Friday, June 30, 2006

Noble Sales and Ignoble Sales

It has been a weak of business development and pitching which has mean that the server has been feeling a little bit neglected, and I can hopefully put that right today at some point.

On another note though I saw over on Seth Godin's blog this post.

Now I've worked at the sharp end of sales, at the marketing coalface and even on the production room floor so I do feel qualified in commenting on this.

The problem is that sales isn't a bad thing, it is just all too often done badly by people who have no real bond to the company or the services beyond their commission cheque each month and even less regard for their clients and customers. I have seen it all too often and frankly I despise that kind of sales person with the kind of passion I usually reserve for traffic wardens, and London Transport.

The reason for this is because I think the real skill of selling is not winning the first order, but to keep my own phone ringing from existing customers so that I get the second, third fourth etc sale with little or no extra effort, and to my mind the only way to achieve that is by listening to what clients want and delivering that within a fair budget. All too often I’ve heard comments like “No matter what the customers problem, the answer is rip it out and put in new stuff” or “I’m a firm believer that you can sell any rubbish just as long as you tart it up enough”.

Now of course there are some environments where this kind of sale is probably desirable. These usually result in a single sale transaction between the customer and the supplier and the sales person is likely to be working somewhere else by the time that the customer needs to purchase again. In this model, the Car salesman, the insurance salesman, the ad space salesman, the door to door salesman and the estate agent are born. It’s easy to see why the caricatures of these people is so negative, but sadly its true that if the customer feels ripped off there is usually nothing that can be done about it and so these sales professionals are already looking for their next prospect.

All of these however are focussed on that single transaction for a product that has a long ownership life. It all goes out of the door when you are selling a service. For a start you don’t have those neat little crib sheets anymore showing you the advantages over competitors because there is no finely crafted product, there is only your own ability to listen and help the client define their needs and then come back with a solution that meets it. This is the truly great skill of selling, and it requires real knowledge both of the clients situation and of their business needs. So your not selling a vase anymore you are hearing about your client’s need to create a pleasing environment and then getting designs created to demonstrate the clients perfect idea of what a vase should be. This is when it gets tricky, because you not only have to get into the clients head of what they want but also be eloquent enough to describe it adequately in order for the client to give you the order.

Of course you could go and get it made for them but then you are incurring costs and if a particular vase costs thousands and thousands to make then you have to be careful about that. Similarly you have to have knowledge of the vase making process, how long it takes, where to source materials, the availability of a potter, and a painter who work and are experienced in the particular techniques required to make this particular vase for the client. All too often sales people assume that one is exactly like the other and carry on regardless.

This leads to setting the client’s expectation of prices and promises made on delivery timescales. If you are not sure of the answer, either find out or take someone with you who is sure!

For some reason though when the sales person comes back and talks about this great new deal they have signed it is always someone else’s problem to fix these misconceptions and inaccuracies, and because money is now at stake, the salesperson sides with the client with the result that either a sub standard service is offered by cutting costs or the company takes a swan dive on the margins. Oh and god help anyone in production who cannot stick to unrealistic deadlines which were promised to the client without anyone else’s agreement or consultation.

This is sales done badly

Sales done well is so very different. In that model records are kept of every conversation and these are open to anyone in order to follow the thought process of how the project came about. The sales person is either a senior production person who has swapped across to handle sales (and gained the additional skills to do so) or they are accompanied by a competent production person who understands the complexities of the tasks required.

The price and deadlines are set in consultation and based on full disclosure of the jobs scope. Sales and production are therefore working together for the benefit of the client and the client has an expectation set in keeping with the actual scope of the project. Now to me this is noble sales, and professional sales and it is undertaken by a professional who not only enjoys the thrill of the chase and the excitement of the kill, but someone who also loves their industry, is knowledgeable and who has respect for their clients. In short this is a salesman whose job is to make sure that their phone is constantly ringing with clients asking for repeat business. Anything marketing does on top is naturally a bonus. Oh and in that model it’s not just the sales person who can be asked when the project will close, it’s the client, because it is in their interests as well to get this moving. The day when that kind of salesperson can be replaced by anything mechanised is a few generations away yet.

The other kind of sales person probably should be replaced by website and as soon as possible.

Edit : It seems as though Michael thinks along the same lines as me

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12 Comments:

At 9:41 pm, Blogger Michael said...

Aaron, this definitely does resonate with me and goes along the line of changing your mindset when you sell. That is, try being your customer's partner rather than vending machine. I think that mindset pays off over time and gives you an edge selling to that customer over the long haul, even when they change place of employment.

Thanks for stopping by and reading, and thanks for the link. BTW, was that an intentional pun with which you started the post -- "It has been a weak of business development and pitching..." :)

 
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