salesperson finds a way to navigate the maze of ‘No’s’ to arrive at that one ‘Yes’.
This navigating process begins with a well organized sales presentation. By structuring the sales process for every appointment, the salesperson limits the number of objections they will receive and, just as importantly, the objections they do receive will come at a time when they are prepared to deal with them. Sales people must learn: when they qualify their prospect, ask the right questions, demonstrate the benefits of their product, and close for the order, their chances are as good as they can make them. This kind of preparation is the salesperson’s competitive edge.
Product Knowledge and the Comfort Zone
A very necessary part of that preparation includes product knowledge. It might seem trite to say that salespeople must have a sincere belief in their product to be successful, but consider this: The number and type of objections salespeople receive have an effect on their own perception of their product. Learning everything about a product they can, helps stem an avalanche of objections for them.
Take those salespeople with excellent product knowledge and put them in an environment they are at ease with, and now you have the makings of a solid, efficient producer.
A good friend of mine, Mike Hanly, was one of the top salespeople in Sonoma County, California real estate for a number of years in the seventies and early eighties. Because of his ability to create transactions that made sense for everybody, I asked him why he didn't go after a more affluent clientele. His answer was revealing, "The more comfortable I am with my clients, the more comfortable they are. I work better in that kind of atmosphere. I'm not so sure that would be the case with people whose aims and goals may be different from those I am used to working with." He wasn't denigrating either category of client. He merely recognized his own comfort zone. He was a top producer because he related to his clients.
The Self-Starter and Time Management
Because good salespeople relate easily to their customers, they tend to be self-starters. They are much more anxious to begin their day because they enjoy the interplay with their clients. This became evident to me years ago, when I got my first promotion to sales-management with a very well known direct sales company. I hired a group of sales people who looked and talked a great sales game. The problem was, most of them wouldn't work. They were fine as long as I was with them, but once on their own, they usually headed for the comfort of their own homes. I went to my branch manager to admit I was having difficulty.
He came to one of my sales meetings and later told me how impressed he was with my training techniques. There was nothing he would change. The dilemma was my selection of people.
He then gave me a hint I have never forgotten when faced with building a sales force. He said, "You were right in hiring only those people you would have no problem having over for dinner with your wife. But," he continued, "they should be hungry enough to eat what they are served." I obviously hadn't stressed the requirement of being a self-starter.
My salespeople were not comfortable with the idea of selling door-to-door. They either didn't relate to their customers or, and this is probably more the case, they didn't relate themselves to the job. This seriously reduced their chances of becoming self-starters. Would they have made it in another type of sales? I'm not sure.
One thing is certain, as the above experience indicates, all the best training in the world will not get a salesman out into his territory unless he has the desire to apply what he has learned. Being a self-starter means the ambition to succeed is strong enough to overcome any reluctance to face rejection.
Continuing along those lines, in order to discuss self-starters it’s insightful to talk about time-management. If you analyze any sales office, you will spot the leading producers without much difficulty. They are in the office early, respond to messages quickly, make their appointments while everyone else is finishing their coffee, and are in the field before everyone else. They use their office time to straighten out any problems with orders, and to gather the information they need to make their appointments. They don't have time to discuss the latest office gossip. In short, they manage their time extremely well, and are highly motivated.
Sure, I do believe that a good sales manager needs the ability to motivate his staff to higher production; I also believe the leading salespeople are self-motivated. They structure their time and set specific goals for themselves. They know where they want to be at any given time in their sales day, their sales campaign, and their sales career. Their work habits are the trademarks of their success.
Anyone who is serious about a career in sales must confront the issues of being a self-starter and learning to manage their time before they interview for a sales position. Next to the inability to handle rejection, squandering time is the biggest killer of sales careers. Remember, most sales jobs, while offering the opportunity to make good money, are generally straight commission jobs. Unfortunately, if you're not making the effort to sell - meaning you're not in the field making legitimate contacts - your paychecks will be uncomfortably small.
I know a good many sales managers, myself included, who believe failing to handle rejection, and a lack of time management go hand in hand. First comes the shock of hearing all those ‘No’s’, next comes the landslide (or backslide ) of hearing the reasons why the salesperson can't get out in the field. Next is the search for a new career.
