Selling comes down to serving the customer

What's your responsibility as a professional salesperson? To sell as much of your company's product or service as possible? To earn high commissions? If your answer is "yes'' to either of these questions, I ask that you reconsider.

I can write with pride that my answers are "No.'' It's my absolute belief that a salesperson has one responsibility, and one only: to be of service to the customer.

If your prospect will genuinely benefit by purchasing your product or service, you have the right -- and the responsibility -- to help them buy, and buy now.

Why? The first reason relates to money: You truly believe that your product or service is more valuable to the prospect than the commission is to you.

And the second reason is that your prospect will be better off by making the purchase. It will help him/her fill a need or solve a problem. If it won't, you shouldn't be selling it.

Regardless of quotas or commission checks, you can't just "sell anything to anyone, anytime.'' You have to believe in what you're selling, your company, and most importantly, yourself.

The truth is there is nothing wrong with selling. There's just something wrong with the way most people sell. I once met an insurance salesperson that declared, "I can make it big selling anywhere. Just find me a hot product, I'll sell it. I don't care what it is.''

I personally believe that selling should not be looked upon as a matter of separating a prospect from his money. Selling should be a matter of serving the prospect so well that the product or service wears well over time and a trusting relationship develops. These well-served customers will return to do more business, refer other prospects to you and contribute to your success and prosperity.

My friend and former president of Westland Life Insurance Co. once said, "True professionals go by a code of conduct that directs them to abide by ethical standards. One standard says that professionals should serve the needs of the client with integrity like a doctor with his patient, a lawyer with his clients, etc. When a salesperson is bent on making money rather than serving a customer's needs, that seller is not performing as a professional. When a seller maintains professional standards, the prospect becomes more trusting and open to your proposal.''

A professional knows that he/she is there to serve, whether the prospect buys or not. It is a win-win situation. If the prospect buys, the salesperson has been of service. You don't have to walk in defensive and apprehensive from the start, because you didn't have to sell your prospect something in order to win.

If the prospect truly does not need what the salesperson is selling, then leaving gracefully is in the prospect's best interest. You can't lose, because either way, you will be of service to the prospect.

Wouldn't that make you feel better about calling yourself a "salesperson''?

Undoubtedly, however, the situation will arise when your integrity will be challenged. A time when your prospect is willing to purchase your product or service even though it's not a match. Recently, the chairman of one of our long-time client companies shared with me an example of this "challenge'' his firm experienced.

Several months ago his training company was faced with losing a large contract over a quality issue. One of his consultants was redesigning a complex training program for a Fortune 500 company. The goal was to reduce its length from six to four weeks while improving the quality. His consultant, however, ran into a major snag midway through the project, when the client's executive vice president originated a completely different idea on how to accomplish the goal.

The consultant told his boss that what the client wanted was traditional, but wrong for her company. He felt strongly that it would not help to reduce overall program length, nor would it significantly upgrade the quality. The chairman informed his consultant that the company would stand by his decision, regardless of the threat of financial loss.

The consultant went back to see the executive vice president and tried to explain why the traditional approach wouldn't accomplish her company's goals. She became insistent and refused to see his point of view. The consultant replied by telling her that she hired him as an adviser and he was only comfortable doing what was best for her company. He continued by telling the executive vice president that if she didn't think that was correct, she had the right to fire him on the spot. With hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, that took guts.

She paused, then told him she appreciated his professionalism and integrity. She suggested a short experiment to prove which was best. When she found the consultant's way was better, she accepted it happily, and the project was allowed to continue as originally designed. His company achieved its objectives, too. The training program took slightly less than four weeks, saving the company almost $700,000 annually. Not only that, the first few groups through the new program were reported to be the best graduates ever.

Could the consultant have "sold'' the program exactly as the executive vice president first outlined? My clients answer was, "Very likely.'' However, the integrity and professionalism of the consultant, and ultimately, the company, would have been compromised, regardless of the dollars brought in. The company would not have been honoring their responsibility: being of service to the customer.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.