The sales profession as we know it
The man or woman with the silver tongue, the gift of gab – all of us are familiar with the type. The person who can have anyone eating out of his or her hand: they could sell a bicycle to a fish. They typically have friends in every corner, because everyone wants to do them a favour. Salespeople – especially the successful ones – often have a kind of ‘wizardry’ ascribed to them. They can open wallets no mere mortal can touch. They’re looked at with admiration, on the one hand, but also a bit askance. After all, someone who manages to sell you a thing you don’t feel you need can also be viewed as pushy, dishonest, and unethical. You might be familiar with depictions in films (and TV) like Glengarry Glen Ross, Boiler Room, Mad Men and The Wolf of Wall Street, which emphasise the negative aspect? And yet…sales is an absolutely essential part of doing business. Because no matter how brilliant your idea or product is, without sales you’ll never send a single invoice.
Do you recognise yourself in one of these three profiles? If so, sales is your thing, too!
1. Service providers – What I have learned from experts in the field, professional services providers, and advisers is that they are eager to open a dialogue with clients. And they retain that enthusiasm, so that they always know what’s going on with each of their clients. This enables them to respond with relevant knowledge and special offers on their part. Getting a foot in the door, in these case, often comes down to having a network or a strong brand. But how do you do that, without being too insistent? Without pushing your advice on anyone? And how can you make sure your client comes back for more? The time in which it was safe to assume that consumers would buy from strong brands appears to be over. Building and maintaining relationships without pushing is the ticket, as clients are more apt to stray to a competitor.
2. Product heroes – Until recently, it was enough for engineers and technical specialists to simply ‘be good at’ technology and pitching a particular innovation. That was all it took to generate revenue. But what do you do in a market where innovation continues to accelerate because the clients themselves are working harder to offer distinctive value? Traditional ‘product heroes’ such as Microsoft and Siemens are radically changing tack in order to stay fast and first in the market. They want to understand the markets their clients are moving in. Organising themselves into sectors or ‘verticals’, they are no longer pushing innovation on consumers, but rather listening to the client. Which begs the questions: How do you do that? And with whom? Do I dare ask questions about the client’s motivations if that’s not in my area of expertise? And: How do I take input from the client and turn it into a sales interview that generates business?
3. Uppers – Are you all about the start-up? Scale-up? Looking to create something that changes the world? That’s fantastic! Except: assuming the world is in need of your help is a bit presumptuous. No matter how great your idea is, or how big the marketing push to announce your existence to the world, it still comes down to turning browsers into buyers, and buyers into repeat customers. Especially in B2B, if you don’t have a proposition to offer the client that is immediately understandable – ‘bite-sized’ – and gives a demonstrable solution to a problem, you’re done for. Anyone who says they have a ‘winning product’ rather than an individual proposition is sitting on a time bomb for their investors.
Good news: sales is open to everyone Do you fall into one of the three categories described above? If so, you can succeed in sales. Because your clients will be strongly attracted to your expertise and passion. The only question in their minds will be if you understand what drives them. If you can maintain a clear view of that at all times. And if you
can present a solution that’s simple, recognisable and relevant to their interests. If you can do this, they will be eager to stay in touch with you – to ask new questions and see what new things you can teach them. At that point, it no longer matters if it’s called sales or marketing. And like all successful relationships, this one will require ongoing attention, genuine interest, adjustment and action. People will continue to buy from other people. That much will never change.
Frits Willem Bakker