For decades, the art of selling conjured up visions of tire-kicking car salesmen and fast-talking hucksters bent on separating individuals from their money.
From these inauspicious beginnings, the concept of selling has garnered a well-deserved negative image. The reasons for this image are:
- Most people have, at one time or another, encountered frustrating, annoying or deceitful encounters with salespeople, thus perpetuating the negative image;
- There are no established requirements, standards or monitored qualifications to become a salesperson. Anyone can be a salesperson. That is why, in every industry, most salespeople just masquerade as such without any commitment to the profession of selling. Selling is viewed as "just a job" and not given the same degree of dedication, pride and continuous education required by practitioners of other professions.
Perhaps because the image of selling is negative, many salespeople use any title other than salesperson.
In "The New Business of Banking," George M. Bollenbacher writes, "Most of our economic history was written by visionaries who (knew) what the public needed and could sell it to them." Unfortunately, most salespeople are not visionaries and do not sell to their prospects.
This is no more evident than when considering the long accepted rule that 80 percent of all sales are made by 20 percent of the salespeople. It is no wonder many salespeople do not use the salesperson title.
When salespeople are perceived as pushy or nongenuine, the relationship between the salesperson and the clients erodes. In addition, businesses sometimes forget the importance of first impressions when dealing with the public. Whether it's attitude or appearance that creates the first impression, it's often a lasting one.
A well-groomed and well-dressed individual with a pleasing demeanor can have an immediate positive effect on prospects and customers. Everyone has one chance to make a good first impression.
Buy the best clothing you can afford, try to dress one notch higher than your prospect, and don't smoke or drink coffee while making presentations or interacting with customers. Sales professionals know it's the little things that make all the difference when establishing a sales differential.
The truth is, everyone sells or "unsells" for the company. Whether it's goodwill, pride, confidence, tangible products or intangible services, the skills required are the same.
Selling is a people business, and it's people skills that make product knowledge pay off. Developing good people skills enables service providers to create long-term relationships with prospects and customers. For example, a simple smile is a universal greeting understood by people in all walks of life.
By developing a genuine interest in others, you show you care. Talk in terms of the other person's interests and needs, and focus on what he or she wants to talk about. Use the other person's name to build a personal rapport. Give compliments and praise prospects on their business successes. Listen to them. Listening is the greatest compliment you, as a salesperson, can pay. And above all, make the other person feel important because every person truly is valuable.
The foundation of every sales organization should be solid, long-term relationships. These relationships are formed when the sales professionals understand their customers' needs and do the right thing for customers via personal interaction.
Knowledgeable individuals in all industries know this concept is valid. It is imperative "to understand the needs of clients today," says Lou Mobray, an independent southern California loan broker, "to build relationships as opposed to just taking products out and believing they will sell themselves."
In today's rapidly changing business environment, success demands honesty, integrity and personal commitment from salespeople. A professional approach to selling will ultimately yield high income and rich personal rewards for those who choose to use it.
Today, businesses are going through a transformation. It's no longer a "seller's market." Consumers -- more sophisticated and demanding than ever before -- control the competitive sales environment.
To thrive in this environment, sales organizations must break out of the traditional "selling" mentality. No longer can they operate in a "nonselling" environment. They have to rethink their approach and recognize that to keep customers and attract new business, they have to develop the sales skills necessary to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.