In the 20th century, the emphasis on B2B selling had a distinct aggressive ring to it. So much so, that you could walk down the halls of many businesses and think that you were involved in big game hunting. Many of these teams saw selling as an extreme sport, or more precisely, as big game fishing or hunting.
Customers were ‘targets’.
Getting a sale was referred to as ‘the kill’.
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Customers were regarded as objects to be possessed or trophies to be placed in their cabinet; to be shown off and admired (perversely so) like stuffed animal heads on the wall.
Little regard was really paid to building genuine relationships and developing real value. It was in essences an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ approach. And if you tried to develop deeper relationships it was seen as wimpy and soft.
For instance, I can recall hearing of the death of one of my long-standing clients, who died tragically in a plane crash when I was working as a recruiter many years ago. Upon hearing the news I found myself crying quietly at my desk at the loss of this lovely man. A few minutes later one of our senior managers found me and asked me why I was crying, and when I told him why, he just said “Get over it, it’s only a client”. Extreme, I know. However, I have overheard many salespeople speak about their clients in disparaging and disrespectful ways, with little regard for the value of genuine relationships built on trust and transparency.
So why title this post as the yin yang of selling? Yin yang are complementary opposites that interact within a greater whole, as part of a dynamic system. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, but either of these aspects may manifest more strongly in particular objects, and may ebb or flow over time. There is a perception (especially in the West) that yin and yang correspond to good and evil (not respectively). However, Taoist philosophy generally discounts good/bad distinctions and other dichotomous moral judgments, in preference to the idea of balance.
I propose that the profession of selling has been out of balance for some time and to its detriment. If we look at how selling has been evolving over the last 50 years, we can see a distinct shift occurring from the aggressive one-sided approach where conquest was king (too much yang) to a more delicate balance between the masculine and feminine aspects of yin yang.
It cannot be denied that selling requires yang – a proactive, focused, go-out-into-the-world and find opportunity approach (prospecting). However, selling must now be balanced with the ability to genuinely listen and respond to the subtleties of more complex relationships which involves patience, nurturing, and dealing with ambiguity which is yin. Think of the types of conversations you now need to have with your prospective customers where listening, questioning, resolving problems, collaboration, empathy and understanding are encouraged.
This is not just a fantasy. In reviewing the latest research on elite sale performers, gender differences in sales capabilities were found; women rated significantly higher than men on five of the seven emerging competencies which gave them a distinct advantage in selling. Some of these capabilities included:
- listening beyond the product needs;
- engaging in self-appraisal and continuous learning;
- orchestrating internal resources;
- aligning customer/supplier strategic objectives; and
- establishing a vision of a committed customer.
These capabilities are in the realm of yin. May I suggest that we encourage more yin and yang to assist us on our sales journey and encourage more success.
Remember, everybody lives by selling something.
This article was first published on December 13, 2010.
Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations. Visit www.barrett.com.au