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I Hate the Act of Traditional Selling And Worse Yet, I’m Lousy at It

I do about forty speeches and sales training sessions a year. After every introduction by the moderator (which, by the way, I write in glowing terms), I always look around with this nagging question or notion in the back of my mind… Are they talking about me or someone else?

Because in the conventional sense, I truly hate the act of selling. Worse yet, I’m lousy at what we all call traditional selling. And trust me, I’m not exaggerating. I can, unfortunately, substantiate and validate this claim with examples of early disasters (read ‘cannings’) in my selling career.

It was only when I came to the epiphany that selling has nothing to do with selling, that I was able to turn my career around and flourish. You see, I’m the epitome of someone who isn’t a natural born salesperson. All my success can be attributed solely to learned skills. I’m a highly trained salesperson who relies on a disciplined sales methodology instead of natural instincts and talent to carry the day.

I learned that in order to sell effectively in the information economy I had to stop selling, pitching, presenting, answering objections, chasing and, God forbid, closing. I realized that selling, by its very nature, so often produces the exact opposite effect. The harder you sell, the harder it is to sell. Selling is repelling.

Because I wasn’t one of the few and gifted 2%, I had to rely on a sales process that created trust, confidence and influence through my ability to have a deep understanding of my customer’s problems and business and allow my customer the freedom to self-discover their own answers and opinions independent of my selling agenda. Many salespeople today are being rudely awakened, like I was 15 years ago, to the reality that the tried and true skills of yesterday (personal charisma, persistence, hard work ethic, solid product knowledge and likeability) are not enough to succeed in the information economy.

The reason for this is one word… Google. With two clicks, information is easily accessible and bountiful. The information economy has dramatically impacted the traditional role and value of a salesperson. In ancient times… the 80’s and 90’s… a salesperson’s value was predicated on their ability to bring information, ideas and industry news to the table. That has been all but neutralized and marginalized by the Internet. So the remaining and sustainable value that salespeople possess to differentiate themselves from the competition is not to give information, but to get information.

Salespeople must build a business case for change, not a product case. They can no longer afford to be company-centric or product-centric. They now need to have situational fluency to understand the business drivers of their customer’s business and help them identify and assess business problems, their consequences and understand the cost and impact of change. I call this the non-selling posture.

The reason I love the non-selling posture sales strategy is because it requires no natural talent or instincts. It is pure science and only becomes an art form when it is practiced at its highest level. The thing I hated about it the most was when I was learning it, it required me to relearn and reengineer everything I knew about selling. It required discipline and dedication to junk the tried and true old ideas and replace them with a practical, no nonsense approach that is pressure free and has a radical honesty with a willingness to walk away from opportunities that don’t look right, smell right or feel right.

The non-selling posture takes a lot of the guesswork out of sales. What I always found frustrating in selling early in my career was that I successfully sold customers without really knowing really why, and I was outsold by the competition and I really didn’t know why. My success rates were tenuous, random, unpredictable and not replicable.

Today I now approach every customer with the posture that I have nothing to prove, nothing to disprove, nothing to sell, no preconceived ideas and agenda, and no emotional investments in the outcome of the sale. This frees me up to take a position of neutrality and to build trust with my customer. This is where sales becomes fun and stress-free. Imagine going into a sales call with the heavy burden of proof being lifted; giving advice that is viewed with minimal suspicion; and selling without carrying the perception of having a conflict of interest.

So conventional selling as we know it today is dead in the water. However, I continue to see companies and salespeople being self-congratulatory at being very good at a game no longer being played.

They have perfected the ability to consistently hit the target, but it is the wrong target. The way customers buy, how they select suppliers, the time it takes them to make decisions, the way they assess value and how they create trust has changed dramatically over the last couple of years. However, the way salespeople sell would fit very well into a quaint Norman Rockwell painting; a lot of useless information, one-sided conversations, endless persistence, a firm handshake and a smile, lots of charm and personality and unending excitement and enthusiasm.

This just doesn’t work anymore. Most companies are clinging and placing unwavering faith and trust in sales strategies that are obsolete, archaic and are designed to defeat them. This all results in lower margins, longer selling cycles, higher cost of sales and constant frustration and headaches for their salespeople.

I do find a fair number of companies that have seen the writing on the wall and have developed sound strategic selling strategies to meet the realities of the new marketplace. Unfortunately, their salespeople can’t execute the strategy because they lack the proper beliefs and the disciplined tactics to execute them.

The following are some of the beliefs and strategies that fit very well into the realities of selling in the information economy and creating a non-selling posture.

  • You are paid and rewarded for your questions, not your answers.
  • To gain control you must give up control.

    *Salespeople position their offerings for opportunity and customers are buying for the exact opposite motivation: fear and risk avoidance.

    *Salespeople position their offerings rationally and logically and their customers are buying for irrational and illogical reasons.

  • The salesperson with the best understanding of the customer’s business will consistently outsell the salesperson with the best product, best technology and the best price.
  • There are always two winners at the selling event: the salesperson who was awarded the deal and the salesperson who lost early and quickly with minimal exposure of time, resources and emotional investment.
  • The best salesperson at the selling event is always the customer. Let them do all the presenting and selling.

    *Don’t tell customers how you can help them, how you are unique or why you are better. Simply tell them the problems you address and the problems you solve.

    *Anyone can sell. It is more important to know when, where and under what circumstance to not sell.

  • Persistence is the most overrated skill set in the information economy. Walking away from bad deals, unresponsive and uncooperative customers is the most underrated skill set in selling.

    *It’s not what you sell; it is how you sell it that really matters.

    *Your value proposition is inherently valueless.

At the beginning of all my training sessions, I pose the questions, “Who among you is a tad bored selling the same way you’ve been selling your entire career with very little change? Who’s tired of saying the same thing every day and getting the same tired and trite responses from your customers day in and day out? Who is tired of having little control and predictable consistency? Who’s tired of looking and sounding like every other salesperson? And who is tired of being in a job that isn’t nearly as fun as it used to be?” You can probably guess a lot of hands go up.

Most salespeople I meet are tired of traditional sales strategies that are designed to frustrate the hell out of them, put them at a severe disadvantage and leave them constantly guessing. And worse yet, they have no idea of what to do otherwise.

I have learned over the years that it is liberating, refreshing and extremely effective to approach every customer with the posture of ‘let’s get real’: “Let’s assess your threshold for change. Both of us are very busy so let’s not waste any of our time. Let’s openly explore your problems and see if any are worth fixing. Let’s have a frank discussion about your budget and authority to make decisions. Let’s openly explore other viable alternatives. Let’s make sure the timing is right and there aren’t any competing projects that would supersede this one and let’s do this one under the tenet that the burden of proof, information and selling will rest squarely on your shoulders.”

This type of exchange requires no innate natural ability. It does require training in most cases. Anyone can sell this way if they are willing to put aside their huge ego, put all the emphasis and focus on the customer, put aside all their information, forgo their emotional investment in the outcome of the sale, take off their selling hat and simply let the customer have the freedom to find their own answers independent of your own selling agenda. My belief is if I can do this, anyone can, since I have no real natural sales ability.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com