Oops! I’m in sales – but don’t think the worst of me

Oops! I’m in sales - but don't think the worst of me

Barrett’s Sales Trend 10 for 2015 is ‘Oops! I’m in sales’.

The general stereotypical view of selling and salespeople has remained relatively stable over the past 50 or so years, with the most commonly associated words and concepts being fairly specific (i.e. ‘used car salesman’) and/or negative (i.e. ‘pushy’, ‘sleazy’, ‘dishonest’).

Even by people working in the sales profession, these schemas are often what they refer to when asked to describe sales. However, very slowly, this is starting to change.

Many companies and salespeople are actively trying to change these stereotypes by promoting more positive behaviours and images of selling. Whilst some of the activities, attitudes and behaviours these companies promote are to be encouraged (such as empathy, listening skills, approachability), the manner in which they are promoted is generally inadequate. Much of the information provided by these companies reads too much like a “shopping list” of things that salespeople need to do to make a sale.


Was I friendly?—check
Did I inject humour into the sale?—check
Did I have the right body language?—check
Was I dressed appropriately?—check
Was I confident?—check
Am I driven?—check
Did I communicate well?—check
Did I listen to the prospect?—check
Well I’ve done everything on the list, so this must be a guaranteed sale!

It is important information, but not necessarily something you can learn from a list or blog about ‘improving your attitude’.

Most salespeople don’t think in terms of ‘lists’. All they know is that they want to connect with and understand their prospects. It’s a simple as that. Irrespective of whether or not they have received any training or support in this area, effective salespeople are making this transition on their own. They are focusing more on building relationships and connections with their prospects than only on obtaining a sale. They aren’t worrying about whether they have done everything on their ‘attitude list’; they are just listening to their clients and making a connection.

In our digital world, there are less and less formal face-to-face personal connections than ever, and almost as a response to that, people are starting to form connections wherever they can — including within sales conversations.

There’s no formal expectation from prospects (particularly in retail) that a salesperson will try to make a connection with them, rather, it’s something that is happening without anyone necessarily being aware of it. More people in sales and other client-facing roles (whether they realise it or not) are starting to connect with their clients more and more often, to find out their problems, sort through information, and to work out how they can help.

Even if the interaction doesn’t change the outcome of the sale, it does leave an impression, (both on the prospect and on anyone who witnesses the exchange) which can have a number of unintended positive outcomes:

  1. People are more likely to tell others about these experiences; effectively referring new prospects.
  2. People are more likely to return. Whether or not they made a purchase at the time, the salesperson often becomes a ‘first point of contact’ for future sales.
  3. People pass on the positive experiences in other ways.

Whether it’s a routine sale, a complaint, a special item, an enquiry, or even a service call, these connections stand out. Here a few recent examples from our own experiences of salespeople who built effective connections:

  1. Sales—the salesperson in this instance took the time to build a connection with over two days of shopping. She questioned and listened to not only find out the client’s preferred price, style and colour, but also what event the item was for, what the dress needed to accentuate or hide, what accessories would be worn, whether it was an outdoor or indoor event, and what weather was expected. Based on this information, she provided a number of suitable alternatives within budget, even steering the client away from more expensive items that did not suit her frame.
  2. Complaints—the salesperson in this instance was confronted with a customer who had a compliant, and wanted to cancel his contract. The salesperson took the time to listen to the customer and asked about their concerns. He asked questions to help him understand not just the surface problem, but also the underlying issues and concerns, and how these problems were negatively impacting on the customer. He asked about what the client needed and what was important to him, then offered a range of viable solutions to fix the immediate problem and meet the client’s needs on an ongoing basis.
  3. Services—the connection in this instance was made with a doctor. The doctor was not looking for a ‘sale’ or a ‘new patient’ in particular, but was interested in making a connection with her patient. She didn’t just find out the problem and offer a solution, but involved her patient in the process. She provided clear information, checked for understanding, and ensured that the patient understood when and why she wasn’t sure of a prognosis.

In each of these instances, the person focused more on building a connection and finding out what was important to the client than on making a ‘sale’ necessarily. In each instance, they indicated what they could do to help, as well as what they were unable to assist with. Clients don’t always expect salespeople and others in client contact roles to be ‘happy’ or ‘humorous’ or ‘have the right body language’, nor do they think these people will get it right every time. However, they do appreciate someone taking the time to understand them, whatever the outcome.

These personal connections are very important, and will continue to grow in importance as almost all other aspects of the sales process become Virtual.

What we are going to see in the near future is that more and more people in sales and other client contact roles —regardless of what they call themselves—will become aware of what they do.

They’ll realise (or someone will bring it to their attention) that what gets them the sale and repeat business is the time and attention they take to listen to people, ask questions, and think, elaborate and deliver a solution that matches their clients’ needs.

They do so with kindness and in a positive manner and clients leave them feeling better, happier and with the intention of returning.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is the founder and CEO of the innovative and forward-thinking sales advisory and education firm, Barrett and the online sales education & resource platform www.salesessentials.com.

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