Training and the Numbers Game
Nonetheless, if you are certain you can discipline yourself to be a self-starter and a frugal time-manager, guess what? Sales techniques can be easily learned. All good training courses are designed specifically to ingrain them. A very prudent suggestion here would be to look for a company that has a reputation for outstanding training for the sales novice. Good training can, many times, outweigh a good commission schedule. Particularly in the beginning of your career.
Along with the basics, the sales training course will teach the beginner how to use the numbers for their particular industry. Specifically, each industry has certain ratios between cold calls, contacts, demonstrations and sales. Understanding these ratios helps the salesperson deal with the reality of rejection. They tell him how many cold calls he must make to get an appointment, appointments he needs to make a demonstration, and finally, the number of demonstrations he must make to write one sale. Every industry has its history of these numbers and every business has its own way of logging them to track the successes or weaknesses of the salesperson. So a new salesperson should understand the necessity for them. They are learning-tools to check the progress of the beginner, and a barometer for the more experienced salesperson to spotlight any areas where he might need help.
Todd Seth, owner of Software Direct in Vista, California, says, "We're not looking for a walking price catalog out there. We want someone who can show the customer what our product can do and then find a way for the customer to buy. We pay particular attention to each salesperson’s numbers so we can give them the training they need."
You can have a very successful career in sales if: you know the difference between nonstop talking and using intelligent questions; you mix in the right combination of competitiveness and preparation; you operate in an environment in which you are at ease; you are a self-starter who uses his time wisely; you are goal oriented and self-motivated; and you understand the numbers for your business.
Then again, you could marry a gal with four kids. That will definitely motivate you.
Discovering The Attitude
Dale rolled over and opened one sleepy eye and confirmed the alarm had gone off at the proper time. It was six fifteen and he had promised to meet John at the Java Coffee Shoppe at a quarter to eight. He would have liked to sleep for another twenty minutes or so but he knew if he was late for their meeting it would push everything else back too. Somewhere along the line then, he would need to cut an appointment and he was not the type to let that happen.
Besides, he enjoyed these meetings with his sales manager. John had worked much of the same territory Dale was now working for nearly five years. He knew many of Dale’s clients and had some great stories to relate which always contained something he might use to help him with getting an extra order or two. John had introduced him to most of his initial clients as a courtesy to help get him started. They had hit it off from the beginning because Dale was eager to learn and John was anxious to see him succeed in the territory as he had.
Dale had a portion of John’s old territory for a little over a year now and was gradually improving. This month, though, things had begun to slow up for him. This was the reason for the meeting. He felt there might be something he was doing that was causing him to lose sales.
Getting up early gave him the opportunity to go over his records so he could answer John’s questions intelligently. John was not the kind of manager that ran his sales team like a drill instructor but he was a stickler for using adequate records to pinpoint possible problem areas. Dale respected him for this because he knew their meetings would not turn into meaningless smoke blowing sessions where John would give him a worthless pep-talk and then try to impress him with how great a salesman he had been. They worked together to get at the keys which would increase Dale's sales.
Avery Burns was
He told his wife Mary to get him up early. He had set up a round of golf with some of his buddies, one of whom was a customer. They were to tee off at eight fifteen and he didn't want to be late. The one who was the customer had a small accessories shop in the mall. He didn't get to play that often so Avery figured he could make a few bucks off him with a five dollar Nassau bet. Maybe he would even get an order from the guy. Either way Avery would write the game off as a business expense.
He had already decided after the round he would head over to the office and talk to Frank Sutter, the VP in charge of sales. He would let him know how slow John was to give out the good leads. John had come out with his B...S... about wanting to see Avery’s numbers. What a crock! Being the new sales manager had really gone to John’s head.
Avery had gotten part of John’s territory along with the new guy, Dale Parker when John was promoted. Sure enough, Dale got most of the good stuff and Avery got the shaft. All his good clients had switched over to other suppliers within a couple of months after John left. He must have overloaded them with big orders and then gave them to Avery. Nobody could sell them now.
