Yes. You Have to Sound Like a Salesperson.
“I don’t want to come across as selling.”
“I don’t want to be perceived as being a salesperson.”
“I don’t want to sound sales-y.”
These three comments trouble me. Deeply. They are all real, and I encountered all of them in the last week. They represent three major problems in sales today: poor hiring, poor language choices, and self-loathing.
But before we tackle these, a little setup. Whenever I hear these comments, they are always in regard to asking the prospect excellent (but difficult) questions or asking for a commitment to advance the sale.
Asking Difficult Questions
It is irresponsible not to ask the prospect the difficult questions that allow you to create value for them. People do not buy unless they are in some way dissatisfied, and it is critical that we as salespeople understand the implications of their problems and their needs. It is also important that they also understand the implications.
Discussing the implications does create a motivation to change them. Yes, that is, in part, why we ask them.
Do you sound like a salesperson when you ask the question: “How much does this problem cost you and your company?” Perhaps. But it may be an essential question in building a case and an ROI analysis.
Asking for Commitments
It is irresponsible to both the prospect and your company not to ask for commitments. This one came up in a discussion on cold calling last week, and surprisingly, it came from a very high level salesperson.
This VP of Sales suggested that cold calling would make the prospect perceive her as a salesperson and not as a trusted adviser (even though I am pretty sure that game was lost when she printed the title Vice President of Sales on her business card).
She suggested that instead of picking up the phone and calling her best prospects, she waits for a signal from the prospect (something I hope she doesn’t recommend to her staff).
Waiting is not a sales activity.
These three comments at the beginning of this post can be boiled down to these three problems.
In some cases, the inability to ask the tough, value-creating questions and to ask for commitments is simply caused by poor hiring decisions. Some people find these activities very difficult because of their own personal temperaments. Even with a great product or service and great training, they simply lack the confidence.
Simply put, they don’t belong in sales. You always know this is true when their next job is not in sales.
Poor Language Choices
Sometimes this problem is simply a training issue. Sometimes the salesperson has the confidence, they just don’t have a range of language choices that allow them feel confident asking tough questions or obtaining commitments. There are countless choices one can make when it comes to language.
You will not only sound like a salesperson, you will sound like an awful salesperson from 40 years ago if your commitment obtaining repertoire consists of things like the either/or close (“Which would work better, Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning?”) or the T close (“Let’s draw a line down the middle of page and put advantages of buying on one side and disadvantages on the other. This is how Ben Franklin . . . .”)
My VP of Sales above falls into this category. She knows how to help her customers, but she simply lacks the right language choices for someone with her title. She doesn’t want her language choices to come from a yellow-covered “For Dummies” book.
For a long time, sales did very little to create value for prospects and customers. Their role was to sell their product or services without regard for whether or not it was the best choice for the customer.
This stopped being true decades ago, and most salespeople today wouldn’t dream of using the tactics of yesterday. Why then the self-loathing? Why not be proud to work in sales? I would suggest that if sales has a negative connotation to you, then you lack the ability to create value for your clients. You have a perceptions of sales that no longer matches reality. Are their a few shameless people in sales left in a few industries? Sure. But those behaviors are mostly a thing of the past.
It is time to stop paying for the sins of our fathers. There are very few salespeople today who behave like salespeople behaved in the past. Today, salespeople are smart, business-savvy professionals who have every bit as much professionalism as someone who works in any other business role, and in some cases far more.
Yes, you have to sound like a salesperson. But you don’t have to sound like a salesperson from the early 1960’s.
What does a salesperson sound like? Great salespeople sound like great leaders of teams, great business strategists, great financial officers, and great managers.
The role of sales has changed so dramatically in the past 40 years that salespeople are now the chief value creators for their companies and their client’s companies. There is no longer any reason for salespeople to pretend otherwise.
Let’s let the financial markets carry the negative stigma for awhile.
1. What do your language choices say about you as a professional salesperson?
2. If you are uncomfortable asking for commitments, is it because you lack the right language choices? Or is it something else?
3. What does being a professional salesperson mean to you?
4. Can you think of an industry whose salespeople have not changed with the times? How much are your sales tactics and language choices really like theirs? Do you believe that either you could cross over to their world or they to yours?
By the way, would you like this blog in blue? Or would red be better?
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Read my interview on business relationships by Joe Sperry at S4 Consulting.