Sales Is Not a Four Letter Word

Many years ago when I first started teaching sales in my seminars and workshops, I got the idea to have some of my long-term clients do an in-person survey. Their assignment was to go to a public place like a mall or busy street with a clipboard in their hands and to walk up to people and ask them if they would mind answering one question for a business survey. The question was, “When I say the word salesperson – what words come to mind?”Bigstockphoto_sales_people_446775_2

Now this wasn’t an original idea of mine. Legend has it that it had been done years before by what was then called The New York Sales & Marketing Executive Association. The point of the survey was to make salespeople aware they had an image problem because most of the responses were derogatory. Responses would be words like pushy, car sales, disinterested, not genuine, interested in one thing – themselves, and worse. There were some positive response but the overwhelming majority was negative.

This was meant to be a wake-up call for my clients and from there we’d start talking about focusing on providing value for the client and how to provide it. I would teach them about how to establish relationships and the value of knowing what questions to ask.

That was back in the eighties. What about now? Has the perception of salespeople changed for the better – or has it gotten worse? I suspect that if we did the same survey today, we’d get about the same results. What does that mean for you if you are a salesperson? The good news is it isn’t going to take much to separate yourself from the herd. This is a great opportunity for you if you know how (or learn how) to focus on providing value for your customers. And, by value, I mean what the customer values – not what you value. It’s been this way since the beginning of time when someone made the very first sale.

Why the poor perception of salespeople and why do so many of them fail? Why do so many new businesses fail? I think fear is the number one reason. Fear of failure, fear of not knowing how to make next months rent or car payment, fear of disappointing someone, fear of not making their quota, fear of being fired, fear of so many things that are personal and yet in-common with human beings.

The question then is how do we deal with fear and still be a successful salesperson. The answer is to focus on your clients. Focus on their needs and, more importantly these days, their wants. Maybe it’s a way to save them time or to allow them to enjoy time with their families. Maybe it’s a way to protect them – to help them with their fears. It could be a way to let them have what they always wanted and can now afford. Sometimes it is providing answers to their questions faster than anyone else ever cared to provide. Often, it is just letting them know you care about them as a human being.

It can be many things but they all have one thing in common – it is what your customer values enough to give you money in exchange. But, you’ll never know what they value unless they trust you enough to tell you. And, that doesn’t happen to salespeople who are thought of as being pushy, disinterested, and only interested in making a buck for themselves.

Maybe you are thinking you have salespeople working for you and this is what they need to focus on. You’d only be partially right. If you are in business you are a salesperson first and foremost. If you think you’re not “that type” you had better learn to be – and quickly. I don’t know any successful business owners who weren’t evangelists for their company.

And, please, for those of you who sell for a living and interact face-to-face or by phone with your customers, stop calling yourself a marketing person. I know you might feel better about that title but you are a salesperson. Become the best in the world.

Look in the mirror when you get up tomorrow and say, “I’m a salesperson and today I will focus 100% on providing value to my clients. I will ask the right questions and I’ll establish trust and a relationship before I ever talk about my products and services. I will make a personal commitment to be the best at what I do. Success will be mine because of the relationships I establish with my customers.”

And, remember, sales really isn’t a four letter word!

Bob Poole can be reached toll free at 877-945-3837 or email him at [email protected]

Thirty Sales Questions to Consider

1. What is the purpose of your company? (One sentence please)

2. What are three words that describe the company?

3. What are some companies that you would like to emulate?

4. What are the most compelling aspects of your product/service, etc.?

5. What business and consumer trends will affect your business going forward?

6. What are the most important drivers for your customer/client?

7. What are the advantages for someone to buy from you versus your competition?

8. Describe what your company will look like as a company five years from now.

9. What is important about the history and background of the owners?

10. Describe the perfect prospect for your products and services. Tell me their average age, kinds of restaurant they visit, vacation spots, what do we need to know about them has “people” that you think is important?