John Stempleton ran
He thought to himself how much more pleasant a field session like this was. Dale was developing into a true professional. Avery Burns, on the other hand, saddened John. They had both started with the company at about the same time. John could remember when they both competed, as friends at first, until John’s sales began to increase and Avery’s declined. Avery spent more time then he should at the golf course and sometimes the nineteenth hole. But the company left him alone because he kept his sales up to minimal standards.
Frank Sutter was the sales manager then and he occasionally chided Avery about doing only what it took to get by. Everyone felt he had the talent to become a real professional if he would simply apply himself. For whatever reason Avery never found the drive to improve. He was becoming more of a liability now and had even complained to John about leads at the same time Dale had asked for the appointment. When John had suggested he get his records together so they could try and isolate his problem Avery had gone off on him. John knew there would soon be a confrontation between them.
But right now Dale needed his help and this was invigorating. This was the reason he had consented to the promotion to sales manager. He enjoyed seeing people like Dale and some of the other men on his team succeed as they had.
Dale drove up to the little coffee shop at the same time John got there. They went inside and the waitress, who had served John for all those years before his promotion, kidded Dale about trying to make points with the boss and then John for not being able to stay away from the donuts. They took a booth in the back so they could talk without too much interruption.
Dale laid out his figures and pointed out the fact that he was making about the same amount of cold calls as always. His appointments, however were down. Obviously, in turn, his presentations were down and therefore his sales.
"John, I'm not panicked, but it would be nice if you could see something I'm not seeing. I'm still closing my sales at the same rate but they are down because the appointments are down. You know?" He was slightly perplexed. As any good salesman would, he liked to solve his own problems. But as a professional he wouldn't let his pride get in the way of learning something new or getting the help he needed to succeed.
"Your figures look okay for everything else, Dale. So, you're right. Maybe there is something a little unusual. As a matter of fact I looked at your figures and mine for the last few years and I noticed we both had the same problem at this time of the year. I remember talking to Frank some time back and the only thing we could figure out was that some of the merchants are taking some time off about this time. We came to the conclusion that the seasonal changeover was flattening out and the weather was clearing, so why not a little vacation?" He shrugged his shoulders and grinned. "But just to be sure, run over your figures one more time and see if, just by chance, most of your sales are coming with those companies that have purchasing agents or by the owners themselves."
Dale took out his sales sheets and studied them closely. "Damn, look at this, about eighty percent of these sales are with salaried purchasing agents or someone else on the payroll. There are very few owners. I usually turn much more sales from owners. That’s incredible. So it isn't me after all."
"Well good. But how about getting back to some of those companies who usually buy and finding out if maybe someone was left with some orders to do the buying, even if it’s only for emergency orders?" John was ribbing him a little but Dale knew it couldn’t hurt to try it. He might pick up some orders he didn't have now.
They finished their coffee and donuts and chatted briefly. Dale’s spirits were lifted because he knew he had only gone through something John himself had. He also now had the benefit of John’s hindsight to help him redeem some of the lost sales. Within a week things turned around and he was back on track.
Avery had a miserable
Later that day, Avery went into Frank’s office to register his complaint about the lousy leads he was getting. Frank called in John and they discussed Avery’s figures with him there. John suggested once again that Avery should get his figures so they could look them over. He became highly agitated and informed both of them he didn't need any numbers to tell him when things were bad. Frank excused himself and left his office to the other two.
John spoke first. "Avery, I'm sorry, I've avoided this conversation much too long. I asked you not too long ago to get your figures so I could try and be of some help to you. I just asked you again and you refused, why?"
"I told you John. I don't need to keep any figures. Business is down and you know it. Besides I haven't kept any of those phony records and goals sheets since my second year here."
"Guess what Avery? I know that. As a result your figures stayed the same for about a year and a half, and they have slid steadily downward since. I have offered you help several times, but you refused. Furthermore, without your records all I have are mine. They tell me you are not doing near the job you should." John leaned back to let his words sink in.
"Hey buddy, I can sell every bit as good as you. Break out some new leads and I'll beat your tail in a contest any day!" Avery said.
