Futuresell: A Selling Guide for the 21st Century SalespersonTM
by Roy E. Chitwood, CSP, CSE

* * * Are you a "21st Century Salesperson"?
Take the QUIZ Below this article and find out!

 

INTRODUCTION

The sales profession is at an historic crossroads. The path from the past is littered with pseudo-salespeople, maneuvering, ambushing, tricking and cajoling customers into buying a product or service. The path to the future is studded with up-front, empathetic professional salespeople who serve as advisors, counselors, even partners, to their customers. Given these options, the road to choose seems clear.

But don't take my word for it. Heed the advice of experts who recently participated in a special colloquium addressing selling in the 21st century. As President of Max Sacks International, a sales training and consulting firm, I sponsored the colloquium to solicit independent, trend-setting viewpoints on the keys to future sales success. Interestingly, the dominant theme that emerged from the colloquium is something I've professed for years: that "partnership selling" is the wave of the future for professional salespeople. These experts' views serve as the basis for FUTURESELL, this booklet you're now reading.

Colloquium participants included Dr. William Cahill, associate professor of educational psychology and director of Nova University's undergraduate behavioral sciences programs; Dr. David Barone, a licensed psychologist and associate professor at Nova University's School of Psychology; and Dr. Richard Hodgetts, professor of management at Florida International University, Miami. All three share the firm conviction that partnership selling is a necessity in an increasingly competitive business environment.

I've been broadcasting that same message for 14 years as Max Sacks International's chief executive. My over three decades of sales experience and my contacts with thousands of salespeople across the country convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt that tomorrow's salesperson must exhibit integrity, honesty and professionalism. The salesperson must have the customer's needs in mind at all times; if not, the sale shouldn't occur.

As you read FUTURESELL, I think you'll agree the booklet touches a nerve in the sales profession. It blends an uncommon amount of common sense with first-rate analysis and foresight - information the salesperson of the 21st century needs to succeed.

 

PARTNERSHIP SELLING

Earth-shaking developments are in store for the nation's sales force. Tremors are already being registered in companies sales staffs across the country. Those firms ignoring the reverberations may be in for a rude after shock.

The nation's professional sales ranks are shrinking. Many of the estimated 13 million salespeople in the United States are now, and will continue to be, forced out of the profession for new occupations as individuals and businesses bypass traditional sales routes and buy more products and services directly. Instead of face-to-face contacts, increasing numbers of companies and individuals will make their purchases directly via computers, direct mail, telephone, facsimile, television, radio and other means.

This expected swing in buying habits will have a two-fold effect on sales staffs: First, more "inside" sales personnel will be hired to sell. Second, in response to that trend, the demand for outside sales personnel - those actually meeting customers face-to-face - will decline.

But the outside sales staff that remains will have to be more polished and effective than ever before. An increasingly competitive marketplace will force companies to scale back their often-costly sales operations, leaving room only for top-performing salespeople. The sellers market, which has existed for years, has now become a buyers market. As a result, incompetent salespeople will be jobless. Companies don't need salespeople to take orders; they need salespeople who can effectively sell.

These remaining cream-of-the-crop salespeople will, out of necessity, practice partnership selling. In sum, partnership selling means salespeople must become actively engaged in their clients' business affairs, working as consultants, counselors - in fact, partners - with their customers. Already, companies are reducing their number of vendors so they can establish a closer bond with fewer salespeople. The relationship between salesperson and client will grow so close that the salesperson's success will be predicated entirely on the success of his/her customers. If this partnership isn't forged with customers, clients will turn to salespeople who will supply that added service.

In tomorrow's increasingly professionalized world, customers simply will not tolerate the glib, fast-talking, back-slapping salesperson whose only concern is his/her own pocketbook. These tactics may continue to bring success to used car salespeople and those engaged in one-shot sales enterprises. However, the majority of salespeople in the future are going to face more sophisticated clients, and they will have to operate in a much broader frame of reference than simply promoting a product or service as the best on the market.

Partnership selling represents an about-face to the hard-sell tactics of yesteryear; its aim is to eliminate the popular stereotype of a salesperson - the insincere, pushy individual who would sell the proverbial refrigerator to an Eskimo if he/she could. Partnership selling involves doing things for the client rather than to the client. If the customer doesn't benefit from the sale, the sale shouldn't occur. This "helping relationship," similar to the relationship developed between doctor/lawyer/accountant and client, is the key to selling for the 21st century salesperson.