11. If I make the statement, “I’d like my company to be more? What would be your response?”

12. If I make the statement, “I’d like my company to be less? What would be your response?”

13. What is the number one goal you have for my company for the coming year?

14. What do you believe the greatest obstacle to your future success to be?

15. What do you believe is the greatest immediate opportunity for your company?

16. What do you think the greatest long-term opportunity to be?

17. What do you personally have to do, change, commit to in order to meet your goals and those opportunities?

18. Have you made a commitment to this project or are you still analyzing it?

19. What are the key criteria in choosing (insert whatever you are selling)?

20. How soon do you expect to begin or to purchase or whatever action it is you want them to take?

21. Are you making the decision to move ahead or will you have to seek other approvals?

22. Who else will be involved in the decision?

23. What would be the consequence of not (taking whatever action you want them to take)?

24. How will you know when the results have met your expectations? How will you measure that?

25. What if this fails (if you are providing a service this is a good question)?

26. How do we keep it from failing?

27. Have you considered what you are willing to spend to meet your goals?

28. Have resources already been allocated?

29. Who else in your organization could benefit from this same thing?

30. Are you pleased with our conversation and have I said anything that surprised you?

The Greatest Life Insurance Salesman in the World

I grew up in a small town on the Ohio River called East Liverpool.  It is located in Ohio at the junction of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. When I was growing up it had a population of about 22,000. Today the population has dropped to just over 13,000. However, some very unique and notable people have come from my town. I want to tell you about one of them who learned the meaning of providing value for his clients so well that he went on to become the greatest life insurance salesman ever.

His name was Ben Feldman (1912 – 1993) and over his 50 year career selling insurance for one company, his sales volume exceeded $1.8 billion, with over a third of it coming after he turned 65. And, he did it by selling out of his office in East Liverpool and not some major financial capital city
like New York.

Now you might be thinking to yourself that Ben must have been some kind of superstar, good looking, fast talking, kind of man – but you’d be wrong. Ben was a short, stout, balding and spoke slowly with a distinct lisp. He never finished high school. He was so shy that years later when he was asked to speak at insurance industry meetings, he would only agree if a screen was erected between him and the audience.

But, he was a legend when it came to making a point to know every business owner in his region. He did his homework first and learned all he could about his potential customers so that by the time he met with them (often on a “cold call”) he was ready with the right Value Development Questions. He didn’t always sell right away but he never gave up. I once heard him say that for years he didn’t stop working for the day until he made at least one sale – no matter how late it got.

One of favorite stories about Ben is about a prominent real estate developer. Ben tried for weeks to get in to see the busy man but was always unsuccessful. One day, Ben stopped in cold and handed the developer’s assistant an envelope with five $100 bills and asked her to give it to her boss. He told her “If I don’t have a good idea for him, he can keep the money.” He got in and sold a $14 million policy. Years later when Ben realized the man needed additional insurance due to the unprecedented growth of his company; he was once again stymied by the man’s insistence that he was too busy to take a physical. Undaunted, Ben rented a fully equipped mobile hospital van, hired a doctor and sent them to the industrialist. Rumor is that the man ended up with over $50 million in coverage.

In 1992, New York Life marked Ben’s 50th year with the company by proclaiming “Feldman’s February”, a national sales competition. Ben took this as a personal challenge. The winner of the contest (at 80 years old) was Ben Feldman.

Ben was famous for his sayings that he used to inspire both clients and himself.  My favorite is:

“Doing something costs something. Doing nothing costs something. And quite often, doing nothing costs a lot more.”

Ben Feldman died in 1993 at 81. A few years before his death he was asked about the largest policy that he had ever written. “I can’t say. I haven’t written it yet.”

Listen First – Sell Later ™ – It’s All About the Relationship

I was writing a chapter for a book the other night
when a visual photograph of how I learned the value of relationships in
business came flooding into my mind. I couldn’t help but smile at the
memory and I thought I’d briefly share it with you here.

3mI was a
brand new Major Account Sales Executive for 3M Company. 
I had already
been with the company a couple of years and had broken all the sales
records for people in my position. So, I was promoted and expected to
now call on major accounts. However, I was primarily assigned accounts
where we had never had any business which meant that I had to go out
and find new customers – only in larger companies with more gatekeepers
and bureaucracy.