"Avery, you don't need to beat me in a contest. You need to beat yourself. Why swim upstream and make things harder? You go out and get me the records you know I want and we'll talk about leads all you want. One month. That’s all we need. You don't even have to set a goal."
Within two weeks Avery was working for one of the competitors. Within a year he was out of sales altogether.
*** The above story is played out over and over in virtually every sales office in the world and has a number of variations, all with the same results. Why do some people make it and others never get it right? Why is that? What’s the magic these successful sales people have? Why are they able to sustain their production? How do they sustain their attitude so their slumps are only short term?
The answer, of course, is as simple as it is complex. These people have an elusive quality that we term as a ‘sales attitude’. It would be a mistake to simply put it down to a positive demeanor. Though certainly it is evident that most good salespeople have this positive quality about them.
The attitude starts with a belief in self, product or service, and training. An examination of the vignette presented above shows a number of things about the attitude:
Dale obviously kept good records so he knew immediately the area of production causing the decline in sales. He wasn't making what he knew were the required number of demos to result in the sales he was used to getting. Because he kept such good records this popped up at him without a major search. He had enough knowledge of his own ability to realize he might be doing some thing slightly different that was causing the problem. He also had the faith in his training and his manager to know he could get the help he needed. He took steps immediately to solve the problem. In this case it apparently was nothing more than a seasonal slump. John, the manager, was smart enough to simply point this out to Dale as an anomaly of his territory, or the industry, and let it work itself out. Both men acted professionally by first, recognizing a possible problem and second, following a course of action that gave Dale the continued confidence he needed to succeed. Neither over- reacted. They relied on their individual abilities and their knowledge of proven technique to achieve an immediate solution.
It is extremely important to understand how simply and efficiently this problem was solved by both men.
By contrast, Avery saw the solution to his problem as a deficiency in management as the result of what he termed as poor leads. It is entirely possible that both Dale and Avery were suffering through a minor industrial lull that caused both to experience some poor numbers. But, Avery’s poor attitude and a lack of willingness to cooperate with his manager’s simple request for his records pointed to a possible ego problem on his part. Also, going over the managers head to request better leads put a definite wedge between himself and the help he needed from John. It is fairly easy to assume that Avery perceived John’s request for his records as some sort of retribution for going to the VP. The result was his eventual failure because he wouldn't get the help he needed.
What this tells us about the kind of attitude that succeeds in sales should be very clear. We can agree that a positive demeanor, or attitude, is necessary but this is not to be confused with an egocentric attitude. Good salespeople have positive attitudes because of their self-confidence. They recognize the necessity of continued training to keep their edge over their competitors. They see the value in accurate records, not just for the help in keeping themselves on track, but also for the company to spot trends that might indicate the need for new products or new ideas. By keeping themselves viable entities at the forefront of their company's growth and success they realize a growth in their own self-worth.
This self-confidence is their shield from the negatives that are inherent in their trade. There are periods, sometimes prolonged, in a salespersons career that test everything they have learned. There is not a salesman alive who has not gone through a period where sales seemed to completely dry up. They begin to question their ability, and fear they may have lost "it". But inside, it is the self-confidence that pulls them through. They discipline themselves to do all the things they know are proven to work, they seek the help they need, maintaining their professional attitude, and they persevere. They know, because it is a numbers game, they have a probable hot streak in their future as long as they keep doing the things that insure their success.
Professionals share something of a gambler’s nature. They are in sales because they are convinced they do not need the security of a guaranteed weekly or monthly pay check. A guaranty of pay has no real value to them. The things they truly value are the new ideas and techniques that will keep them at the top of their field.
A salesman gets a raise for himself by selling more. It's just that simple for him. He is rated primarily on his production. There may be bonuses but they are tied to his production.
This condition separates sales from every other job. A drop in production is an immediate drop in income. Seldom is it necessary to fire a salesperson, they take themselves out of the lineup, so to speak, with their lack of sales.
Without their unique combination of self-confidence, their gamblers attitude and the discipline to continually refine their technique, salespeople could not survive in the extreme competition they face daily.
