Succeeding at Selling in the Real World
(The one with PEOPLE in it)
As markets become more sophisticated and the techniques for reaching those markets effectively become ever more complicated, we sometimes lose sight of the two most important aspects of the selling process: the real, perfectly human person functioning in the role of Buyer and the real, perfectly human person functioning in the role of Seller.
These two aspects of the selling process are so vital as to make just about every other pale in comparison. Yet it is precisely these two vitally important aspects that all too often get relegated to chance, or to "doing what comes naturally" in the selling arena. Statistics prove this approach to be one with a very high mortality rate, because what comes naturally to most people in buyer/seller relationships often isn't pretty.
The role of Buyer requires us to be cautious, suspicious, guarded, and to regularly use the skill we developed so well during our "terrible twos", that of exercising our ability to say "NO, NO, NO".
The role of Seller, on the other hand, requires us to be assertive, expectant, open, and to attempt to use an entire cache of skills most of us never had the opportunity to learn. Skills such as persuading, negotiating, communicating effectively, noticing and effectively translating the nonverbal cues of others, problem solving, and knowing how to ask for something and get it on a fairly consistent basis, just to name a few. These are not seat-of-the-pants kinds of skills nor (unfortunately) were we born with them. These important interactional skills must be learned and most people have never had the opportunity to do that.
A few people have had the good fortune to be taught good relating and communicating skills in their youth. Others learn them by trial and error, but that's a very slow and sometimes very expensive way to learn. This is especially true for those in the selling professions.
Research consistently shows that the world's top sales professionals excel as a direct result of having acquired and implemented strong interactional human-to-human skills, which they use as primary tools. The technical skills salespeople use are important of course, but they are really secondary to selling success.
Unfortunately, most sales training consists primarily of technical skills. Too often sales training follows the lines of "This is what we sell...This is what it does...This is why the buyer needs it...This is how much you will make for each unit you sell...These are the objections you are likely to hear...Here are some answers to those objections...Here’s how you close the sale...Go get 'em!"
That kind of training is usually a prescription for failure, unless the necessary interactional skills are already well developed in the individual being so trained. But the fact is, the odds of finding individuals who are well trained in interactional skills right off the street or among average salespeople are so small that I certainly wouldn't want to bet my business on it. Especially when training those who possess the right natural attributes is so much easier and less expensive in the long run.
What constitutes "the right natural attributes" depends on the type of selling an individual will be engaged in. For example, those who are effective at selling technically based products or services have different attributes than those who are effective at selling entertainment or time share vacations. The attributes of those who are effective at keeping customers long term are different than the attributes of those who are effective at bringing in new accounts.
In fact, in most organizations where keeping customers long term is important, and where continually adding to the customer base is also important, a team selling approach would yield far better results precisely because the skill sets are so different. Typically, those who are exceptionally good at bringing in new accounts don’t like maintaining those accounts. They feel that "hand holding" slows their progress and keeps them from making new sales, and generally, its the challenge and novelty of the new sale they most enjoy and at which they excel.
On the other hand, those who are good at maintaining an existing customer base typically dislike having to prospect for new customers and will resist prospecting as much as they can get by with. It isn’t uncommon for salespeople, who are excellent at maintaining accounts to spend inordinate amounts of time with current customers in order to have an excuse for not prospecting much. How can they, they reason, when their current customers are occupying all their time? But, give them more customers that have been established by someone else and they will happily find the time to service them all.
By using a team approach, with one "point" person and one "hand holder" making up the team, both will be happy and highly effective, provided they are also suited to the industry, product and/or service.
In an age and economy where an organization can’t afford to waste time and resources on hiring and training new employees; when the cost of employee turnover is in the tens of thousands of dollars, and is especially high in the selling profession where it takes time to get a new hire up to speed, no company can afford to hire blindly. And yet, hiring decisions are often made based solely on resumes, interviews and assessments that measure observable traits. Sometimes, when a company is desperate for sales people, they even hire based on surface presentation alone. It is no wonder the turnover rate among salespeople is so high or that so many organizations are constantly nursing along a mediocre sales staff.
There are a lot of people out there who, with the right training, would make excellent sales people, but the right training is not just technique. In fact the mix that creates excellent sales people follows the old 80/20 rule. Excellent sales people rely on technique about 20% and on good people skills 80%, and that’s exactly how their training should be mixed.
Current statistics show (and most sales managers would concur) that less than 2 percent of those who attempt to enter the selling profession really excel at it and become superstars. Another 6 percent do well and enjoy exceptional incomes, with an additional 12 percent earning average to slightly above-average incomes That leaves eighty percent that do poorly or don't make the grade at all (there’s that 80/20 rule again). Those sad odds could be greatly improved if the training mix (currently 80% technical and 20% people skills) were reversed.
Even seasoned sales people who are already high performers can greatly improve their close ratio by learning a few human-to-human interaction skills. It is not uncommon for seasoned sales people who have had years of technical training, tell me during or after my Psychology of Superior Selling workshop that it was learning about themselves as sales people and about their customers from the perspective of human nature that enabled them to fully understand and integrate the selling process. And I regularly hear that this was the most useful thing they ever learned.
People skills are what the superstars have that the wanna-be’s are missing. It is people skills that those top achievers, often referred to as "natural born" salespeople, have to their credit and that ordinary-to-poor salespeople are missing. Yet these "natural born" salespeople often have no idea exactly what it is they say or do that translates into megabucks in selling.
I have made it a point to study these superstar salespeople over the years, and I have asked a great number of them to what they attribute their success. Their general reply is, "I don't really know for sure. All I know is I love what I do and just do what comes naturally."
Their customers describe them as genuine, charismatic, caring, concerned, knowledgeable, helpful, "good people". Watching them in action however, it soon becomes apparent that their edge is their ability to interact with their customers in an easy, effective manner that puts the customer at ease, makes him/her feel important and understood, and gives the distinct impression that this salesperson is a true expert that can be trusted and relied upon.
The truth is, there are no "natural born" sales people. No one is born with selling skills or the people skills necessary for selling success. Admittedly, these skills are more easily developed by some people than by others, and a fortunate few begin developing them in childhood so that by the time they reach adulthood the skills seem natural. But, walking and talking seem pretty natural by the time we reach adulthood too, and certainly those are skills we all had to learn.
Success in selling, as with any other profession, is a matter of learning a set of skills and applying them consistently, sort of like typing. In typing, you either hunt-n-peck all your life or you learn the basic skills. If you learn the basic skills, you either use them only when necessary and plug along at 30 words per minute or you practice and continue to apply those skills until you work your way up to 120 words per minute or more. At the point of proficiency, a typist becomes a valuable commodity. A proficient sales person is invaluable. In fact, highly proficient salespeople can pretty much write their own tickets, because they are the lifeblood of an organization.
So, whether you are a salesperson whose goal is to become indispensable and recession proof, or an organization ready to build a first class sales team, the key is in adding a healthy mix of person-to-person interactional skills to your training agenda. These are skills that salespeople quickly and easily incorporate into their selling styles if the skills are presented correctly during the training process. Once incorporated, the results are dramatic! Sales improve early on and, as the skills become second nature, the salespeople and the profits just keep getting better!
Article by Sherry Buffington, Ph.D.
Sherry Buffington, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of the Dallas based training, consulting and coaching firm, Star Performance Systems, which specializes in helping individuals succeed and organizations increase their productivity and profits by maximizing the potential of their people.