Another element that the partnership salesperson of the 21st century must consider is support services. But, all too often the salesperson closes a sale only to turn the follow-up functions over to employees who seem to exhibit a total lack of interest in satisfying the customer. In the future it will be imperative that individuals working at all levels in the company demonstrate care and concern for their customers. Thus, the company's sales department, whose survival hinges on the performance of the support staff, should become actively involved in the training of all employees. By helping the support staff to develop a true customer service attitude, salespeople will be ensuring repeat sales for themselves.

Partnership selling also means the salesperson of tomorrow must be well schooled in building relationships. Currently, most of the available sales literature focuses on training salespeople to close a sale. Sales trainers frequently talk about identifying customer needs and building a long-term relationship, but these often appear to be merely ancillary to the sale itself. The sales role of the future should be such that the sale is considered yet another stop, albeit an important one, toward establishing a long-term helping relationship.

 

PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS

On the one hand, we have Tom, fresh from a week of training on addressing customers needs. Like a boxer, Tom plays rope-a-dope, drawing the customer in by patronizingly asking questions about his/her needs. Then Tom launches into his canned sales pitch, forcing the customer into a corner. Convinced the customer is outmaneuvered, Tom delivers the knockout punch with a line he's sure will bring the customer to his/her knees.

On the other hand, we have Jane, fresh from a week of training on addressing customers needs. Like a counselor, Jane listens attentively, with warmth and empathy, to the customer's problems. Then, having considered the limitations of her product, Jane commits a heretical act for a salesperson: Jane tells the customer she can't help. Worse, Jane refers the customer to another company.

The contrast between Tom's and Jane's sales strategies is clear. So are the choices for the salesperson of the future. In the short run, Tom may manipulate a customer into a sale. But in the long run, the majority of customers will turn to salespeople like Jane, whom they know have their best interests in mind.

Clearly, the salesperson as manipulator must give way to the salesperson as helper - not because salespeople will necessarily want to put the customers needs first; but because they'll have to. Increasingly sophisticated clients, many of whom are all too familiar with the trapping, deceptive and manipulative techniques of yesterday's salesperson, will not tolerate that behavior in the 21st century.

Tomorrow's customers will demand that salespeople show heightened concern and care for their well being. Thus, salespeople in upcoming decades must develop a deeper relationship with their clients, even acting as their business counselors. They can do that by expressing characteristics usually associated with counselors: empathy, warmth and genuineness. Let's look at these individually.

Empathy is the ability to view a problem from the perspective of another person. Simply, it is an attempt to see things as that person sees them, to feel what that person feels. The salesperson of the future will demonstrate empathy by closely listening to clients' needs. It is through these well developed listening habits that customers sense salespeople truly understand their problems. It is empathy that allows effective counselors to go beyond being mere advice-givers.

Warmth is a characteristic of the counselor that tells the client he/she is more than simply an object; warmth conveys that the counselor cares about the client. The salesperson who exhibits this characteristic will exhibit respect for the client. Instead of incessantly trying to overcome client objections, the understanding salesperson will examine each concern for validity and will honestly admit when a product or service falls short. With warmth, clients feel their needs and concerns are being respected.

Genuineness is perhaps best described as the antithesis of being phony. People judge our genuineness largely unconsciously - they get a feeling about us. Often, though, the feeling has quite rational roots. Do our behaviors conflict without words? Do we follow through on promises? In short, when we express a willingness to help, is it sincere or merely a ploy, a method of manipulation? Without genuineness, no significant long-term relationship can be maintained between the salesperson and customer. Clearly, exhibiting empathy, warmth and genuineness will draw salespeople closer to the client. Indeed, the relationships may be drawn so close that the salesperson subconsciously establishes dual loyalties toward the customer and toward his/her company. There are financial as well as altruistic reasons for establishing this dual bond. After all, it is the customer who ultimately pays the salesperson's wages, not the salesperson's employer. Because of this dual loyalty, the salesperson may even advise a client to back out of a sale if it is not in the customer's best interest.

Doing the right thing for the customer is the best thing for the salesperson as well as his or her employer. All parties benefit as the long term level of trust is heightened and the smooth road to the future sales is reinforced.