Something else needed and equally important is a sense of humor. In any gathering of sales experts there is no shortage of tales dealing with incidents that happen to them in the heat of selling situations. These stories reflect the stress that is embodied in the selling experience translated into an interesting anecdote. As exaggerated as these stories might become, they evolve from the creativity under stress in overcoming the odds in order to make the sale.
For example, a new salesman in the sporting goods section of a large department store had a minor speech impediment which caused him to stutter when he became nervous. This usually happened when he was trying to close the sale. He learned how to use it to his advantage. Each time he got to an item he wanted the customer to buy he would simply allow himself to stutter. Something like; "D-d-d-did you w-w-w-want the f-f-fish-fish-fish-" The exasperated customer would finish for him, "You mean the fishing rod!" after each item the salesman would then stop and write it on the order form. Of course he would then begin again with a new item, allowing the customer to close himself by finishing off the name of the item. When the list got long enough the salesman would simply hand it to the customer along with his pen and say, "S-s-s-s-si-si-sign h-h-h-he-he--" Almost without fail the customer would grab the order form and sign it to end the salesman’s obvious torment. When he had concluded the transaction he always reverted to a normal speech pattern, "Thank you for your order sir. I know you will enjoy your fishing rod, the wading boots, the net and the rest of the casting equipment." Creating a way to capitalize on his own stress epitomizes what the true salesman strives for.
The ability to constantly function under stress is the major component of a true professional sales attitude. Salespeople are part of an exclusive institution. They start each day from nothing and chisel from it a living. When they receive their paycheck, it is not by the good graces of the company. It is because they unequivocally earned every penny of it.
Without question the stress factor has supplied many an analyst with a substantial career. Working with that stress of Starting From Zero, is why there is a need for a book like this. Salespeople and management might be aware of the various factors that influence productivity in a given situation, but making the link overall escapes all but the most astute companies. The constant pressurized condition faced by the salesperson on a daily basis affects their entire demeanor, both professional and personal. Recognizing and dealing with this stress is the shared responsibility of the salespeople and the management staff. Everything that affects the individual salesperson simultaneously affects the sales presentation. Providing the proper atmosphere in which to develop all the skills necessary for successful selling should be the primary focus of the entire team.
Some things that might be considered in providing a conducive atmosphere could include a combination of any of the following:
1- Comprehensive training manuals which are continually updated.
2- Professionally prepared catalogs, brochures, product price books, and any other presentation material provided for the salesperson to give to a prospective client.
3- Perks for salespeople, such as expense accounts, cars, credit cards, contests and recognition plaques that have significant meaning.
4- Company gatherings for families of the sales team. Trips for the same purpose including spouses and children.
5- Interaction with the staff of other departments to promote solidarity and single purpose.
6- Staff meetings to insure everyone knows company plans and promotions.
Anything that can be done to insure the salesperson he is not in front of his client naked and exposed serves a dual purpose. The salesperson builds his confidence from knowing he has total support and the client will sense this and be more inclined to do business because of the professional perception.
Each company must design their sales department considering those things they can do presently and the things they legitimately intend to do in the future. The salespeople should know what these plans are so they can participate in attaining them. When the effort is shared the accomplishments will mean more to everyone if they are intelligently thought out and planned.
Even small things like the naming of teams and picking the colors for charting contests can have a substantial effect when done with the ultimate goal of a better situation for everyone. It is important for management to avoid the appearance of attempting to manipulate the sales force. Good attitudes in salespeople are nurtured in an environment that understands and reflects their needs. The days of the rah-rah, pump-them-up and push-them-out-the-door, style of management are distant echoes that have no validity in the modern sales world. Huge profits are obtained and dividends distributed to investors when everyone is aware of the total picture.
