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SELL is not a four letter word

By Kevin Higgins

Let me begin this article with a quick word association exercise. Be prepared to freeze your mind on the image, picture or thought that comes in to your mind when you hear the word: “salesperson”. What comes to mind?

Picture this, Herb Tarlic (of WKRP T.V. fame) in his cheesiest outfit selling you a used automobile! Not a pretty picture. Why is it that a lot of people have this visual when they hear the word salesperson?

I have had the pleasure over the last 12 years of training thousands of salespeople from Fortune 100 companies around the world. Great people from Coke, A.T.& T., Xerox, Campbell's, Bayer, Sapient, Bausch & Lomb, Scotiabank, etc. When I ask them the image that comes into their mind when they hear “salesperson”, they too have images of someone who pushes their goods on the un-suspecting buyer. The title comes with negative connotations, even for those who have it on their business cards.

Selling is a profession. It can be an extremely high paying profession. It requires a lot of skill and a lot of hard work to be a sales professional. Sports analogies really help with explaining sales, so bear with me if I use a few of them in this article. We are all amateurs at something. I am an amateur guitar player, water skier and mountain biker. People tolerate my amateur status because their expectation of me in these areas is low and if they don't like what they see, that is OK. In sales there are also a lot of amateurs. They call you during dinner and try to get you to buy subscriptions or phone services. You see them at the mall when you go shopping. The difference is that you do not appreciate amateurs who try to sell you something. They are intrusive, they do not listen, they try to manipulate, etc. They give sales professionals a bad name.

Sales has the potential to be a value-add activity. Professionals create value in every sales interaction. How? They help you to buy. They do not sell you anything. They help you sort through your needs, they provide options to help you, they assist you in the trade-off decisions and, ultimately, they reassure you of the decisions that you make. They are your consultant in the buying process and the advocate of your decision once you make it. Everyone likes to buy and great sales professionals help facilitate the process. Those poor folks who are trying to sell something, they make it tough for themselves and uncomfortable for those around them.

So what does it take to be a “professional salesperson”? If you wanted to be a great golfer, you would set up lessons with the golf pro. They would meet you at the driving range and start with your grip. Then stance. Then swing. You must have these fundamentals if you are to be successful in golf. And it is critical to revisit these fundamentals on a continual basis. Sales is no different. Let's start with your questioning skills. Then listening. Then handling concerns. You must develop, then hone these three fundamentals if you are to be successful in sales.

So, what are you to conclude from this article?

  1. Sales is a profession, please don't judge the professionals by the amateurs. (and have some patience for the amateurs)
  2. People love to buy, let's help them to do it if we are in a sales professional role.
  3. Fundamentals to selling are critical. Listen, Question and be open to concerns presented to you.

Thank you for listening. I promise if I were helping you to buy something, I would have spoken less and asked a lot of questions.