At that stage the salesperson advances to the role of problem-solver for the customer. The problem-solver is knowledgeable about certain product areas and skilled in helping clients select products that truly meet their needs. For some technical problems, the salesperson may need to involve the expertise of other relevant members of his/her organization. And at times the solution to the problem may come from another company, which the salesperson will dutifully point out. Heresy? No, just plain financial and common sense. This is the opportunity for the salesperson to do some thing for his/her valued client without expecting anything in return. This is the height of partnership selling - assigning the client's needs higher priority than the salesperson's own desire to make every possible sale.

There is another reason for the salesperson to take on the problem-solving role in the future: customer's will expect it, even demand it. Increasing numbers of no-nonsense, bottom-line oriented customers will expect knowledgeable salespeople to offer them money-making advice. If salespeople don't assume this role in the increasingly competitive business environment of the future, the customer will look elsewhere for this counseling.

Hand in hand with being problem-solvers, salespeople in the 21st century must also be life-long learners. In the past, traditional salespeople could learn about their product, then go out and sell it, with perhaps an occasional technical update as new versions of the product were introduced. No longer. The growing emphasis on life-long learning in America is especially critical for salespeople. In order to survive in an ever-changing world, salespeople must constantly acquire new knowledge and skills that will help them adapt. They can then apply their skills and knowledge to help solve problems for the customer of the future. 

 

QUIZ for the 21st Century Salesperson

The following quiz, developed for Max Sacks International by Dr. William Cahill, gives you an indication of whether you belong in the sales world of yesterday or the future. Select your answer to each of the following questions, then review the correct answers shown at the bottom of the quiz.

1. The focus in a good sales presentation should be on:

a) the reputation of the sales firm
b) the quality of the product offered for sale
c) the customer's needs
d) the monetary savings the product will introduce
e) discounts and special offers

2. The greatest promise of success in sales is offered by which personal quality:

a) empathy
b) persistence
c) resilience
d) aggressiveness
e) friendliness

3. The most important communication skill for salespeople to develop is:

a) speaking
b) reading
c) persuading
d) listening
e) promoting

4. In the increasingly competitive world of tomorrow, the salesperson should concentrate on:

a) overcoming the customer's hesitations and objections
b) closing the sale in a decisive manner
c) getting the customer to sign a contract
d) convincing the customer about product quality
e) establishing a long-term relationship with the customer

5. To become more successful in the field of sales, one must begin to view the customer as:

a) benefactor
b) partner
c) friend
d) adversary
e) student

 

Answers to Quiz for the 21st Century

 

Questions

1. The focus in a good sales presentation should be on:

a) the reputation of the sales firm
b) the quality of the product offered for sale
c) the customer's needs
d) the monetary savings the product will introduce
e) discounts and special offers

1. The answer is C. A good sales presentation must focus on the customer's needs. The customer always has some requirement, some problem to solve, some need to fill. The successful salesperson of the future will be one whom the customer comes to regard as a problem-solver.

- - - -

2. The greatest promise of success in sales is offered by which personal quality:

a) empathy
b) persistence
c) resilience
d) aggressiveness
e) friendliness

2. The answer is A. Empathy allows a salesperson to understand the problem which a customer faces, and that allows the salesperson to offer viable solutions.

- - - -

3. The most important communication skill for salespeople to develop is:

a) speaking
b) reading
c) persuading
d) listening
e) promoting

3. The answer is D. Listening is the only means by which a salesperson can learn what a customer's needs really are. Salespeople frequently listen only long enough to develop a general idea of what they think their potential customers are asking for. At which point they switch to a more assertive mode, trying to convince the customer that their product is just what is needed.

- - - -

4. In the increasingly competitive world of tomorrow, the salesperson should concentrate on:

a) overcoming the customer's hesitations and objections
b) closing the sale in a decisive manner
c) getting the customer to sign a contract
d) convincing the customer about product quality
e) establishing a long-term relationship with the customer

4. The answer is E. It is the ability to create true customers, or long-term clients, which will become the criterion by which professional salespeople of the future will be judged. A salesperson will not simply be judged by how sales can be closed, but also how many of these sales will lead to repeat business.

