Can’t sell, won’t sell?
By David Tovey
In many businesses where technical expertise is at the heart of the product or service provided, it is probably fair to say that most people in the business did not set out to be involved in sales or marketing. I’ve had many conversations with technical specialists working in technology, telecoms, law, accountancy, engineering etc. who would never describe themselves as salespeople even though they are tasked with winning business.
But it’s not just about winning business, its about winning the right business, from the right customers at the right price. Those who sell well not only bring in business, it’s the right business won in the right way.
Over the last ten years or so I’ve found that those people with a technical ‘slant’ actually tend to fit into one of four categories:
- Those who sell well – a group whose numbers are increasing
- Those who sell badly – and unfortunately this group is also growing
- Those who can’t sell – or think they can’t
- Those who really don’t want to sell
1. Those who sell well
To discover the people who truly do sell well it’s important not to be focused purely on financial results. Whilst outputs are obviously important, the way in which business is brought in and the activities that lead to the results are equally important. For some, business development success is about being in the right place at the right time. They might have won several major customers or clients but then not formed long term profitable relationships. They might have made promises to win business that can’t be delivered on.
Whilst everyone is different; selling well (principled selling) is not a function of personality it is the result of implementing well defined and replicable business development processes, behaviours and skills. The right role models are those who sell in a principled way, who build trust, demonstrate their ability to really understand their client’s business and deliver on their promises. Their customers were chosen to be the dream clients of the future who profitably buy and re-buy products and services that deliver on promises made. Those who sell well in an organisation should be the role models, coaches and mentors.
2. Those who sell badly
Some managers say that it’s the income generated that indicates how good or bad individuals are at selling. Those who sell badly may bring in turnover along with non profitable customers, those who sell badly might miss out on lots of potentially highly profitable business. What on the surface looks like good results could be masking the real reason behind them. Being in the right place at the right time, being in an active buoyant sector or winning a single order from a customer does not necessarily suggest that those delivering top line financial performance are good role models.
Some in the ‘those who sell badly’ group will feel they are successful and can be resistant to change.
Others may be less successful financially and may come across as defensive – blaming everything and everyone other than themselves for poor performance. There is often resistance to doing things differently from those who see their customers or clients as their own and from those who may feel that their way has always worked in the past. Any coaching or development for those who sell badly needs to be focused on aligning individual goals with the organisations long term goals.
3. Those who can’t sell or think they can’t
I’ve heard it said that there are those born with an ability to sell and those who are not. There are probably some people that you would not want in front of customers and their talents are often best used back at the office!
Some people are condemned as inadequate when it comes to selling because they don’t fit the stereotype of what a good salesperson is like. Some who think they can’t sell believe that there is a correlation between being an extrovert personality, being super social, having the ‘gift of the gab’ and being good at selling. It’s not true but that is what they think and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (the Pygmalion effect).
Limiting our available selling resource to those who do it ‘naturally’ misses out on those who could be very effective if given the right opportunity to develop. When I hear business people say ‘I just can’t go in to a room full of people I’ve never met and engage them in witty banter’ they are probably right. However this doesn’t mean they can’t develop their own professional way of getting into dialogue with prospective customers. Many of those who say they can’t sell are really saying they can’t do it like their extrovert colleagues.
4. Those who don’t want to sell
I meet few people with a huge technical bias or love of what they make for instance, who do what they do in order to become great at sales or marketing. Some see sales as something they really would rather not do. Images of the stereotypical, pushy used car salesperson form in their minds and can strike fear of being unprofessional or tacky. Those who are good at selling know that any kind of pressure selling or ‘trickery’ is likely to be counterproductive and doesn’t work when we want long term relationships with customers who buy and re-buy. People in this group need to be helped to understand two things:
- Selling their products or services is a very professional and principled thing to do
- They do have the ability to sell well
For mangers who want to build a business development culture, it means making selling important across the business and helping every client facing individual understand what good selling looks like.