Jeff sells office equipment. He eats, sleeps and breathes office equipment. His product line is significant – copy machines, postage meters, calculators, file cabinets, laser printers, desks, chairs – you name it, he sells it. Jeff has taken every sales training course known to mankind. He has read every book on selling techniques and attended a gazillion seminars. His lexicon includes words and phrases such as targets, sales funnel, objections, buying signals, gatekeeper, closed-end questions, open-end questions, deal flow, decision maker – you get the picture. And every day Jeff puts into practice what he has learned. But is he successful at what he does? Sure, he makes a decent living but while reaching for the stars, he’s lucky to make it to the McDonald’s on the last exit out of town. While not exactly a Willy Loman, Jeff can be classified as a coin-operated salesperson.
The world is full of coin-operated salespeople. They all want to be superstars and almost every single one of them will never be. They hew to the traditional basics and fundamentals of sales. The Jeffs of the world will absolutely try and close the deal seven times because that’s what the experts say must be done. They will sweat their quotas and worry that the last deal they did will be the last deal they’ll ever do. Their ultimate goal is to ring the cash register. Move that product in every increasing numbers. Numbers, numbers, numbers! What a shame. It doesn’t have to be this way. Jeff and his ilk could take a much easier road – one that would be far more productive for them and their customers.
First and foremost, real “sales” isn’t about selling. It’s about helping people buy. What’s the distinction you ask? It begins with the real reason for a sales encounter. If that reason is to put money in my pocket as a salesperson, then the motivation is all wrong out of the gate. Instead, we might want to see the sales encounter as an opportunity to help someone else. To do this we need to build a genuine relationship with the customer. We need to understand what the customer needs. Far too many sales people are unwilling to invest the time and effort that is required to really understand their customers. If they can’t get a sale quickly, they are ready to drop the customer instantly and move on to the next one. After all, they rationalize this behavior because they have a family to feed.
We can hone our entrepreneurial approach to avoid being the coin-operated salesperson. As entrepreneurs, we’re always selling. But if we adopt the attitude that we’re going to help people buy, our mindset will be so different that we’ll avoid the coin-operated traps. For starters, we are customer-centric instead of product-centric. This means that we will do whatever it takes to make sure that we are being of service to our customers. We aren’t going to try and foist our products or services on them if they aren’t interested in buying from us. And yet we’ll continue to work to build a relationship with them over time – even if they aren’t buying today. Relationships are kings of the castle.
Building lasting relationships requires a lot more than what we learn from standard sales training. It taps into our intuition and forces us to “read” people in such a way as to understand them and the complexities of their lives. Building true relationships avoids manipulation. It avoids quid pro quo. We’ll do things for our customers because we are here to serve the relationship – regardless of whether they buy from us. And as I’ve said many times, this is not a Pollyanna-ish concept. I’ve lived my life this way and have countless examples of relationships that I’ve served that never bought anything from me. But great good has come into my life as result of these relationships whether from the referral of other customers, new team members or opportunities of which I would never have been aware. I know that it’s hard not to be a coin-operated salesperson when there’s a mortgage to pay, the kids need braces and the car is on its last legs. But that’s even more reason to dump the “paint-by-numbers” approach and focus on relationship-building and being customer-centric.
We will have much more success when we help people buy what they need than when we try to sell to them. This requires the long-term process of building and serving relationships. But the payday in the end is far greater than the coin-operated method of selling.
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.