You know you want it
I once attended a networking/business development event where the featured speaker - an expert in sales training - began by asking those assembled, “who came here looking to make a sale?” The overwhelming majority of attendees raised their hands. “Okay,” he said, “who here came looking to buy something?” No hands went up. The lesson, which I’ve carried to this day, is that “People love to buy, but they hate being sold.”
Sadly, the hard sell approach to sales, which is stereotypical, is still very prevalent. It it one of the reasons salespeople have traditionally been less trusted than any professional except congresspersons.
Being a consumer-driven economy, clearly there is a whole lot of buying going on, and increasingly so in the past few years. Irrespective of our disdain for salespeople, demand has far outstripped supply in many things, thus our great inflationary predicament (a simplification, but please indulge me.)
So what gives? Can you love the sale but hate the seller? Hold on to your cognitive dissonance for a moment.
According the the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, sales is not a growing employment category, and definitely not a lucrative one, for the most part. There are many reasons for this, and some of the major trends include growing consumer preference for online sales (buying) wherever practical.
The best salespeople have always been facilitators, rather than cold-hearted “closers.” Trust is the key to all successful relationships. It is (arguably, but I think not) the key attribute necessary in a well-functioning society and economy. One example is the growing value and staying power of brands. They are trusted by consumers.
As a result, many sales jobs today don’t actually involve selling, but rather facilitating a purchase. In our ReStore operation, for example, our associates must be multi-functional. Some industries built on a sales structure - take autos, for one - are beginning to shift to a direct-sales model, happy to lose the structural costs involved in maintaining a sales team and infrastructure.
Before you say good riddance, realize that true salesmanship is an art form, and it doesn’t have to involve manipulation or information asymmetry.
I’ve had good training, and great mentors who taught me the skills to professionally interact and personally build trust. Yes, they can be taught.
Here’s some of what I’ve learned:
Smile. Then smile some more.
Be passionate, not passive.
You have to understand what people need or want. It’s about them, not you.
Listen. Ask questions that show you’ve listened.
Practice W. A. I. T. (Why am I talking?)
Learn the art of persuasion. And how to influence. (Hint: It’s not about Instagram.)
Prepare. Know your stuff and your audience. Fake it until you make it is for phonies.
Speak human, not jargon.
Selling is a common and necessary human activity. How it’s done is evolving. Luckily, no trips to Yonkers are needed to change with the times.