Gerhard Gschwandtner is founder and publisher of Selling Power magazine and host of the Sales 2.0 Conference.
Take a moment to think about what the word ”selling” means to you. Every time I ask sales executives to define ”selling,” I get answers like these:
Selling is a process of persuasion to get a prospect to take action.
Selling is finding a need and filling that need.
Selling is an exchange of goods or services for money.
Selling is walking the road of agreement with the customer.
Selling is an art.
Selling is a science.
Selling is a transaction.
Selling is relationship building.
Selling is a consultative process.
Selling is hustling.
Selling is all about trust.
There are as many definitions of selling as there are stars in the sky. Everyone has a different definition of the word “selling.”
Once You Define Anything, Your Definition Will Define You
What’s important in this conversation? Once you define what selling is, the definition will influence how you sell. If you believe that selling is an art, then you will try to grow your art, and chances are that you will try to find creative ways to overcome all obstacles that stand in the way of the sale. If you define selling as a science, then you will try to deploy more scientific tools to achieve greater sales. If you believe that selling is all about relationships, chances are that you will focus more on establishing a meaningful emotional and cognitive connection with your prospect.
When Sales Managers Have Finished Defining, They’ve Ended Refining
Sales managers often impose their beliefs about selling to their salespeople. They try to turn every salesperson into a ”mini me.” “Dress like me, act like me, speak like me, and close like me.” They often elevate their definition of selling into a higher level of philosophy that prevents awareness of reality and inhibits growth and professional development. The moment you believe that you can shape what selling means – like a sculptor chips away at a stone until a beautiful statue emerges – you’ve frozen yourself into an untenable position. Someone once said that in order to maintain an untenable position, we must choose to be actively ignorant.
Is There a Better Way of Looking at What Selling Means?
So what’s wrong with sales managers imposing their definition of selling on their salespeople? After all, they are the leaders and salespeople are their subordinates. Isn’t the typical choice, “my way or the highway"? Is there another way of looking at this?
Here is a better way of looking at selling. What we think selling means isn’t relevant. What the sales manager thinks selling means isn’t helping anybody sell more. What we think doesn’t matter as much as what our customers think and what our customers expect from a salesperson. We can’t freeze salespeople into a definition and expect them to warm up to a prospect.
Take a look at salespeople in a typical car dealership. Most of them are as rigid as a camshaft. They operate on the good cop/bad cop formula: “Let me ask my sales manager if he will approve that deal.” The Internet has shifted the power from the seller to the buyer. We’ve shifted from a delay economy to a real-time economy. We have shifted from a predictive approach to an adaptive approach. We’ve shifted from pitching deals to co-creating solutions with our customers.
In the Peter Drucker era, companies created customers; in the real-time economy, we have to cocreate with our customers. At the heart of selling is value, the value as defined by the customer’s unique situation. The dynamic of selling will continue to shift. In the future it will be the customer who creates our company.
What Do Customers Want?
Part of good selling is learning up front how our prospects want to buy. If customers want to buy online, we need to offer that choice. If prospects want a simple transaction, don’t go through your relationship mating dance. If a prospect has mapped out a more scientific approach to the buying process, match your selling style to the prospect’s buying style. If prospects want more creative ideas that lead to an artful solution to their problems, tap into your artistic side. Sell the way your customer wants to buy. If you are in doubt about what selling means, just ask your customers. If you want to learn how to sell better, ask your customers. Once you reach the top of your profession, your customers will tell you that you are the best, and you will say, "I still have a lot to learn."