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The Gist:

  • Telling salespeople to act like marketers is bad advice. It’s never good to tell a sales rep not to hunt and only to fish or trap.
  • Our obligation as consultative salespeople is to nurture our clients and address their problems before they start challenging their results.
  • Don’t wait for clients to come to you. Be the hunter and take the proactive approach in sales.

There is a certain variety of human beings who believe that they know everything about sales, salespeople, and how to reach out to prospective clients and convince them to change. The fact that most of them have never worked in an actual sales role, let alone been responsible for leading a team of salespeople, does not curb their confidence. On the contrary, it makes them even more insistent that content marketing is the best way to acquire attention, as measured by clicks and comments—metrics which, so far, are non-negotiable currency at grocery stores, banks, and mortgage companies.

As a libertarian, I fully support these pundits’ right to speak their mind, even though they lack the experience to offer viable advice. I am for the freest speech, as it’s the best vehicle for understanding others’ perspectives on important ideas. Sometimes I find that ideas I dislike have tremendous value, even though they threaten my long-held beliefs. But I’m wary of the type of person that Werner Erhard used to describe as the guy in the diner: the one who has an opinion about everything, knowing exactly what others should do—even with no base of knowledge or experience to support his opinion.

As someone who writes (and shares) a blog post every day, I would never criticize salespeople who try to leverage social media posts to attract prospective clients. After all, I care deeply about creating opportunities, so I find myself reticent to criticize any given prospecting approach. What I will harshly criticize, though, is the idea that a salesperson must only fish or trap, but never hunt, as if that somehow gives them the moral high ground.

A salesperson is fishing. Salespeople need to be more proactive hunters

The Worst Day Working Beats the Best Day Fishing

Imagine a person who waits until their prospective client has a problem that is harming their business. That problem causes them to fail their clients and fail their company, cranking up the pressure due to their inability to move forward. The salesperson we are imagining has very intentionally decided that they are not going to proactively interrupt their struggling prospective client, instead passively waiting for the client to stumble on the right Google search or LinkedIn post.

Those who take this position mistake marketing for sales: anything that relies on a one-to-many approach, without direct communication with an individual, is not sales. Apple may be the very best marketing organization on Earth, but their salespeople call me to take an order every time a new product is announced (to be fair, I may exhibit a buying pattern that marks me as low-hanging fruit in their CRM). They always start the conversation by asking what I need to equip my business.

People who are experts at marketing have the credibility to advise others on their marketing efforts, but not on sales. Telling salespeople to act like marketers is not simply bad advice; it also infects them with false beliefs about success in sales.

A sales rep is helpful and reaches out a buoy to a prospective client

Your Obligation as a Consultative Salesperson

Longtime readers will recognize the following metaphor. Say you are a world class swimmer and a trained lifeguard. As you are walking down the beach, getting a little exercise and some vitamin D, out of the corner of your eye you spot a person who is drowning. Not wanting to interrupt them while they are busy taking on water and unable to yell for help, you continue on your merry way with no concern for another human being. Look, if that person wanted help, they would have reached out to you.

Let’s be clear about our obligation as consultative salespeople, especially around prospective clients who are trying their best to overcome a challenge that is harming their results. What makes one a trusted advisor is the ability to help another person before they fail, before they lose clients, and before they allow their company to be harmed because they struggled to produce results. The marketing-minded fisherman would tell you to wait for them to tug on your line. The hunter— the proactive, consultative salesperson—would tell you that you should already have called, emailed, texted, connected on LinkedIn, and nurtured the relationship with this prospective client, long before they found themselves in trouble. “When you need a lifeguard,” you should tell them, “I’m your huckleberry.”

Looking for trouble a sales rep woman hero searches for problems to solve

Looking for Trouble

Never let anyone tell you that you should not proactively try to help other people just because they have not reached out to you to ask you for your help. Your role in sales is to be known for the problems you solve, how you think about these problems, and how you help other people solve problems that seem to be intractable. Your proactive approach to meeting the people who you are trying to serve provides them with someone they already know, offering them a chance to avoid the problems you see coming.

Don’t wait until prospective clients happen to come across your website or bump into your promoted post: clickbait rarely hooks clients worth keeping. Most of all, recognize that anyone who would tell you not to proactively create relationships of value not only isn’t qualified to have an opinion, but is so far from having the high ground that they’re practically floating on lava. In all the really important things, especially relationships, being proactive is the best approach.

Do Good Work

  • What problems do you foresee hurting your clients’ business?
  • There are those out there right now starting to drown. What are you going to do to advise them?
  • Are there any ways you can be proactive right now and prevent these problems before they occur?
Sales 2021
Post by Anthony Iannarino on March 6, 2021

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. He is the author of four books on the modern sales approach, one book on sales leadership, and his latest book called The Negativity Fast releases on 10.31.23. Anthony posts daily content here at TheSalesBlog.com.
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