The topic of sales has always been one of intrigue to me. I have held more than a few sales positions in the past 30 years because from time to time, I would be recruited into this extroverted profession being told over and over that my personality was exactly “what they were looking for” to help sell whatever products they had. I wasn’t sure if this was an accolade or an insult. Truth is, I didn’t want to be like most of the salespeople I knew. This feeling of aversion is quite typical it turns out.(1) According to Hubspot Research, only 3% of Americans trust salespeople and only 1% of Americans trust car sales people. Why is this? What have these folks done to earn this type of distrust? How is it that professional musicians and athletes have garnered more trust than the man or woman who are responsible, in many areas of business, to keep the heart of our economy pumping? While it was true that I’d never met a stranger, loved engaging in conversations and, even more, loved helping people figure out solutions to their needs - there was much more to the sales profession than that - something that had seemingly spoiled the goodness of it all - and it made me want to not only differentiate myself from the less-than-integritous versions of salespeople I came across, it made me want to invest myself in trying to turn the tide for the 97% of Americans who had lost faith in the sales system.
Let’s look at some top reasons customers don’t like salespeople.(2) According to Business Know How Magazine, the number one reason is that salespeople don’t listen. I can see some of you nodding your heads in agreement. Many of us have been in situations where the salesperson did ALL the talking. This ties right into the second highest reason customers dislike salespeople: they talk too much. The third highest ranking reason is their lack of knowledge. The fourth is lack of follow up and the fifth reason is the one that really gets me: lying. Exactly. Need the public say more?
In my latest book, Talk to Me - The Unstoppable Power of Conversational Sales, I look at the history of sales as a profession - from its inception through the present day and unpack what I believe it will take to restore integrity and excellence to this age old profession.
My research and experience led me to the conclusion that there should be 4 things present for a genuine need to positively intersect with a precise solution. I will share them with you and hopefully shed some light on how the original architect of professional sales intended its practitioners to carry on the legacy. I created an easy-to-remember acronym to connect the pieces together. This acronym is R.E.A.L.
The first thing that must be present when a genuine need meets a precise solution is, relationship. This single facet of sales is truly the beginning of all successful sales. When a salesperson attempts to sell something without first-establishing some foundation for relationship, the end result will be the customer feeling like they are simply part of the salesperson’s weekly sales goal or monthly sales bonus.(3) According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 68% of customers are lost because of indifference or perceived apathy, not because of mistakes. The absence of relationship. In order for genuine need to meet precise solution, a relationship of understanding and compassion must begin.
The second thing that must be present when a genuine need meets a precise solution is, empathy. This is different from sympathy. Sympathy is unable to intimately, personally identify with the need and its impact. Empathy has already put on the shoes and worn them a few miles on rough and rocky terrain. Empathy says, “I see the load you’re carrying. Slide over and let me help you carry it a while because I have been where you are.” How important is empathy?(4) There is a thing called “the empathy deficit” and “the 80:8 rule”. Bain management consultants have identified a persistent empathy deficit in business characterised by the 80:8 rule. Across nearly 400 organisations, 80% of sales firms believed they deliver a superior experience to customers, whilst only 8% of their customers agreed. Yes, indeed, empathy matters.
The third thing that must be present when a genuine need meets a precise solution is, action. This is where the rubber meets the road. A level of relationship has been established. Empathy has led to accurate questions, thus leading the salesperson to an intimate understanding of the genuine need of the customer. Now, what? Oversell? Undersell? What action is going to meet the understood-need with the precision of a surgeon?(5) Referring to the same study, only 50% of sales management teams attempt to tailor their products and services to the needs of the customer. What do the other 50% do? It’s not enough to be active. There must be precise action. Do something about the need. If your child was sick and in need of a specific type of medicine that was only available in one aisle at one drugstore, would you go to a more convenient drugstore and substitute the precise medicine for something you think might be similar? No, you would go to the exact location necessary and buy the exact medicine needed. Similarly, precise action-vs-any action makes the difference between repeat customers and lost customers.
The last thing that must be present when a genuine need meets a precise solution is, life. What do I mean by this? Life means that the salesperson is willing to follow up on not only the relationship, but also the provided solutions. It shows the customer that they are more than a commission. More than a bonus. It also shows the customer that the salesperson is confident in the solution they provided and wants to ensure the customer's full understanding of how to get the most out of the proposed solution. This final aspect also says to the customer that the salesperson is trustworthy enough to be their go-to for that particular need - for life.
1 Frost, Aja. “Only 3% of People Think Salespeople Possess This Crucial Character Trait.” HubSpot Blog, 28 July 2017, blog.hubspot.com/sales/salespeople-perception-problem.
2 Robertson, Kelley. “7 Things Customers Dislike about Salespeople.” Business Know-How, 13 Feb. 2018, www.businessknowhow.com/marketing/hate.htm.
3 Kunsman, Todd. “Why Relationship Selling Is One of the Most Important Tactics To Master.” EveryoneSocial, 7 Apr. 2020, everyonesocial.com/blog/relationship-selling.
4 “Empathy Stats and Facts for Business.” Brand Genetics, 26 Jan. 2020, brandgenetics.com/empathy-statistics-for-business/.
5 Allen, James, et al. Closing the Delivery Gap, Bain & Company, 2005.
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