Sales People Are Not Trusted
Because They Reek of Self-Interest
As I travel around the country working with sales organizations to help increase their productivity the hardest challenge I experience is getting them to be an advocate for their customers.
The most difficult thing to get sales people to do, is to really understand if their customers/prospects have meaningful challenges and to determine if these challenges are actionable. The next step is for the sales people to help them do a cost-benefit analysis assuming the timing/politics is right for them to act.
In order for them to do this they're going to have to ask intimate and personal questions that will potentially make their customers feel initially uncomfortable. This step really makes most sales people nervous. The irony is sales people are far more nervous than customers are, assuming they trust you and know your best interests lie with them.
Sales people have to get over their propensity to do the fun and comfortable part of sales, which is presenting their product, and to start getting comfortable getting their hands dirty, and doing the messy part of sales which is talking about real business challenges and issues.
Because sales people are by nature upbeat, positive and eager to please, they often have real difficulty bringing up or inquiring about negative situations and circumstances. This is a severe handicap because this is where trust is earned and where sales are made and lost; in the question/discovery step.
Also sales people by nature are forward thinking, especially since their solution is always acquired and valued for its future utility. Well this is a problem because in order for them to perform their due diligence they must step back into the customer's past and this can be awkward for future oriented sales people.
Because of these two orientations and handicaps sales people so often are poorly equipped to really understand their customer's business. This results in sales people being perceived as having such a strong self-interest that they ultimately aren't trusted and respected as an unbiased advisor.
Because sales people aren't customer-centric or problem-centric enough in their sales strategy they face a host of negative consequences; long selling cycles, poor prospecting results, low margins, commoditization and short-term relationships that result in transactional selling.
Sales people will be viewed as true customer advocates, who bring insight, once they start getting their hands dirty and doing the messy part of the business which is finding and assessing problems.
They need to get a lot more personal and intimate in order to achieve this goal. Most sales people know it is important to get personal, but they leave it at a superficial level of friendliness and common connection. They also have to delay their need for instant gratification in describing the future positive outcomes they can deliver and delve deeply into their customer's past. Before they can achieve this they must provide a climate where the customer is willing to share important and sensitive information about past failures, shortcomings and lack of meeting certain goals.