In the old days, it was assumed that the customer would have a lot of time to talk to you and be happy to see you, the salesperson. This is not the case now. “Anyone who has got time to talk to you isn’t worth talking to,” says Neil Rackham, author o
f “Rethinking the Sales Force” and recent guest on Expert Access Radio. “Those who you need to talk to are pushed for time, and they don’t want to see salespeople.” So what do you do to get around that? Neil shared his insights with Expert Access on selling today and how to be a better salesperson.
“Selling” Is No Longer Defined
Selling is defined as engaging in the act of exchanging ownership for money or its equal, but as a salesperson, this is not all that you do. “The word ‘selling’ is such a misleading idea,” says Rackham. The word “selling” is used to cover everything from the traditional sort of “song and dance” that goes on with used-car salespeople to the complex systems of the kind that Cincom sells, to help salespeople through their sales process. “The word ‘selling’ spans such a wide spectrum of things that it hasn’t got much meaning,” said Rackham, “yet we still continue to use it.”
“The skills you need in a large sale are totally different from the skills you need in a small sale,” says Rackham. In small sales, everything of importance happens during a meeting with the customer. In a larger, complex sale, which may consist of many meetings, all of the important things usually happen when the salesperson is not there. It’s a different kind of psychology. You have to leave the ideas behind that will continue to influence and impact that customer, and if the salesperson can’t do that, the customer doesn’t remember and doesn’t get impacted.
Rackham gives this example:
Enthusiasm is crucial for sales. It is widely believed that if you are enthusiastic and believe in your product, you will make a lot of sales. There is a strong relationship between enthusiasm and sales success in small sales. People like to buy from people who believe in what they are doing. The same relationship is not as true when the sale gets larger because the enthusiastic person is often spending a lot of time concentrating on the product and how great it is. Then the enthusiasm evaporates after the salesperson has gone. You can’t leave enthusiasm. People who are successful in larger, complex sales are more likely to ask good questions because the customer continues to think about those questions after the salesperson is gone. That can leave a lasting effect on the psychology of the customer. This is just one example of the critical thinking skills and communication skills that are all part of a good, well-rounded salesperson.
Cold Selling Has Evolved
The cold selling of 10 years ago is completely different from what we would call selling today. First, the internet of course changes almost everything. According to Rackham, the average customer today has 20 times as much information about the salesperson’s products and competitor’s products than they did just five years ago. “That changes the job of selling,” says Rackham. “It used to be that the job of selling was to explain what a great mousetrap your company has made, but today’s customer already knows that. The old notion of talking about the features and functions of a product has gone by the wayside because people are already equipped with that knowledge.”
Customers will often know much more than the salesperson, not just in the business-to-business world, but also in the business-to-consumer world as well. People go into a store and often know what they’re looking for with great precision. They are more knowledgeable about it. In fact, the best way for a salesperson to learn about something in the store is to ask the customers.
It is common that companies often promote their best salesperson. With that promotion, they lose twice. “They lose their best seller, and they often get a sales manager that is unprepared to lead and manage,” says Rackham. Sales management is the secret of success because sales managers are able to invoke change, but organizations have designed their compensation very badly. “I’ve seen over and over again really good salespeople who never wanted to be a manager, but they have no choice,” says Rackham. “If they want to advance and get phenomenally better compensation, you move into sales management.” This should not be the case. To move into sales management, there should be a cut in compensation of 10 percent or 15 percent.
Needed: Sales Programs
Very few universities are offering sales programs. Sales has changed such that it has impacted the real world, but it has not changed the college campus. “The challenge as a professor teaching professional selling is to create a culture on campus that values professional selling from the student perspective,” says Rackham. “So many students don’t want to go into sales, but statistically more than half of those students at some point in their business career will go into sales. If you look across North America and Europe, there are 70 marketing programs for every one sales program. You would think that because of that ratio there would be 70 marketing positions to every one sales position. That is not the case; in fact, it is the exact opposite. The reasoning? Because marketing is respectable. We know how to teach it. It has also become that way because they only recently arrived at a level of sophistication and people still have an image of selling and sales lagging 15 or 20 years behind the reality.”
While there have been dramatic changes in the way companies sell, it’s not the change that makes for better salespeople. “It is the initiative that we take to change ourselves that makes us better salespeople,” says Rackham. “The first step is changing our mindset and habits that will grow our skills and in the end, profits.”
LISTEN to the complete interview with Neil Rackham on Expert Access Radio.
For more information, go to Neil Rackham’s website.