Salespeople are both a blessing and a bane to every industry. You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.
“How are you tonight, Mr. Smith?”
“Glad to hear it! Mr. Smith, my name is Phil, and I’m calling…” Click.
Salespeople are always “people” people. People have to love people to do sales because the life of a salesperson is filled with people. Most sales people are natural “people” people before they enter the sales market. That’s why they go into sales!
Then comes sales training, and the natural people person gets canned. No, she doesn’t lose her job. Rather, she is forced to learn and use a canned sales spiel and proven sales techniques. Much has been written about sales. And a lot of it is great, but a lot of it isn’t.
Sales Training Contradiction
The other night I stumbled across a blaring contradiction in the literature that puts sales people in an impossible bind. Every sales person is taught two fundamental sales techniques that are in stark opposition to each other, and few people seem to be aware of it—not even the sales people who use them. Perhaps this contradiction contributes to the fact that sales people generally have a poor reputation. This contradiction may help explain why identifying one’s self as a sales person so often engenders a smirk.
The Art of Listening
The first of these contradictory techniques involves the art of listening. Sales people must listen to customers in order to understand their needs, so that they can shape their sales approach to fit the needs of the customer. The sale must be tailored to the needs of the customer.
The customer is supposed to be king. Customer service is all the rage. The customer is the boss. Thus, listening to customers is good. Everyone could benefit from listening more — and from listening better. People often talk past one another, each person fully committed to the sound of his or her own voice. Things get said, but not much is heard.
The Problem of Hearing
Listening is essential. A sales person who doesn’t listen is a pain below the belt. But so is hearing. The difference between listening and hearing is crucial. Listening to someone means that you understand what he has said. But hearing someone means that what she has said has caused a change or adjustment in your thought process, or even your life. To hear something is to allow what you hear to change you.
“Billy, please clean your room! Are you listening to me, Billy?”
“Yes, mom I’m listening.”
But the next morning reveals that Billy did not clean his room. He was listening, but he didn’t hear the message. It didn’t register in a significant enough way for him to remember it, and take action upon it. Mom expressed herself and Billy listened, but he didn’t hear her.
Sales training literature often speaks of overcoming objections. Sales people are taught various techniques for overcoming the customer’s resistance to buying the product or service now. And herein lies the rub. The sales person is taught to listen to the customer, except when he says that he doesn’t want to buy the product or service now.
Too often, sales people take a short-sighted view of the sales process and press to overcome the customer’s objections by pestering the customer to change his mind. He wants the sale today. But pressing to overcome objections requires the abandonment of the listening process at the point that listening is most critical.
While it is true that overcoming objections requires careful listening, it is also true that such effort to overcome objections refuses to hear the essential fact that the customer doesn’t want to buy now. To press to overcome objections requires not listening, but manipulation — and people don’t like to be manipulated.
Back off, Dude!
So, what is the sales person to do when confronted with objections? He should back off the sale and work to develop a genuine personal relationship or friendship with the customer. And short of that, he should find someone who doesn’t object to buying his product or service, and not waste any more of his time — or theirs!
There will be another day. If there isn’t, he has not only lost the sale, he has lost the customer.