The Softness Epidemic: Sales is Too Soft
What I have to say here has nothing to do with whether or not you are obligated to create value for your clients, whether or not you should act as a trusted adviser, or whether or not your approach is consultative.
It has nothing to do with your process or your lack thereof.
It has nothing to do with the product or service you sell.
It has nothing to do with your personal style.
It has nothing whatsoever to do with the hard sell. Nothing.
It has everything to do with how we in the business behave and the failures that occur from these behaviors. Here are three areas where sales problems are driven by salespeople refusing to act like salespeople.
The first area where you find evidence of the softness epidemic is in activity problems. You see the symptoms in the avoidance of the prospecting work that all success in sales is built upon and you hear it in statements like, “I hate cold calling.” You recognize it in language like, “I don’t want to sound like I am selling something,” or “That sounds too sales-y.”
The work of prospecting is necessarily sales-oriented. Guess what? We ARE selling something!
Despite all of the changes in sales, you still have to gain the prospect’s attention and interest and you have to close them for an opportunity to explore the potential benefits of working together. Period!
Gaining attention, gaining interest, and setting appointments are sales-oriented goals. It is what we do. Not doing so leads to low activity, which is the quickest path to a place in the bottom 80% (or something worse like a place in the unemployment line, or in another field).
The second area where the softness epidemic is visible is in problems advancing the sale. Regardless of your process, you see it in the weak pipelines and you hear it in the opportunity reviews in language like, “I don’t want to bother them,” and “I am waiting for them to get back with me.”
The work of advancing the sale is about asking for and obtaining commitments. Waiting is not an activity.
Worst of all are ideas like, “I want to come across as a consultative salesperson and a trusted adviser.” This is nonsense.
A consultative salesperson or a trusted adviser who can’t ask for the commitment to open the relationship or the commitment to move the sale forward isn’t a salesperson at all. They are something different and something less.
The title “trusted adviser” sounds impartial, something that we in sales are not; we are partial to our own ability to create value, our company’s ability to do the same, and we are more than partial to our winning the deal over our competitors.
I have heard “trusted advisers” from too many Vice Presidents of Sales. It is one thing to be thought of as a trusted adviser for your expertise and your ability generate business results, it is quite another to fail to ask for and to obtain commitments. If we behave like asking for commitments is wrong, what will those who work for us believe?
Being a trusted adviser and not asking for and obtaining commitments are not mutually exclusive.
Title and Meanings
Words have meanings. The words that we choose to use have an impact on how we behave, including our sales behaviors.
What do we call ourselves? When did we become “business development” people? When did we become “account managers” and “business managers?” What is a “new business director?”
Changing the name does nothing to change the desired outcome we in sales need, but it is an accepting of a change in behaviors. Changing the words and changing the titles indicates that there is a negative connotation attached to the word. Acting as if there is a negative connotation by changing the titles is an admission that the behaviors are inherently negative and should be avoided.
There was a time when salespeople behaved badly. That time has come and gone, and it has been decades since hard sell behaviors were taught and practiced. But the pendulum has swung too far, and the remedy for the hard sell is not to forgo selling at all.
Being effective is, in part, built in the confidence that comes from being proud of what you do. Inoculate yourself against the “softness epidemic” by behaving in a way that makes you proud and by being professional—not being too soft to sell.
Sales is getting too soft. This is not a call to return to the hard sell, but instead a reminder that the outcomes that we in sales want and need have not changed. Being professional and being too soft are two very different things.
1. Do I carry negative ideas about what it means to sell? Are these ideas holdovers from a stereotype that no longer exists and hasn’t for over 20 years?
2. Are these negative ideas really a lack of confidence in my ability to deliver results?
3. Do I resist the fundamental activities of sales because of a negative connotation or a stereotype?
4. Am I wasting time trying to find gimmicks, tricks, and tactics that would allow me to gain prospects instead of doing the real work of sales?
5. What language would allow me to professionally ask for a commitment to close for a commitment to advance the sale?
6. Do I rely on ideas like “consultative sales” and “trusted advisor” because of a negative opinion of closing behaviors or a fear of asking for commitments?
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