People don’t like to be sold but they love to buy.  —Jeffrey Gitomer

T he nature of my relationship with sales people shifted the day my title changed from Sales Rep to CEO. The “hunter” became the “hunted.” In my new role, I gained an entirely new perspective on sales people and the selling process. It is curious because I’ve spent my entire career “selling.” I use the term loosely. More specifically, I’ve spent my entire career earning a living based on what people buy from me. We’ll return to this line of thinking in a moment.

We recently received a request from a medical professional indicating an interest in our services.  In her note, she indicated specifically what she wanted and how she wanted to proceed. In closing, she asked to be contacted by a person on our executive team and “not a sales person.” Her note made me smile; I truly appreciated her candor. Her note also made me frown because it indicated that she has had many experiences with “sales professionals” who provided little or no value; or worse, wasted her time. I understand exactly how she feels.

Wasting Time

Last week, one of our team members pulled me into a discussion with a vendor. He had previously met with them and was expecting to receive a presentation on recommendations and costs. Apparently, my presence changed the game – I knew from the first handshake where things were going. The insincere attempts to build rapport: “I see you’re a Butler Bulldog. Where did you go to high school?” The cheesy sales shtick when asked about the experience of his firm: “We’ve done this once or twice” complete with big cheesy smile. Then, the pitch: “We also offer…” followed with the machine gun listing of other products/services that were beyond what we had asked them to quote. That day, we received no pricing, proposal, or valuable input. However, we did receive a blaring sales pitch and the feeling that the meeting had been a waste of time.

In his book, Zero to One, Peter Thiel talks about the importance of sales to the growth of any organization. In particular, he talks about Masters and Grand Masters of the sales process – individuals who are effective at “selling” because it happens organically, fluidly. Their selling skills are hiding in plain sight, you don’t even notice. Is it because they are sneaky, shadowy manipulators? This is where Jeffery Gitomer’s quotation above comes into to play. Master sales people aren’t successful because they are artful manipulators, they are successful because they help people get what they want. Great sales is not about convincing someone to buy your product, it’s about helping them understand how your product can solve their problem. It is also about being honest with them when it can’t.

Earning a living in “sales” is to help people find what they want or need. We’re jaded against sales people because most of them are trying to convince us and we sense the manipulation. What do you know about my problem or objective? Most excel at machine gunning us with their services but are poor at building trust through seeking to understand. Many are aggressively trying to close while we are still discerning the fit and value of the options before us. Master sales people help us get what we want while helping us feel good about the process. We all understand the sensation of not feeling good about the process.

LinkedIn

For the sales profession, LinkedIn has become a great tool for finding decision makers. For decision makers, LinkedIn has put a target on your back like never before.  Most of the requests I receive to connect are from sales people. I try to remain open to new connections but it becomes difficult not to be jaded by the standard process. It goes something like this:

  1. Connection request hits my inbox.
  2. I accept.
  3. 60 seconds later, the message arrives asking for a phone call or meeting to “explore opportunities,” “identify ways I can help you,” “discuss collaboration,” or my new favorite “learn more about your role as CEO.”

These follow up messages are the equivalent to the poor attempt to build rapport mentioned earlier in the post. They are clumsy, ineffective, and tedious. “Then why did you accept the invitation” some might ask. Guess what? My acceptance of an invitation to connect is not an open request to be “sold.” I accept connection requests because it broadens my network. I accept requests because it introduces me to new people. I accept connection requests because I’m interested and curious. I accept connection requests because I like to help people. And yes, sometimes I accept connection requests because I’m looking to buy. How is one to know the reason? Time is the only way.

We’re All Selling

I’ve been selling stuff since going door-to-door in 3rd grade selling candles trying to win some contest from the back of a comic book. The reality is that we are all selling every day. We sell ideas. We sell ourselves. We sell products or services. Everyone sells. Those who want to make a living by “selling,” need to develop their skills and become a Master. That means finding ways to add value. Finding ways to help people. Finding ways to not be the typical sales person. It is actually very simple. Bring value. Build trust.  You bring value by solving a problem or helping someone get what they want/need. You build trust by being honest over time.

Ultimately, sales is about relationships. The best way to build a relationship is to follow the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. A transaction mentality is not going to help you build a relationship. Most of the best deals I ever “closed” happened months or years after making an initial connection. Guess what? I didn’t “close” them. The best deals are almost always the result of something you build hand-in-hand with your customer or  client. The best “close” is the one that you closed together.