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Your Clients Already Know You’re a Salesperson

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

Neither your dream clients nor your existing clients ever say, “You know, that Joe is really consultative. He’s never too salesy. I never think of him as a salesperson.”

It makes me cringe to hear salespeople say that they don’t want to come across as a salesperson. They say they don’t want to be perceived as being too “salesy.” Instead, they want to be perceived as consultative, mostly underestimating what that means of what it takes to get there. Almost none of the people you sell to have any idea what consultative selling is (in fact, most salespeople really don’t know what consultative selling is either). Your client’s don’t share the vocabulary we in sales use to describe that set of behaviors.

Salespeople who suggest that they want to be consultative especially talk about the idea of not being “too salesy” when it comes to commitment gaining. This is especially true around the opening commitment, the commitment for time to explore working together. They say the same thing when discussing the commitments that would allow them to gain information, as well as the commitment to access the buying committee. Without these commitments, you can’t produce the results you need.

But guess what?

Your Clients Already Know

Surprise! Your clients and dream clients already know that you’re a salesperson. They knew that from the first time you called them to request an appointment. And even though the signature line in your email says that you are in business development, your dream clients know that you intend to sell them something. In fact, if they let you through, they’re counting on it.

Here’s the fact. You aren’t being judged by your intention to sell your dream clients whatever it is that you sell. You’re being judged by something else, something far more important than that.

Your Dream Clients Are Judging Your Ability to Create Value

The test as to what kind of salesperson your clients perceive you to be is whether or not you create value at every stage of their buying process. Your clients and your dream clients expect you to ask them for commitments along the way. The more directly you can do so, and the greater your sales call value proposition, the easier you make it for your clients to agree to those commitments. You create value, and you get the commitment. You don’t create value and, well . . .

As a point of reference, consultants ask for access to far more information than most salespeople do. They also ask for far more access to the organization.

Which brings us to the real fear behind the resistance to asking for commitments. Your fear isn’t that you will reveal yourself to be a salesperson. Your real fear is that you haven’t created enough value to earn the commitment you’re asking for. Consultative salespeople don’t share that fear; they know that they can create value, and that is why they’re comfortable asking for whatever they need to do so.

Trust me, your dream client knows you are a salesperson. They’re fine with that. What they’re not fine with is you not knowing how to create value and your not having the confidence to ask for what you need.


What does it mean to be “too salesy?”

What makes someone too much of a salesperson and not consultative enough?

Do your clients have any confusion at all about why you are calling them? If so, why are they confused?

What’s the real test as to whether or not you are consultative? What does commitment gaining mean about your ability to create value?

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    I’ve always thought of being ‘too salesy’ as talking about your stuff instead of talking about the customers problems.

    The trick, nowadays, is to talk about the customer, deliver value, and then MENTION services or products you have that can solve the problem. If the customer continues the conversation along, asking you questions, you can enter into a sales conversation. At that fork in the road, if they don’t accept your invitation, then anything you say about your stuff is perceived as ‘too salesy.’

  • Kyle Dover

    I agree that “too salesly” is partly related to talking about yourself and your stuff. I also think it’s related to a common selling style that feels manipulative to customers – like you’re trying to pull them into your viewpoint, so they’ll see things your way and then commit.

    I also agree that the key is value creation, but the critical word to define there is value. Value can mean solving a problem but, if you put yourself in that position, you will likely be in competition with anyone else the client believes can solve the problem.

    I believe that the better way to create value is to identify and fulfill what is known as “latent need.” Latent need isn’t an empty phrase or some accidental stumble onto something useful. Latent need occurs when you enable your customer to achieve his/her purpose and goals using your products and services.

    Latent need is found at the intersection of purpose and capability, but often the challenge is to explain precisely HOW you will create the value you claim. For this approach to work, you cannot make empty claims (to understand empty claims see the latest viral video on buzz words). Instead, you must follow a simple process…

    -confirm your understanding of the purpose
    -describe WHAT results you will create and why those results are relevant to the purpose
    -describe HOW you will achieve those results (simple steps, no jargon)
    -ask questions about relevant concerns and resistance
    -ask for commitment to action

    I see myself as a salesperson and so do my clients. But they never see me as “salesly” because I always lead with and stay focused on THEIR purpose, and I never propose anything unless I can explain precisely how i can help them achieve that purpose.