I know it's an old cliché, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."
However, I think it's really appropriate for today's marketplace.
I don't believe many people would disagree with the fact that it is a tough marketplace that we are selling in today. I also don't think anyone, at least in their right mind, would call this economy a seller's market.
In my last column, I wrote about whether selling was an art or a science.
(Is selling today an art or a science?)
My conclusion, after over 40 years of hiring, training and developing sales personnel, is that selling is, without question, a science.
The art of selling, I believe, lies in one's ability to execute the science of selling. In the article, I quoted the founder of a well-known company who stated, "Selling is a fun game when you're doing it well. It's the pits when you're not."
Selling really is fun when you're doing it well. Unfortunately, most salespeople don't do it very well.
I define a sales professional as someone who "has a commitment to a calling, has the training, education and expertise that an amateur does not."
When the going gets tough, the amateurs drop out. The professionals not only survive but many times excel in a down economy.
The following is an excerpt from an email I received a few weeks ago:
"The local real estate market here in St. Louis has contracted just as it has nationwide but not to the degree as the coasts. Personally I am seeing a rather large influx of first-time home buyers and my personal production is up 20 percent over 2007. There are many reasons for this including the fact that many noncareer Realtors are dropping out of the business so there is more pie for everyone. I will never forget the humble beginnings I had and your excellent training that propelled me to where I am today. Thanks, Roy."
A professional is different in every profession. Unfortunately in selling, especially in a booming economy, almost anyone can get a sales job and experience a degree of success.
However, when the boom ends, as it inevitably does, these individuals are the first to move on. When the going gets tough, the professional works harder and smarter, is more imaginative and creative and finds new, innovative ways to develop business.
Let's again review our definition of a sales professional. How many salespeople do you know who have a commitment to a calling and pursue education and training consistent with the old adage that school is never out for the professional?
In Malcolm Gladwell's new book "Outliers" (this is the same author that gave us "The Tipping Point" and "Blink"), he suggests that the difference between a professional and a talented amateur is 10,000 hours of practice.
Even though Gladwell did not use selling as an example, I think his reference is just as applicable to selling as it is to law, computers, music or any other field of learning. However, I do take exception to the general cliché that practice makes perfect, because if you're practicing doing something wrong, all you're doing is getting better at getting worse.
Many times I have asked the question, "What do you think would happen if a salesperson would just spend 10 percent of the amount of time learning selling as they would have to put in to become a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, or any other professional?"
Unfortunately, most salespeople choose to only learn enough to get by, whatever "getting by" means to them.
The HR Chally Group, in a sales benchmarking study, identified what customers want from sellers. Interviews with more than 1,000 corporate customers established three major needs that customers expected vendors and sellers to address — even though customers were not confident that sellers could fill them.
- Customers want to narrow their own focus to the few things they do best and outsource the rest without the added overhead cost of supervising their suppliers.
- Customers want sellers to know their business well enough to create products and services they wouldn't have been able to design or create themselves.
- Customers want proof — hard evidence — that their supplier has added value in excess of price.
The Chally Report states that, "Customers expect salespeople to transform themselves into professionals who are deft at identifying and satisfying their new buying needs. Having conducted extensive research in customer purchasing behaviors we are able to enumerate new buying needs. This list of expectations essentially defines the role of the new sales professional of the 21st century."
"In the customer's own words, needs included: Be personally accountable for our desired results; understand our business; be on our side; design the right applications; be easily accessible; solve our problems; and be creative in responding to our needs. Buyers expect professional salespeople to be innovators who bring them fresh ideas to solve their problems. Creativity is a major source of value in today's salesperson."
The skills, techniques and philosophies of professional selling will give you a sustainable advantage over your competition. You will sell more, earn more and have more fun in the process.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.