Manage episode 372204294 series 2952524
Recently, I was asked to do a hands-on session regarding post-Covid sales for a group of CEOs. What was interesting to me was the different idiosyncratic approaches many of them had come up with to make sales. It was immediately clear that none of them had ever had any sales training. This meant that they had been relying on trial and error and hope to make sales. Given the amount of information out there for free and the easy access to high-quality sales training, this choice set is a bit puzzling. What was also profound was how they were all so deeply invested in what they have been doing, even though it hasn’t really been having any significant success. I realised that there was an arrogance here about sales, as if it wasn’t an actual professional activity. The sense was that anyone could do it and do it anyway they wanted. One of the leaders mentioned that his technique was to be helpful to the buyer and build up a sense of obligation, so that the buyer would purchase from him. He said he did this in the small talk at the beginning of the meeting, trying to make useful suggestions to the buyer, like which are the great restaurants in Tokyo. I had to restrain myself from bursting out laughing at this suggestion that today’s hard-nosed buyers would be swayed by something that trivial. The problem with this approach is we need to be helpful to the company when they use our solution and that is what will make the buy decision much easier. That buyer sitting in front of us has to sell the idea internally and telling others that he or she had received some genius restaurant recommendations won’t cut much ice with the other decision-makers. Another CEO mentioned that getting referrals was the way to get business. His firm had a method where they would scout out people who knew the buyer and then get that person to recommend them to get a meeting. I asked what happens when you cannot get a referral and he just said in that case they don’t contact the buyer. “Wow, what a self-limiting approach that is”, I thought to myself. What he is really saying is that his company’s salespeople don’t know how to cold call buyers. They also don’t know how to use networking events to meet potential buyers and then follow-up with them. Of course, cold-calling is hard and so is getting appointments with people you exchange business cards with at an event, but that is the bread and butter of the professional salesperson. We cannot be limited to scouring the earth for referrals and ignoring all other possibilities. Salespeople who are professional use all the tools at their disposal and they have a thick hide, so they can deal with rejection, being ghosted and having a low strike rate. They know they have to keep swinging if they want to get any business going. Another CEO complained that he was not having much success in getting business. He had his own company, so he has to be the chief salesperson. What was quite obvious though, was that he had no sales methodology. He would just try something, see it fail and then get frustrated with the buyers and have no clue what to do about it. There is a professional progression on the sales journey with the buyer and all of us have to follow this path, if we want to get revenues rolling in. We need to master the small talk at the beginning to tune into the personality style of the buyer, so that we can adjust our conversation style. We need to get permission to ask questions and then ask well designed questions to fully understand if our solution will be the best fit for the buyer or not. Then we need to present our solution in a way which makes sense to the buyer and becomes the obvious next step. If objections arise, then we don’t argue with the buyer, we ask why that is an issue for them and get more information before we try to deal with the pushback. Finally, we ask for the order and then organise the follow-up. This is hardly a complex process and yes, there are sub-structures we need to master to make it all work. That mastery of the detail is the difference between the professional and the amateur. These CEOs had not framed sales as a profession and so they weren’t aware of the full set of options available. They were scrambling around in the dark trying to chance upon a methodology which would work for them. The obvious step is not to do it that way, but to get training and become a professional. They also clearly had no chance to do role-plays and get feedback and coaching on what they had been doing. Working it out by yourself when the sales profession is so well established is a curious choice from people who are accountable for their organisations. The salesperson in the field is getting this or should be getting this every day and that is how we polish the blade. The gap between the amateur and the professional was revealed yet again.