The first few years of a person’s life have a huge impact on their future. Many of our values, instinctive behaviors, and responses to our environment begin to develop before we are six years old. For example, under pressure, some people “freeze” while others get “hot under the collar.” This dates back to when we were infants and kicked off our blankets in the night. We began to get cold and fearful. Others had experiences where their mothers tucked in the blankets and we were unable to kick them off, resulting in us becoming hot and scared. We have no cognitive skills, so our panic is embedded into our body responses. We’ve all seen others behave in what appears to be “childish” behaviors when they are under pressure.
The first 90 days of a person’s employment with a company is equivalent to their first few years as an infant. Under pressure, we revert back into these early responses to outside stimuli. Surprisingly, most organizations “ease” people into new positions. They give people material to study; send them to seminars, company orientations, and visitations of various departments in the organization. This all seems constructive, but with what result?
When a person receives only classroom training during the first few days of their “life” with the organization they eventually reach a point of stress and revert back to this early behavior. We hear feedback like, “I wish my manager would spend more time with me,” or “We need more training around here,” or “How do they expect me to sell this new line with no training?” To avoid this trap, ask yourself, “What behaviors do we want people to demonstrate when sales are down or we are under pressure?”
As a manager, I developed a training system that produced spectacular results even years later. We want salespeople to prospect for new business when their pipeline shrinks. Therefore, I had new salespeople calling 200 potential clients in their first few days with the company. Of coursed they were unable to sell our products and services at that point, so we had them promote a low-cost preview session. They learned to call a high volume of prospective customers in a short period of time. They asked for money, albeit small amounts. In essence, they began their careers calling potential customers and selling them something from day one. They learned the value of massive action. Several things happened. One salesperson quit before the end of their first week. We uncovered a hiring mistake in less than seven days – a valuable lesson, inexpensively learned.
The remaining salespeople became very good at using the telephone. They also began their “life” with us developing skills that would serve them well when hard-times hit in the future. Months later, these salespeople were producing sales, even in slow periods. They instinctively picked up the phone when the pipeline was light with prospective customers.
Suggested action: Review your on-barding process. Is it designed to entrench behaviors people will require when times are tough or the pipeline is almost empty? If not, well you know what to do.
Well, yes we were all born - but are future salespeople born with natural sales talent?
I asked this question to over 60 Realtors and their answers surprised me. Over 64% of them felt that salespeople were "born." It's as if they felt that you either had sales ability or you didn't. Wow!
In his book, Talent Is Overrated, Geoff Colvin makes a strong case that our culture vastly over-rates the significance of "talent." He goes on to say, ". . . many people not only fail to become outstandingly good at what they do, no matter how many years they spend doing it, they frequently don't even get any better than they were when they started. . . In field after field, when it came to centrally important skills . . . people with lots of experience were no better at their jobs than those with very little experience." Scary thought!
But wait, there’s more …he adds, “Occasionally people actually get worse with experience. More experienced doctors reliably score lower on tests of medical knowledge than do less experienced doctors . . . research confirms that merely putting in the years isn’t much help to someone who wants to be a great performer.” Whoa!
A hall-of-fame Canadian football player told me, "Don't let comments about 'natural' talent fool you. When a player weighs over 260 pounds and is coming after you, the natural reaction is not to block and tackle. It takes hours, months, years of practice to instictively react in productive ways."
So what’s an ambitious salesperson to do? After 37 years of making sales calls and coaching others to high-performance, here’s what I see.
Techniques of selling can be learned, but we cannot teach others to want to sell. People have aspirations that are inexplicable to others. Why some people get a “charge” out of creating sales from nothing is a true mystery. But it’s visibly evident.
Selling is as much an art as a science. As a matter of fact, an overly granular approach to sales may be counter-productive. That said, I’m amazed at most salespeople’s lack of fundamental knowledge of their craft.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Well yes, but in the words of Charles “T” Jones, “You can put salt in his oats and make him thirsty.” Within minutes, I can tell if a person is truly interested in elevating their competencies or simply looking for “tips and tricks” to part people from their money. Frankly, I find the former much more challenging and rewarding than the latter.
Selling is less about “gift of gab” and more about listening and connecting. When a prospective customers says to themselves, “He gets my situation and he gets me (how I think - what’s important to me..”), then we’ve done our job well.
Selling is more about finding a fit between what we offer and what a prospect wants and needs and is less about pitching a canned “solution” or spouting generic features and benefits.
Going back to our headline – we’re actually born selfish and narcissistic. If we weren’t we’d probably die. Babies seem oblivious to anything but being hungry, smelly, or wet. However, once we reach 2 or 3, it’s time to reach out and interact with others. After 19 or 20 years it’s probably a good idea to get over ourselves and try to do what Dale Carnegie suggested, “Become genuinely interested in other people.”
Who can resist a smile like this one?
“Become genuinely interested in other people” is easy to say, and most of us probably think we are that way. Over the years, I’ve been more manipulative and shallow than I’d be willing to admit at 25. Life is more fun, for me, when I challenge myself to be more skilled than yesterday and find opportunities to practice my craft. Selling is, to me, a profession requiring skills, knowledge and a healthy dose of self-awareness.
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“In every sale you are dealing with people. Fundamentally, they all buy the same things, for the same reasons, and in the same way, regardless of whether they are buying automobiles, clothing, or soft-drinks. When you know the what, why, and how of buying, you will be able to help your prospects buy, which is the easy way to sell!
The four buying motives on which all buying is based are as follows:
1. Gain and protection
3. Comfort and convenience
4. Satisfaction of pride
While all four of the buying motives influence the sale of all products and services, all prospects do not buy for the same reason. . . . A good salesperson in my opinion has to study buymanship just as much as salesmanship. After all, a salesperson who knows what prospects buy, why they buy, and how they buy, can sell and serve them better than a salesperson who just understands their product and has a good sales talk." *
The reason most prospects object or throw up a self-defense of sales resistance is because they want more information. When they say "No," they often mean "I don't know." So tell them more.”
These quotations came from a sales manual written for salespeople in 1946, the year I was born. Of course selling has changed since then. We have the internet, global competition, many more choices, and sophisticated buyers and sellers. However, we are still selling to people.
In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, solid principles of selling and persuasion are still required. Dale Carnegie's advice, "Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view" is still ignored by the vast majority of today's product-peddling salespeople. A few, very few, highly principled and practiced salespeople connect with prospects every day and sincerely help them buy. We all feel lucky when we find such a salesperson. They are rare.
Selling skills are learned. According to Canadian Author Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of focused-practice to master a skill. Over the years I've been privileged to work with rare salespeople willing to do what it takes to genuinely help their prospects make the best buying decision.
I'm thankful for that, and continue to seek out salespeople willing to go that extra mile.
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