Some people believe that selling is a job or a profession, while others believe it is a set of skills one can acquire. Neither belief is wrong, but there is another way to think about sales and selling: that it is an art.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines art as "A practical pursuit or trade of a skilled nature, a craft; an activity that can be achieved or mastered by the application of specialist skills; (also) any one of the useful arts)." Another definition from the OED provides this: "An acquired ability of any kind; a skill at doing a specified thing, typically acquired through study and practice; a knack. Frequently in the art of ——."
The Art of Sales for B2B
Let's begin by recognizing that selling is a conversation. That conversation is the only vehicle available to create the value that would have prospective buyers prefer to do business with one particular salesperson and their company. Those who treat sales as an art are highly effective in sales conversations.
To master the art of sales, the salesperson must master a set of practices beyond the skills most salespeople are taught. Let's look at some of these elements that, when combined, make up the art of sales.
Element One: Other Orientation
In your life, you may have bumped into a salesperson who was self-oriented. That salesperson was not trying to help you with something you needed. Instead, they were trying to get something they needed. This salesperson believed you were a wallet from which they could grab money.
The salesperson practicing the art of sales is other-oriented. The conversation they have with their clients is about what the clients need. This starting point is a critical part of the sales mindset, as it provides an intention that improves the salesperson’s ability to create value for their clients.
A car salesperson once blocked me from leaving his office without buying the car I was considering. He said, "I really want to see you in that car." What he wanted was his commission, whether the purchase was good for me or not.
Element Two: Recognizing Client Needs
While most salespeople try to gain credibility early on by talking about their company, their clients, and their products and services, the person practicing the art starts differently. A salesperson who practices their trade as an art opens the conversation differently, based on their ability to recognize what their prospective client needs from them.
A master of the art of sales can intuit what contacts and clients need because they can see patterns based on their experience in the business. Much of this pattern recognition occurs because the salesperson has had many conversations over many years.
Each client may need you to provide them with a different conversation based on where they are, what they know, what they need to know, and their experience.
Element Three: Hearing What Isn't Said
Being a good listener is important, and most salespeople know we are supposed to practice active listening. There are, however, levels when it comes to listening. At the lowest level, you find the salesperson listening in order to respond. At the highest level, the salesperson is listening for what was not said. This is an art.
A simple example here will make this point clear. The client that uses the time objection, "Can you email me some information?" is not really asking you to send them information. Instead, they are conveying their belief that a meeting with you would be a waste of their time. The salesperson who is able to hear what isn't being said has gained information that is unavailable to the salesperson who isn't practicing the art of craft.
Element Four: Leading the Client
Most salespeople believe consultative selling means asking good questions and avoiding high-pressure techniques. While it’s good to ask helpful questions and not be a bully, neither rise to the level of being consultative. Consultative means providing counsel, advice, and recommendations.
The salesperson pursuing their art will lead their client through the buyer's journey, educating their contacts, and advising them on how best to pursue their desired results. Clients who work with a salesperson who practices the art of sales will feel no pressure to take the next step.
At a conference, I once watched a brute of a salesperson pressure three people to buy something they wouldn't have bought had it not been for this person leveraging their identity in front of a group of people. I left the conference after seeing this high-pressure approach. This salesperson was practicing a dark art, which was evidence he was not a good salesperson or a good person.
Element Five: Creating a Preference
You will never win all the clients you want. You will, however, win the clients that want you. The best way to describe the creation of a preference is that the salesperson can generate a dynamic that pulls the client toward them and makes their contacts want to buy from them. This is a choice of sales strategies.
The salesperson practicing the art of sales creates a preference to buy from them—they draw their contacts in. The longer one practices the art of sales, the more this power grows. This is one reason some salespeople with great experience have high win rates. By developing several skills not found in any competency model, they have the power to pull clients toward them, so they want to buy from them. The underlying reason is that they create value greater than the salesperson who is simply doing their job without the commitment to master their craft.