the Act of Traditional Selling
And Worse Yet,
I’m Lousy at
do about forty speeches and sales training sessions a year. After every
introduction by the moderator (which, by the way, I write in glowing
terms), I always look around with this nagging question or notion in
the back of my mind… Are they talking about me or someone else?
in the conventional sense, I truly hate the act of selling. Worse yet,
I’m lousy at what we all call traditional selling. And trust me, I’m
not exaggerating. I can, unfortunately, substantiate and validate this
claim with examples of early disasters (read ‘cannings’) in my selling
was only when I came to the epiphany that selling has nothing to do
with selling, that I was able to turn my career around and flourish.
You see, I’m the epitome of someone who isn’t a natural born salesperson.
All my success can be attributed solely to learned skills. I’m a highly
trained salesperson who relies on a disciplined sales methodology instead
of natural instincts and talent to carry the day.
learned that in order to sell effectively in the information economy
I had to stop selling, pitching, presenting, answering objections, chasing
and, God forbid, closing. I realized that selling, by its very nature,
so often produces the exact opposite effect. The harder you sell, the
harder it is to sell. Selling is repelling.
I wasn’t one of the few and gifted 2%, I had to rely on a sales process
that created trust, confidence and influence through my ability to have
a deep understanding of my customer’s problems and business and allow
my customer the freedom to self-discover their own answers and opinions
independent of my selling agenda. Many salespeople today are being rudely
awakened, like I was 15 years ago, to the reality that the tried and
true skills of yesterday (personal charisma, persistence, hard work
ethic, solid product knowledge and likeability) are not enough to succeed
in the information economy.
reason for this is one word… Google. With two clicks, information
is easily accessible and bountiful. The information economy has dramatically
impacted the traditional role and value of a salesperson. In ancient
times… the 80’s and 90’s… a salesperson’s value was predicated
on their ability to bring information, ideas and industry news to the
table. That has been all but neutralized and marginalized by the Internet.
So the remaining and sustainable value that salespeople possess to differentiate
themselves from the competition is not to give information, but to
must build a business case for change, not a product case. They can
no longer afford to be company-centric or product-centric. They now
need to have situational fluency to understand the business drivers
of their customer’s business and help them identify and assess business
problems, their consequences and understand the cost and impact of change.
I call this the non-selling posture.
reason I love the non-selling posture sales strategy is because it requires
no natural talent or instincts. It is pure science and only becomes
an art form when it is practiced at its highest level. The thing I hated
about it the most was when I was learning it, it required me to relearn
and reengineer everything I knew about selling. It required discipline
and dedication to junk the tried and true old ideas and replace them
with a practical, no nonsense approach that is pressure free and has
a radical honesty with a willingness to walk away from opportunities
that don’t look right, smell right or feel right.
non-selling posture takes a lot of the guesswork out of sales. What
I always found frustrating in selling early in my career was that I
successfully sold customers without really knowing really why, and I
was outsold by the competition and I really didn’t know why. My success
rates were tenuous, random, unpredictable and not replicable.
I now approach every customer with the posture that I have nothing to
prove, nothing to disprove, nothing to sell, no preconceived ideas and
agenda, and no emotional investments in the outcome of the sale. This
frees me up to take a position of neutrality and to build trust with
my customer. This is where sales becomes fun and stress-free.
Imagine going into a sales call with the heavy burden of proof being
lifted; giving advice that is viewed with minimal suspicion; and selling
without carrying the perception of having a conflict of interest.
conventional selling as we know it today is dead in the water. However,
I continue to see companies and salespeople being self-congratulatory
at being very good at a game no longer being played.
have perfected the ability to consistently hit the target, but it is
the wrong target. The way customers buy, how they select suppliers,
the time it takes them to make decisions, the way they assess value
and how they create trust has changed dramatically over the last couple
of years. However, the way salespeople sell would fit very well into
a quaint Norman Rockwell painting; a lot of useless information, one-sided
conversations, endless persistence, a firm handshake and a smile, lots
of charm and personality and unending excitement and enthusiasm.
just doesn’t work anymore. Most companies are clinging and placing
unwavering faith and trust in sales strategies that are obsolete, archaic
and are designed to defeat them. This all results in lower margins,
longer selling cycles, higher cost of sales and constant frustration
and headaches for their salespeople.
do find a fair number of companies that have seen the writing on the
wall and have developed sound strategic selling strategies to meet the
realities of the new marketplace. Unfortunately, their salespeople can’t
execute the strategy because they lack the proper beliefs and the disciplined
tactics to execute them.
following are some of the beliefs and strategies that fit very well
into the realities of selling in the information economy and creating
a non-selling posture.
- You are paid and
rewarded for your questions, not your answers.
- To gain control
you must give up control.
position their offerings for opportunity and customers are
buying for the exact opposite motivation: fear and risk avoidance.
position their offerings rationally and logically and their customers
are buying for irrational and illogical reasons.
- The salesperson
with the best understanding of the customer’s business will consistently
outsell the salesperson with the best product, best technology and the
- There are always
two winners at the selling event: the salesperson who was awarded
the deal and the salesperson who lost early and quickly with minimal
exposure of time, resources and emotional investment.
- The best salesperson
at the selling event is always the customer. Let them do all the presenting
tell customers how you can help them, how you are unique or why you
are better. Simply tell them the problems you address and the problems
can sell. It is more important to know when, where and under what circumstance
to not sell.
- Persistence is
the most overrated skill set in the information economy. Walking away
from bad deals, unresponsive and uncooperative customers is the most
underrated skill set in selling.
the beginning of all my training sessions, I pose the questions,
“Who among you is a tad bored selling the same way you’ve been selling
your entire career with very little change? Who’s tired of saying
the same thing every day and getting the same tired and trite responses
from your customers day in and day out? Who is tired of having little
control and predictable consistency? Who’s tired of looking and sounding
like every other salesperson? And who is tired of being in a job that
isn’t nearly as fun as it used to be?” You can probably guess
a lot of hands go up.
salespeople I meet are tired of traditional sales strategies that are
designed to frustrate the hell out of them, put them at a severe disadvantage
and leave them constantly guessing. And worse yet, they have no idea
of what to do otherwise.
have learned over the years that it is liberating, refreshing and extremely
effective to approach every customer with the posture of ‘let’s
get real’: “Let’s assess your threshold for change. Both
of us are very busy so let’s not waste any of our time. Let’s openly
explore your problems and see if any are worth fixing. Let’s have
a frank discussion about your budget and authority to make decisions.
Let’s openly explore other viable alternatives. Let’s make sure
the timing is right and there aren’t any competing
projects that would supersede this one and let’s do this one under
the tenet that the burden of proof, information and selling will rest
squarely on your shoulders.”
type of exchange requires no innate natural ability. It does require
training in most cases. Anyone can sell this way if they are willing
to put aside their huge ego, put all the emphasis and focus on the customer,
put aside all their information, forgo their emotional investment in
the outcome of the sale, take off their selling hat and simply let the
customer have the freedom to find their own answers independent of your
own selling agenda. My belief is if I can do this, anyone can, since
I have no real natural sales ability.