At it’s simplest, “selling” is the offer to provide something (product or service) in exchange for something else (usually money). It is a marvelous human invention; I’m pretty sure there are no other species that engage in selling. This phenomenon allows us to cooperate and collaborate on everything from life-sustaining food and shelter, to luxury items and entertainment.
The problem with selling is that in the past few decades, selling has evolved into a paradigm whereby sellers are trained to manipulate prospects into buying, and to “win at all costs.” Buyers are not unaware of this selling approach. So they construct protective force fields against be sold to. Think about walking into a department store. A sales clerk offers a cheerful, “May I help you?” What is your most likely response?
“No thanks. Just looking.”
Why do most buyers reject “help” from the sales person? It is because we’re afraid we will be “forced” to buy more than we want to spend on things we don’t really want or need. On some level we understand that the sales person’s agenda is to sell more. They often get commissions, so we are simply a means to getting them more money. At least, that’s the prevailing perception.
Sales people know that they are regarded with suspicion or even contempt by the buying public. I know many sales people who, when introducing themselves at social functions, describe their work as marketing, business development, or account management. Some might say they are a company representative. While all of these may be the titles on their business cards, the point is that they don’t want to advertise that they sell for a living. They know that many people conjure up unfavorable associations with selling.
The dark under-belly of traditional selling is in how it has been made into a contest or competition. This aspect is best revealed in the phase of the selling process called “overcoming objections,” which usually occurs near the end of the selling process.
To back up a bit: in the early stages of the selling process time has been spent building personal rapport and learning the prospect’s needs. Then the sales rep makes a presentation that explains how they would solve the problem, and why they are the best choice. At the end of the presentation, the sales rep asks the prospect for concerns or objections.
The message that is explicit or implicit in sales training about handling objections is that a strong sales rep will satisfactorily refute every objection that is raised. If the client says, “Too expensive,” the rep is taught to speak of quality, value, superior features, etc. If the prospect says they are satisfied with the current provider, the sales rep might trot out unfavorable media coverage of the competition, or otherwise sow seeds of doubt. If the prospect seems to resist investing in new technology, the sales rep might insinuate that the most progressive companies are embracing the newer technologies. In other words, for every objection a sales rep is taught to say something that will convince the prospect that they are wrong, misguided, misinformed or irresponsible.
It is this part of the traditional selling process that is competitive, and sometimes even combative where the sales rep is pitted against the prospect. Of course, it’s not a fair contest. The prospect is both a player and a judge in the contest. At any point, they can say, “No thanks.” Which makes the sales rep the loser. On the other hand, if the sales rep “wins” the new account and successfully closes the deal, it only stands to reason that the “loser” is the new customer.
There must be a better way…
compelling challenge. Frankly, I view customer service as the ultimate means of selling. If you serve your customer well, demonstrate empathy and attention to his/her needs (not your own, ie sales quota) then customers will work with you. Customer want to be served, not sold to.
Yes! I think of Selling as Customer Service BEFORE the sale.
Buying and selling doesn’t have to be a zero sum game of winners and losers (but it’s often perceived that way). One behavior I’ve observed which reinforces the image of “the dark side of selling,” as you call i,t is not enough listening. Most salespeople, (myself included), have a difficult time of pausing their talk track to ask questions. And even the sales people who do ask questions tend to ask self-focused questions rather than other-focused questions. Sales people who develop habits to overcome this pattern can become amazingly successful, in my experience.
Andrew – I completely agree that listening is a key to changing the paradigm. And I like your distinction of listening for self-interest vs. interest in the other.