This post is part two, the first part being Dismantling the Stereotypes of Sales and Its Leadership. The ideas here are a response to some of the criticism recently posted by people who write about sales and selling.
We Care About Our Clients
Many write about sales as if all who sell treat their clients as a means to an end. In writing about sales and the profession, they suggest salespeople are doing something to their clients, not for their clients, with their clients, and to benefit their clients.
Salespeople already care about their clients. Despite the wrong-headed and transactional idea that selling isn’t about relationships, an idea that has garnered more attention than it deserves by forcing the false choice between being deep in business acumen and situational knowledge or having a relationship, salespeople and their clients recognize that value creation is part of the relationship, not something separate from it.
Those who don’t believe that salespeople care more about the relationship with their clients than the sales itself have never witnessed how salespeople behave when asked to sell something that won’t benefit their client or something that might harm them. Rather than making a sale that will endanger their relationship, they’ll do everything in their power to sell almost anything else. They’ll also work very hard to influences their company to take care of their client, taking accountability for the outcomes they sell.
We Help Them Buy
I understand why one can look at some salespeople and believe that they are not trying to help their clients buy as much as they are trying to sell their product or solution. Intentions matter a great deal when it comes to sales and relationships, and the relatively small percentage of people who have no purpose other than the sale are outliers. Even salespeople who have an antiquated approach to selling believe that what they sell will help their prospects improve their results.
If you were to cast blame for the rigidity in which salespeople approach selling, you would have to look at how we have trained and developed salespeople over the course of the last couple of decades. To make sales something repeatable, we have placed an enormous emphasis on the sales process, pretending the conversation is linear, with success being the straightest path from target to close without deviation.
Only recently have we in b2b sales even considered the buying journey, another fictional, linear process, but one that, like the sales process, is useful in describing the terrain.
It isn’t easy to help clients buy, the nonlinearity causing no end of challenges in assisting clients in having the right conversation and in making and keeping the commitments necessary for good decisions and the selection of the right partner. To believe that the advice that salespeople offer their clients would harm them instead of serving them is not accurate. It is worse to accuse salespeople of wicked intentions that are not present.
We are already having conversations with our clients, even if there is still much room for improvement.
We Solve Tough Problems
When a client is motivated to change—or should be—there is some underlying problem, a future challenge they hope to avoid, or some opportunity they want to exploit to their advantage. When these factors are present, the people who wish to do something meet with salespeople to help them solve tough problems and challenges.
The question one is stuck with when people suggest that salespeople are something they haven’t been for decades is why these people would continue to take a meeting with salespeople, share their challenges with them, ask them to explore ideas about how they might get better results, and work with them to develop a solution that is going to allow them to solve problems or provide them with some new capacity to take advantage of opportunities.
We Collaborate to Improve Results
Because we compensate salespeople for selling their product, their service, or their solution, some complain that their remuneration for doing so somehow compromises them, making them untrustworthy. Surely there is some percentage of professional salespeople that are willing to do “whatever it takes.”
The idea that the majority of salespeople push their products and services on their clients doesn’t resemble what salespeople do. Those who write about salespeople as if it is true that push their products on their clients should know better, as they know that b2b buyers don’t buy things that are not going to benefit them, especially when buying has become more complicated, requiring more considerable effort on the buyer’s part, as well as a consensus for any serious purchase.
What salespeople do is collaborate with their clients to improve their results. They spend a good portion of their time in conversations exploring how to improve their client’s results and creating solutions.
We Make Change
One of the things that makes one a consultative salesperson is helping their clients to make a change. One of the changes we often make is a change in the solution. Another is changing their partner, something we euphemistically call a “competitive displacement,” since it sounds nicer than “stealing their clients.” But the change that makes one a consultative salesperson is when their advice means the client changes something they’re doing.
The advice that makes one a trusted advisor is not the salesperson’s product, their solution, or their company. The advice generally falls into the categories of “why the client should change,” “how they should change,” “what they should and what they should avoid,” and “how to make the changes they need to make to be able to execute.”
Part of this advice goes beyond overcoming objections, requiring the salesperson to serve their client by resolving their concerns, a more necessary and challenging outcome in a consultative sales approach, especially complex sales.
The Truth About Salespeople
The sales stereotypes that exist now are not accurate and haven’t been for decades. It is a mistake for those who write and speak about salespeople to write as if they are true. While there is nothing wrong about writing about the areas where salespeople mistakes and struggle to catch up in a profession that is evolving so fast that it is challenging to keep pace, it isn’t helpful to reinforce negative stereotypes.
I taught a class in professional selling at a University. In the first class, I would ask the students to share the words that described salespeople, knowing that they had no experience buying anything significant. After they listed all the negative stereotypes with no trouble, I asked them to raise their hands if their parents worked in sales. I then asked them how close the stereotypes matched their parent’s behaviors.
Without fail, they described their parents as the opposite of the stereotypes, explaining that their parents had strong relationships with their clients and would nothing to harm them, something I am sure to be true—and something you also recognize as accurate.
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Filed under: Sales