My first experience with sales was terrifying. I had crossed the aisle from editorial to sales at an electronic publishing company. The sales position offered more job security, more money and the chance to travel regularly to the high capitals of business: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and occasionally, New Orleans.
But I entered the business of sales with profound reluctance. I feared that sales would require inauthentic behavior. To succeed at sales you will have to sell your soul to the devil of false promises and exaggerated claims. Your smile will go so phony you’ll forget what a real smile feels like. All that matters is the close. Who cares about the client’s needs? Who cares about the truth?
When I began sales training, my deepest fears were realized. I watched video tapes where sales experts taught tricks for winning the psychological game of persuasion. Learn the body signals and you can manipulate your prospect into a close. Fight your prospect’s buying reluctance with false understanding and deceitful assurances. Just as long as you get the close. I progressed toward complete sales-dizzy corruption, I feared that my moral backbone was so elastic I wouldn’t even feel pain as I traveled my new path of smiling deceit.
My former comrades on the editorial side of the business always detested those in sales. The sales folks were sharks. The sales consciousness was dominated by the need to close. Sales people were pushy, abrupt, and dismissive of anyone who was not actively playing a part in the sales process, particularly the close. Sales people didn’t even recognize the editorial staff. The sales people didn’t dislike editors. Editors simply didn’t show up on the sales-close radar that kept the sales people swimming through the murky waters of the marketplace.
And now I was one of them, learning how to spot an easy mark. I spent my training days testing my comebacks to objections, role-playing sales speak with the sales manager, writing and memorizing sales scripts. I’m too shy for this, I thought secretly. I’ll never be able to drive a sales stake into the heart of some poor sap who doesn’t really need our pricey electronic services.
I did poorly in sales. I was too shy to shoulder anyone into buying if they were not already inclined to use our services. I was friendly and outgoing. But in sales lingo, I was nothing more than an “order taker,” someone who could move through all the details of a proposal and sales contract if the client didn’t require any persuasion.
When I started my own business I knew I would have to sell or fail. I was nervous about the prospect. I didn’t have a sales staff who could pull out the quarter numbers even if I cruised in low gear. If my business was going to succeed, I would have to become truly effective at sales.
That’s when I found out the truth about sales. Selling is not effective when it’s phony. Selling becomes most effective when the client sees the sales person as authentic. To succeed, you have to first figure out your prospects needs. If your product or service matches those needs, then it’s simply a matter of communicating your solution honestly.
Body language doesn’t matter. Persuasion doesn’t matter. Pushiness doesn’t matter. Sales scripts don’t matter. What matters is your ability to relate authentically to your prospect, your ability to articulate your prospect’s needs, your ability to ascertain whether your prospect agrees with your perception of that need, and finally, your ability to explain how your company can fill that need.
Sounds easy, but it’s not easy. You have to struggle to make sure your company fills those identified needs competitively. You struggle to break through the clutter of calls your prospect faces – and mostly avoids – so you can tell your story. That’s work. But it’s work that is easy on the nerves and easy on the conscience because it draws on the best of who are.