Sales Has Changed - Have You?

By Nancy Stiver

I am sure you’ve heard expressions like this to describe salespeople: “That person is a born salesperson,” or “They could sell ice to Eskimos.” To me those sayings are what is wrong with sales, and why studies have shown it to be one of the least desirable careers to go into. Daniel Pink, a sales teacher, surveyed 5,000 people, and asked the group to use one word to describe a salesperson. The top word was “pushy,” and fifteen of the top responses were negative and undesirable. He then asked the group to create an image of what a salesperson looked like. The overall response was a male, dressed in a leisure suit, selling a car. During one political contest, there were national ads of a candidate accusing her opponent of being a slick used-car salesman. Unfortunately, that is the image most people have of salespeople. In order to change that stereotypical image of the hard-sell, pushy and manipulative salesperson, the sales strategy must change, or salespeople will starve.

From the early days of civilization, the seller had more information than the buyer did. The sales process has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years. Even in ancient times, when a farmer sold one of his sheep to another farmer, the scale was tipped to the seller’s advantage. This imbalance is called information asymmetry, because a seller has more information about the product or service than the buyer. Unfortunately, there were salespeople who manipulated and misled by omission, or they flat-out lied to the consumer, creating a mistrust of salespeople that has been the norm for centuries.

When I attended college at Miami of Ohio, I worked at a high-end men’s clothing store during winter breaks. There was a situation that deeply affected me. One of our top salesmen was one of those pushy sales guys, caring only about himself and his commissions. One day, an elderly woman entered the store, wanting to buy her son a Christmas gift. He took her to the suit section and pulled an outdated, ridiculously expensive suit off the rack and put it together with a tie and shirt that looked like something mismatched off the sale rack. The woman was confused, and wanted an opinion from someone closer to her son’s age. I was thankful that she approached me and asked for my opinion. I said, “I don’t think it would be something a younger person would like.” She did not buy it and left with nothing. Needless to say, the salesman was furious and started yelling at me. I inquired as to why he showed her that ridiculous ensemble, especially knowing that he had good taste. He told me that it was an old suit and the company had put a very high commission on the item. He continued on, and reminded me that I had just cost him a lot of money from the lost bonus. I said I was sorry, but the woman asked for my opinion and I told her the truth. What I really thought was that he cost our company a lot of money by caring more about himself instead of listening and trying to help the customer. Most states have buyer remorse laws, thereby creating a buyer beware mentality toward sales, but in the past ten years the imbalance of information between the consumer and the seller has changed. The internet has leveled the playing field because the consumer has access to information on services and products. In many cases, the prospect has more information than the seller. This new information parody requires a whole new mindset and process for people thinking about careers in sales. The old-school methods will not work in today’s market.

The new model for a salesperson is authenticity and transparency. The emphasis is on discovery, which means to probe and find out what problems exist that the client is not aware of. If the consumer is aware of the problems, he or she can usually figure out the solutions. In order to get this information, rapport must be created. This is accomplished by asking questions and then listening to the answers for a clear understanding of what the prospect’s needs are. Once the customer has given you all of the information, the next step is for you to be understood by the customer. This is called active listening. It honors the prospect and helps them feel as if the salesperson really cares. This credibility is crucial to deepening the rapport. Without rapport there can be no trust. If there is no trust, there is no sale.

With all the information that the consumer has access to, it is clear that the old-school, pushy, manipulative sales techniques will not work. It is all about relationships, and if you do not take the steps necessary to build a foundation of trust, there will be no relationship. People buy from people they know, like or trust.

If you are struggling in sales or are thinking about a sales career, Lavinia Capital Partners can help. We offer online and in-person courses that will help you build confidence in yourself by teaching you new techniques and skills.

More publications by Nancy Stiver

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