Not long ago, a client of mine asked me how he could identify a successful sales person, and what kinds of sales people he should try to avoid. This question has since come up repeatedly in training sessions, and not just by managers trying to evaluate their team, but by sales people who are looking
to improve their results, despite what others see as a soft economy.
As often as not, the question is followed by: “Is it even possible to be successful in sales today?”
The answer? Absolutely. How? Simple — stop blaming the economy. It’s not the economy that’s the problem. If you’re not making enough sales today, it’s because of one of two things:
You’re not working hard enough; or you’re perceived poorly by your customers.
The first is easy enough to fix. If you’re not working hard enough, work harder! Get out and make those extra calls. If that doesn’t work, make five more.
The second problem is more difficult. To solve it, you first need to answer two questions: How do your customers perceive you? And how should they perceive you?
How do your customers perceive you?
Based on my research, sales people are generally perceived by buyers in one of four ways:
Purely transactional sales people are in for the kill — always. They love “the deal,” and once a deal is done, they immediately move on to the next one. Most transactional sales people work in high volume but low price environments, where they can close numerous transactions each day or week. Traditionally, they don’t excel at building long-term relationships with their customers, and if the customer isn’t looking to buy right now, the transactional sales person quickly moves on.
“How do you like me so far?”
These sales people rely on humour to get them in the door, and get customers to like them. They try to charm their prospects into buying. They tell jokes, dish great gossip and are always everyone’s favorite water cooler companion.
The Ginsu knifers
This category represents the majority of sales people — those who use greed to convince their prospects to buy. I call them “Ginsu knifers” in honour of the old infomercials where a slick announcer would constantly tease prospects with the line “but wait… don’t order yet!” and then proceed to tell us about all the great discounts, special offers and additional products we could expect to receive. Today, we see greed being used a little more subtly, but still in the same familiar ways, whether it’s through offering free samples, special discounts, money-back guarantees — or simply the lowest price.
Finally, a small but exceptionally successful group of sales people simply focus on being nice to — and, yes, honest with — their customers. They genuinely care for their customers, feel empathy or compassion for their problems and sincerely want to help them. Honest sales people don’t “pitch” prospects or sell features and benefits. They don’t pressure with limited-time offers and discounts. Most importantly, they do little talking (25 per cent) and a lot of listening (75 per cent).
Maybe P.T. Barnum was wrong…
So, between these four main types of sales people, who really finishes last — and who finishes first?
Transactional sales people may close lots of deals up front, but because they don’t create a memorable customer experience, their customers will eventually feel used, as if their value to the company is solely determined by the size of their last order. Customer service issues will go ignored, because solving them has no immediate impact on the bottom line. As a result, the customer begins to shop around. Sales managers beware: if you’re paying your sales reps more to close new business then you are for add-on business from existing customers, you risk creating a department full of only transactional style sales people.
You can only be the life of the party for so long, and let’s face it, how can your customer take you seriously when you don’t take yourself seriously? You’ll probably close some smaller deals because people like you, but will they trust you when it comes time for the big deal? Plus, being the jokester is a difficult role to maintain, and you could end up offending someone important. If you were one of those rare individuals who is so gifted and so well informed that they can hold the interest of a large group of people over a long period of time through humour alone, chances are you’d already have your own sitcom deal with NBC.
Unless you’re Wal-Mart, Price Chopper or Costco, playing to people’s greed is not a good way to differentiate yourself or your company in the long term. Why? Far too many companies are already trying to occupy this space, and eventually, all those discounts will lead to eroding profits, unprofitable sales and bankrupt organizations. Your customers soon learn that you can’t be trusted, and when that happens, they start holding out for lower and lower prices, or playing you against your competitors for more features, freebies and faster delivery. In the end, playing low-ball puts your prospect in the driver’s seat of your career. If you want to stay on top of your profession, you need to regain control.
Nice guys finish first, because nice guys understand that closing business is not about them. It’s about the customer. Nice guys focus on creating a positive customer experience that is based on trust and honesty. As a result, 98 per cent of their customers don’t look elsewhere when they need to reorder. This means that “nice” sales people do 70-80 per cent of their business each year with their existing customer base, proving that being honest is the true secret to working less and selling more.
In next week’s Tip Sheet Colleen Francis divulges eight simple steps to ensuring a positive customer experience.
Colleen Francis is a certified sales professional advisor. You can catch her on the Web at www.engageselling.com.