One of the accounts I was expected to "open" was
a steel company headquartered near my home town. It turned out there
was one man whose primary job was to manage the copier equipment and
supply program for the entire country. His name was Frank. Did you ever
meet someone and instantly know there was going to be mutual loathing
between the two of you? That was Frank and I. And, it took us both
about 10 seconds to make our determination.

To me, Frank was
someone who plods though life all wrapped up in habit, routine and
insignificant details. And, since I was very driven (probably called
Type A at the time); I found everything Frank did to be frustrating. I
would ask him a question and I’d wait for the answer. And, I’d wait.
Frank would usually pull a pipe out of a holster he carried on his belt
and begin the process of filling and lighting it. Since that took at
least 5 minutes, I was on to the next question since I assumed he
forgot the first one. And, just about the time I was on my fourth or
fifth question without an answer, Frank would respond to the first
question which led to more frustration and loathing for the man. And,
so it went each time I paid a call on Frank. I was getting nowhere and
I dreaded having to go see him.

Then one day, I stopped at a drug
store near his office. This was back when I smoked and I was going to
get a pack of cigarettes. While at the cash register, I saw a display
of corn cob pipes. They were inexpensive so I picked one out and then
picked out a bag of pipe tobacco that looked familiar to me. I stuck
them in my suit pockets and made a resolution that when Frank went to
light up, I’d do the same. Maybe if we had pipe smoking in common he’d
find me more acceptable.

And, so the meeting began as before.
Only, this time I pulled out my pipe and tobacco when Frank went for
his. It was the most animation I had seen from the man in months. He
said, "I didn’t know you smoked a pipe." I told him, "I hadn’t been for
long." And, then I asked him about the tobacco I had picked out and if
he liked it. He went out to tell me more about tobacco and pipes than
anyone, in my mind, would want to ever know – over the next 2 hours! It
turned out he blended his own tobacco and he told me mine was junk with
perfume added to make it smell good. He had me dump it and gave me some
of his private blend. And, so we smoked pipes and we talked and we got
to know each other.

Over the next few months we found out we had
a lot more in common than we did in differences. It turned out we had
both grown up in the same little Ohio town that I had left years before
but he had lived there his whole life. When we started comparing notes
we found out we knew a lot of the same people and that my younger
brother had dated his daughter for a while. (I was worried when I heard
that but it turned out fine.) We started meeting for lunch. He always
had lunch at his desk so on the days we had a meeting scheduled, he
packed a sandwich for me. One day down the road, after a few pipes,
sandwiches and meetings, Frank said something like, and "I guess we
ought to talk about copiers." And, so we talked and he bought. I
finished the year as one of the Top Ten Ranked Sales Executives in the
United States for 3M. Frank and his companies business was one of the
major factors.

It’s all about the relationship. I had figured out
that if I wanted to communicate with Frank and have any kind of
business relationship, which was the whole idea, I was going to have to
learn how to communicate with him the way he was comfortable. Talking
at a 1,000 words a minute and interrogating him before he liked and
trusted me was never going to work with Frank. It isn’t going to work
very often with any of your clients either.

The next time you’re
having a problem establishing a relationship with someone, think about
Frank and pipe smoking. Find some common ground. Focus on them not your
services or products. Don’t interrogate people. Learn to match the pace
and tone of their speech. If they speak slowly softly and you speak
fast and loudly – slow down and lower the volume. Put them at ease and
get them talking about themselves and things of commonality. Most
people like to talk about what they do in their spare time and their
families. People have to "buy you" before they buy anything from you.

It really is all about the relationship!

The Poole Consulting Group

Learn How to Recognize and Sell to the Four Personality Types

People do business with people that they know, like, and trust. Since we can’t pick or choose the “type” of person we are most likely to trust and like right away, we need to learn how to effectively with everyone’s personality style.” Learn how in this report and start increasing your sales right away!

Selling To The Four Personality Types