The Professional Salesperson: It’s Not ABC

Known for his Dale Carnegie training expertise, Terry Siebert is writing to inspire leaders to reach their greatest potential. Leadership, today more than ever, may mean the difference between closing the doors or opening new markets. Every month, he'll post help with mindset, business tools and more. Read Full Bio

Item 1
For those of you who have seen the classic sales movie, Glengarry Glen Ross, one scene that you probably remember is when Alec Baldwin comes to the sales office from “downtown” to motivate the troops. The summary of his motivational talk is the incentive program:

  • 1st Prize — A Cadillac
  • 2nd Prize — Steak knives
  • 3rd Prize — You lose your job

He tells the guys that the way to make sales happen is to Always Be Closing (ABC!). I would suggest, as would most sales professionals, that this is the last way to make a sale. By the way, if you have never seen this movie, you are missing a real treat.

Item 2
In visiting with sales managers in the last few weeks, one question that I have often asked is: “If there is one thing that you could change about the way your salespeople interact with prospects and clients that would have the most impact on building your business, what would that be?” The two answers that I hear most frequently are:

  1. Talk less about themselves and tune into the prospect/customer.
  2. Ask great questions to position themselves as a trusted consultant.

The habit that many salespeople have, and in many cases it is reinforced by the training they have had, is to talk! They become familiar with the features and benefits of their product or service and turn into walking encyclopedias of product knowledge. Coincidentally, 90% percent of the sales training in America is spent on product knowledge. The travesty is that product knowledge does not correlate as highly with sales results as do the skills and attitudes that a sales professional brings to the table.

I am not saying that product knowledge is not important — it is very important. It is how, when and where you use that product knowledge that is key. Let’s look at two critical skills that are vital to building both new and long-term customer relationships.

Relationship Building
The habit that amateur salespeople have is to talk — talk about themselves, talk about the bad day they are having, talk about their products, and the list goes on. What the sales professional realizes is that the foundation of any long term customer relationship is to sell themselves first before even thinking about selling their wares. The focus here is to get the prospect/customer’s mind on you in a positive way. In other words, the prospect/customer is saying, “this is someone who I could enjoy doing business with.”

Secondly, not only is the customer thinking of you as a nice person, they also have a sense that you might actually have something that could help them and/or their business. So, before you start “selling,” you might make sure that you are being looked at as a sales professional — not a talking amateur who does not create long term relationships with customers.

Sales folks in the automobile business often get a bad rap for being great talkers. Many are. The pros are not. The pros are professionals at establishing relationships with their customers. Their customers would never even consider working with another salesperson.

One sales manager in this business told me that you know you are a pro when you are selling a second and third vehicle to the same customer. And you know that you are even better when you start selling vehicles to the customer’s kids. That’s what relationship building is all about.

Ask Good Questions & Listen at a Deep Level
Once a positive customer relationship is established, the job of the sales professional is to help the customer think clearly. Again, this is not done by talking — it is done by asking pertinent questions to help the customer self-discover that he/she has a need. You can sell and talk and demonstrate your product knowledge all day long. But if you do not have a customer that clearly understands that they have a need, your words are being wasted.

Amateur salespeople are often satisfied with the first answer they get to a question and start trial closing way too soon. Example: “So I hear that you have been having problems with on-time delivery. If I can take care of that problem, would you consider going ahead with a PO today?”

The professional, on the other hand, realizes the true job is to get that customer to think clearly. In this same example, the professional goes deeper: “Help me understand the nature of the delivery problems you’ve been having.” And even more questions would follow. The sales professional also listens at a deeper level to truly understand the customer’s situation. The sales professional, unlike the amateur, does not jump on buying signals and start selling too soon. It is not until the customer clearly understands that they have a need and the salesperson has a solution for that specific need that product knowledge comes into play.

In summary, start, maintain and build customer relationships by selling yourself first. Once you have that trust and credibility in place, help your customer think clearly by asking good questions and listening to the responses. Ask even deeper questions if needed and listen, listen, listen.

Good Selling!

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