With all of this said, the original theme will still be the same. Some people will simply not find a niche in the sales field. The unique blend of qualities necessary to succeed are not everyone’s cup of tea. Selling success is determined by the willingness of the sales person to put himself in a selling situation for however many times his skill and his product dictates he must. Without trying to make too much of a villain out of the mythical Avery in our chapter vignette; as long as there were no rough waters in his routine he functioned reasonably well. But when it was time to make some changes he didn't have the self-confidence to analyze his efforts to see where he might need help. He lacked the discipline to maintain the records that would have shown him where he went off course. He looked to his manager to solve his problem without his own input. And finally, his false pride was an impediment that crippled his thinking. Good salespeople have the self-confidence to seek the help they need without sacrificing anything but the time it takes to learn something new.
John knew Dale had always prepared himself properly and could, therefore rely on what his inspection of the records demonstrated. There were no egos involved with either Dale, refusing to admit he was doing something wrong, or John, trying to over-manage by elaborating on something that did not exist.game and the customer he thought he could hustle on the golf course turned out to be much better than a duffer and cleaned Avery’s wallet out for him. Not only that, he told Avery that a rival salesman had called on him the previous week and gave him some very good prices on almost everything Avery usually sold him. Naturally he couldn’t pass up that kind of a deal. He suggested Avery get back to him in about two months and they would talk again. by the office quickly, to pick up the figures he had Peggy run for his meeting with Dale. He knew Dale’s sales had been a little off this month but he wasn't particularly worried. For one thing, he knew Dale would come to him before any problems got out of hand. Since Dale’s records followed along the company’s suggested guidelines it was always easy to get at any small flaws in his procedure. If they didn't uncover it that way, John would make a few calls with him and make any suggestions he thought necessary.up early this day also. His purpose was a little different. He told John Stempleton two weeks ago to give him some better leads because his sales were slipping and he could see John wasn't going to do it. So be it.
What a Salesman is and is not..
"That guy must be a terrific salesman, he’s got a line of b... s... that won't quit."
"That guy tells some of the best jokes I've ever heard. He must be a salesman."
"Jeez! He’s as slippery as an eel. What a salesperson."
And the beat goes on. Almost everyone not connected to the business of selling has a preconceived notion of what a salesperson sounds like, looks like and, unfortunately, smells like, not that some salespeople don't contribute to the myths. There is no shortage of ‘so-called’ sales experts touting techniques that border on slight of hand methods that promise everything and deliver smoke. Many of these experts are jaded by their own image of themselves, or what they think the buying public expects of them. Their techniques often fall into the category of the quick-fix and do not address the real world of selling.
All of that aside, for the vast majority of selling situations, a successful sale follows a set of rules that require constant attention and a prearranged course of action. Legitimate selling calls for as much preparation before the actual sales call as the call itself.
The idea that a slick talker can walk into a company, flatter the secretary, weasel his way into the purchasing agents office, tell him a few off-color jokes, and then give him a quart of Jack Daniels to get the order, has, fortunately ceased to exist. A secretary, and a purchasing agent, susceptible to this kind of idiocy would not last long in this age of high tech and specialty businesses. Without question, the use of special gifts or perks is widely used by salespeople at all levels, but ethical standards must be observed to insure against even the appearance of impropriety. If the specifications of the client are not met, gifts are meaningless.
The salesperson must know what his prospect's real needs are and how he can fulfill those needs in the least amount of time and with the best possible product. Understand that discovering those needs, and matching the product to them, can dictate some creative thinking on the salesperson’s part. Competition in today’s market means many suppliers have products that do essentially the same thing. The salesperson is effective when he can differentiate the advantages of his product over those of the competitor.
Aspiring sales professionals might do well considering the type of products they would feel more comfortable selling. Certain personalities seem to succeed better in specific industries or special selling circumstances. Some businesses need a cultivation style of selling, as opposed to, say, the quick pitch philosophy of the telemarketing industry. Surprisingly, the basic format for acquiring the sale is the same. Only the time frame is markedly different. In the case of the telemarketer, the demonstration is geared toward the impulse buyer. The entire introduction, demonstration and close occurs within minutes. As opposed to the cultivating style that requires two or three calls for the salesperson to introduce his company and the various matches for products the prospect might use. It could easily take as many as four calls on a customer to finally get an initial order.
