A Salesman for All Seasons
Speaking of Leadership®, Vol. 2, No. 6
As leaders, we are asked to direct, decide, and plan every day. We're also expected to sell. No, we may not be making cold calls and driving across the state making sales calls, but we are constantly selling the current strategy and future ideas of our company. CEOs and presidents are selling to their Boards, important customers, bankers, investors, and employees. Mindful of this perpetual selling process, it's important to understand today's sales challenges—both for the highest-level leaders and the front line salespeople.
Some employees may think of dedicated sales people as a slippery, gregarious group that works to trick a customer into buying something they may not want. Some in the organization may view sales people as “special” employees with large expense accounts—kind of a like rock stars cloaked in suits.
Perhaps some of these descriptions are true. Sales people, CEOs included, often do have large expense accounts and perks. But their job can be an onerous one. They are trying to convince (yes, some might use a word like “trick,” accurate or not) customers that the organization's product or service is worth buying because it solves the customer's problem. From low-level sales associates right to the top, sellers are continually met with rejection and proceed with determination and persistence. Most sales professionals are like you and me, learning all the technical skills of their job and doing the best professional job they can—perhaps with a bigger expense count than we have, but the differences are far fewer than the similarities.
Today, more than ever, a sales presentation is the process of explaining our product or service offering. In this increasingly complex global economy, sales is much like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. There are many pieces to that puzzle; the job of the sales individual is to figure out all the variously shaped pieces and put them together in a coherent fashion. He or she needs to do this in concert with the customer. The number one priority of the good, well-trained sales person is to learn the concerns of the customer—and their pain. If our product or service truly alleviates their pain, then we have a good shot at getting the business.
Long gone are the days when a slick salesperson can rattle off a few benefits and close the deal. Today, there are more individuals involved in the buying decision and the salesperson's ultimate responsibility is to find out as much about the inner workings of the customer as possible. Only with that knowledge are salespeople able to put together a presentation for all seasons—one that satisfies all the constituents' needs. Arguably, the president and CEO must know the most about customer needs as they direct development and sell concepts to customers, investors, and vendors.
As we reassess the characteristics of a successful salesperson, we must recognize the most important skills such individuals should have: asking the right questions, listening to the answers, and disseminating the information and clues that the buyer is communicating. Sales start at the top and filter down. Remember that as leaders, you set the tone for the salespeople in your organization—the people on the front lines of your business. Model the keys to sales success by learning about your customers, educating your customer, and ensuring each sale is a win-win situation—for you and the customer.
Now ask yourself... Am I a Leader?