- - - -

5. To become more successful in the field of sales, one must begin to view the customer as:

a) benefactor
b) partner
c) friend
d) adversary
e) student

5. The answer is B. A partner shares the workload, helps find solutions to problems, and a salesperson who acts as partner to his/her customers shares in their success.

- - - -
Scoring
- - - -

If you answered all five correctly, you have an orientation towards sales, which, if properly developed, should lead to success as a sales professional in the years ahead.

If you answered four correctly, your sales orientation is basically sound.

However, you may need some further exposure to the concepts of partnership selling.

If you answered two or three correctly, you are caught between the past and future, you would undoubtedly benefit from a training program which stresses: future-oriented techniques. Then you would need to go out and put these into practice in order to convince yourself that they really can work for you.

If you scored less than two correctly, your sales orientation is clearly locked in yesteryear. Unless you become re-oriented toward the marketplace of tomorrow, you may face obsolescence in the very near future. However, the bright side is that, if you do receive training in partnership selling techniques, you will see a rapid improvement in your selling skills.

 

 

CREATING NEW CUSTOMERS

Make a new customer, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.

Funny how such a silly little nursery rhyme - albeit one with a slight twist - can serve as such a serious communique for the salesperson of the 21st century. But believe it: tomorrow's salesperson must cultivate and maintain close ties with existing customers in order to succeed. An increasingly competitive business climate in upcoming decades will dictate that commitment; so will a scarcity of customers in selected industries. The convergence of those two forces necessitates that salespeople of the future treat their old customers with the same care and consideration as their new customers.

There are fiscally sound reasons for encouraging first-class treatment of existing customers. It is estimated that it costs five times as much to obtain new customers as it does to retain old ones. And with everyone from the comptroller to the sales manager keeping a tight rein on budgets, it's evident every existing customer in the future will be a prized customer.

The key to retaining today's customer tomorrow is excellent customer service. And the key to maintaining excellent customer service is an excellent attitude. One survey suggests the major reason why customers stop buying a product or service is because of an indifferent attitude on the part of company employees. Clearly then, customers - new and old - expect, and deserve, special treatment.

How do you know if you have an excellent customer service attitude? Take the following quiz. If you can unequivocally answer yes to all the following questions, you are keenly attuned to your customer's needs:

 

 

  • 1. Do you always have your customers welfare and well being in mind?
    2. Do you effectively solve your customers problems?
    3. Do you handle complaints to the customers satisfaction?
    4. Are you honest and straight-forward, and have you established integrity with your customers?
    5. Do customers count on you as an expert who provides good, reliable product or service information?
    6. Do your customers get special benefits from you that they wouldn't obtain from your competitors?
    7. Would customers continue dealing with you even if your price were slightly higher than the competitors?
    8. Have your customers become more profitable as a result of doing business with you?
    9. Are you a friend, perhaps even a consultant, to your customers as well as a business associate?

Clearly, the salesperson of the 21st century must adopt such a customer service attitude in order to survive in an increasingly competitive business environment. Salespeople who demonstrate care and concern for existing customers will be richly rewarded with long-term patronage.

But this is not to suggest salespeople in upcoming decades should neglect new customers. On the contrary, new customers must be shown the same care and concern.

There are a number of ways salespeople can build special relationships with new customers. Not surprisingly, salespeople must first build trust with new customers. Trustworthiness, it has been demonstrated, is a key ingredient in successfully changing the attitude of sideline customers. The less trustworthy a salesperson appears, the more the customer tries to block reasons for using a product or service.

Trust can be established by serving as a counselor, problem-solver, even partner, to new customers. By practicing partnership selling, salespeople demonstrate not only a caring business relationship but also establish friendship and trust. Convinced the salesperson has their interest in mind, the customer is more likely to develop an allegiance with the salesperson.

Another way of establishing a relationship with new customers is to demonstrate similarity of attitudes and interests. These similarities must be genuine, but they need not involve ultra-sensitive or personal topics. For example, the similarity may simply be that both the salesperson and the customer prefer a certain way of doing business.

Still another way to establish a foothold with new customers is to have repeated pleasant interactions with them. Mere contact isn't enough. Annoying contacts are obviously detrimental. However, repeated positive interactions lead subconsciously to greater liking. And the more attraction between salesperson and customer, the more open customers will be toward hearing a salesperson's presentation.