This is all to point out that the idea of a good salesman being a good talker is incomplete as a concept. There are literally thousands of mellifluous sounding salespeople starving in every industry. A close inspection quite often reveals a lack of understanding of the selling process. And, very likely, a lack of adequate training on the part of their company. The sad thing is, they seem to be the stereotype the general public refers to when they talk about salespeople. Sounding good is a great start but it must be combined with all the elements of what a sale requires. A would-be salesperson might first consider learning the skill of being a good listener and communicator. Imagine how much better someone who has truly heard what the customer said can respond to their needs.
When the subject of stereotypes is discussed in sales, automobile selling is the immediate negative image most observers like to focus on. There is some basis for that image. Consider this country's great love affair with its cars and think of the thousands of them sitting on lots in every city and small town in the country. Understanding the need for imaginative sales technique is not too difficult. ‘Caveat emptor’, let the buyer beware, seems to apply here more than anywhere. It is the industry where almost every sales stereotype finds its roots.
Fortunately, partly because of regulation and partly because of necessity, reliance on more acceptable sales practices is becoming more a reality than ever before in automobile sales as in every other industry. Legitimate, thorough, demonstration and closing techniques are combining with better service to give the industry a cleaner look than in the past.
The overall sales industry is benefitting from another phenomena in recent years. More and more, as women enter the work force they are selecting the sales field to work in. This fact has had a definite influence on the type and quality of training now being implemented. An understanding of the needs of the buyers for a wide variety of products has precipitated a focus on better product knowledge for salespeople.
With the emphasis on product knowledge, the idea of being, ‘slick’ has now switched to a need for effective demonstration. The salesperson who develops his, or her, product knowledge and can effectively demonstrate that to the customer, has a far better chance of making the sale. Once again, the concept of ‘a good talker’ is incomplete. Understanding the customer’s real needs and concentrating the demonstration on them is much more efficient than trying to add value in which the prospect has no actual need or concern.
With all of this, the idea of closing the sale, or taking the order, remains the ultimate goal of the salesperson. Practices here have also improved considerably over the past. An effective demonstration that explains the buying process, as one of its parts, is much more common now. The same types of closing questions and methods are still in use, but the so-called ‘hard close’ is confined, for the most part to impulse buying products. It is imperative in today’s selling atmosphere to remain on the side of ‘full disclosure’.
Other myths that exist include the idea that the salesperson picks up a large percentage of his sales either on the golf course or in a bar or some similar social setting. And of course, a salesman will say anything to get the order.
No doubt the plush atmosphere of a country club might make the process of getting the order much more comfortable. And, certainly, having the person capable of making the buying decisions in that ambiance would then be required. But, the entire scene is worthless if the there has been no foundation laid for making the sale. The salesperson who says anything to get the order is not part of the formula. Any company that can invest the money necessary for their salespeople to function in this kind of atmosphere would require them to be totally prepared in all facets of the sales process. Anything less would be a waste, and in some cases even criminal in this litigious society.
Today’s technology puts records, costs, specifications, and prices at most buyers fingertips. This is true, not just for major companies, but for small businesses and even households. Computers have made the world a place of easily accessed information. The requirement this places on a sales force is to use that same information to prepare an effective sales approach.
Finally, the largest single factor contributing to the myths about what it takes to be a successful salesperson is the enormous turnover in the business. Every person who has tried selling on commission and failed at it for any reason, has their own special version of what happened. Universally it boils down to the failure to handle rejection. This is equated to not having a thick enough skin, which somehow translates into a salesman being insensitive. In other words, "I just couldn’t be that insensitive. I had too much sympathy for what the buyer was saying and so I wouldn’t overcome the objections to make the sale. When they said ‘no’ to me, they meant ‘no’."
The irony here is, at virtually every level, buyers will sometimes use this perceived insensitivity of the salesperson as an excuse to be insensitive themselves. Thus the illusion persists, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
The challenge then, for the professional, is to overcome the perception and still forge ahead. What is seen as insensitivity by these legions of failed salespeople is, in most cases, nothing more than the self-confidence of a professional that is aware of the consistency it takes to handle every sales call as if it will end in a sale. Learning how to do that is exactly where we go from here. What are the qualities you can look for in yourself to help you make that decision? Read on.