 

SALES STRATEGIES FOR FUTURE SUCCESS

Professionalism. The watch-word for the 21st century salesperson. The code word for ensuring future sales success. Whatever its definition, customers in the increasingly sophisticated and complex world of the future will demand professionalism from salespeople.

And salespeople in the 21st century must demand professionalism from themselves. For it is only when they consider themselves professionals that salespeople will have established the foundation that will allow them to adopt sound and successful sales strategies in the future.

And how can professionalism take hold in the sales ranks in upcoming decades? By establishing standard training procedures and professional certification. Such procedures have long been established in other professions, and the time has come for people in the sales profession to follow suit.

To initiate this process, salespeople should first undergo standardized training to prepare them for entry into the sales profession. Second, certain standard practicing procedures - with an emphasis on ethical behavior - should be adhered to by all professional salespeople. Third, salespeople should be issued credentials at several distinct levels to indicate achievement in the profession. Once this foundation of professionalism is established, salespeople can then more confidently adopt successful sales strategies.

One specific sales strategy that should prove helpful to the professional salesperson of the future involves exploring new ways for offering customers free trial offers of a product or service. Tryouts are far more effective than any arguments supplied by the salesperson. Prospective buyers don't have to commit themselves to a product or service, just sample it. When they get a free trial, customers find out for themselves the value of the product or service and thus overcome barriers they may have formed. Their involvement motivates them to be more receptive toward hearing a salesperson's presentations. And their successful use of the product or service builds expectations of future benefits. Thus, much of the homework for salespeople has already been accomplished.

In addition to adopting one-on-one sales techniques, 21st century salespersons must also pay heed to the following outside events that may dictate future sales strategies.

 

  • * Markets for U.S. firms will continue to open up and increase well into the 21st century. The reason is simple: overseas customers will increasingly want high tech, price-competitive goods regardless of who supplies them. This means that salespeople will have to know how to sell to foreign customers. In particular, there will be a need to learn a foreign country's culture, politics and perhaps the language so the salesperson has a better understanding of his/her customer's needs.

    * More sophisticated segmentation of markets will continue as demographic data zeroes in on the needs of smaller customer groups. A good example is the current effort to match product or service needs with Asian Americans on the West Coast. As a result of this super-segmentation of the marketplace, salespeople must receive specific training to address these "micro" niches.

    * Research, development and marketing will result in more new goods reaching the market every year. In selling these goods, training and retraining will be needed so salespeople will understand how to interact effectively with the customer. Generic selling will be replaced by specific target selling, and this will require continual retraining of the sales force.

    * Technology-driven markets will become more market-driven. A good example is the computer industry which is new segmented into a number of different markets, including mainframes and micros. Success in the former is typically a result of high-tech; success in the latter is often dictated by effective selling. Process-driven markets such as banks and other financial institutions are also finding the need for new strategies that are much more market-responsive. Thus, salespeople must receive specific sales training so they can effectively sell in these changing markets.

    * Changes in organizational cultures will result from such events as mergers and acquisitions. The corporate culture of one organization will influence the culture of the other organization until one emerges as dominant. Salespeople would be well advised to receive training so they can make adjustments to other sales strategies when this cultural change occurs.

    * Research by AT&T shows new employees do not have the same willingness to work or desire to assume responsibility as older employees. Thus, salespeople should be aware that values of personnel even within one organization may differ. Selling techniques should be adjusted accordingly.

    * With so many new products reaching the market every year, sales training will focus on how to sell the value of a product or service. Benefits, payoffs and results accruing from the use of the product will become central to the sales presentation. Basic price, quantity discounts and an explanation of how the product works will be support considerations.

It is obvious from the above illustrations that training and retraining will play a vital role in the successful selling strategy of the 21st century salesperson. Specifically, step-by-step training that is easily transferable and learned will be required to ensure the professionalism that customers will expect and demand.

Repeated sales training combined with partnership selling techniques will be necessary for salespeople to maintain a crucial "sustainable advantage" over competitors in upcoming decades. Experienced sales professionals realize that continuing education will benefit them in their everyday sales activities.

Salespeople who sell without embracing proven sales training techniques will find rough-going in the next millennium. Conversely, salespeople who undergo repeated training and place their customers needs first - the heart of partnership selling - will be assured of sales success in the 21st century.

Copyright ©, Max Sacks International