We’re All in Sales, but We’re Not All Good at It

My children are 22, 18 and 16.  One of them possesses all the natural skills for sales, or at least what society believes to be natural: outgoing; never met a stranger; engaging personality that can actually communicate outside the world of texting.  Since my home is full of teenagers most of the time, I observe the form, style and effectiveness of their verbal communication.  Though our youth need more science and math, without the skills of persuasion, grounded in good character – i.e. what we could call “salesmanship” – we will become a society that is led, instead of one that is leading.

I’m not talking about the “pitch-man” or the “snake oil huckster” that sells you something that you don’t need, by convincing you that you do.  I am referring to the legitimate salesperson that identifies your need, and then gives you a solution.  The truth is if we developed more true sales skills in our leaders, decision makers and business owners, we could solve issues instead of creating them.   Understand that the real sell cycle is about resolving problems.

Basic Training

So what are the fundamental elements that we need to teach in order to develop the skills of effective sales, which translated is the ability to meet with people face-to-face, determine the need and find a solution?

Listening – the ability to hear what someone is saying without your ego putting a slant on it.  You can find this in constructive criticism.  When criticized our human response is to throw up our guard and start defending our position instead of listening.  Generally, people who have the guts to point out what you are doing wrong care about you, so listen and improve.  If you develop the ability to truly listen and hear what the other person is telling you, you can take those “nuggets” of information and put them to use.

Service – It is not about you, but it will always be up to you.  Selling is all about servicing someone else’s needs, not your needs.  In our “me” society, this is a hard one for most people to put to use.  To make matters worse, most sales philosophy courses are centered mostly on making money for “numero uno.”  Here is an age-old philosophy that I can assure you works:  “If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want and more.”

Follow Through – This is probably the single worst skill people have today.  There are many people who will make contact, they will even listen and start the servicing process, but they fail to follow through.  Those of you that play any type of sports where there is a ball involved can relate to this.  Accurate execution only comes with follow through.  It must be constant and efficient.

Ask the Question – this is where the rubber meets the road; you have to develop the courage to ask for what it is you desire.  Teenagers are a perfect example of this.  They don’t ask because “they knew you’d probably say no.”  It’s amazing to me how our fear of that little word starts so early.  Why?  I ask my children, “Has the word ‘NO’ ever hurt you?”  The word itself has never caused damage to anyone.  We have to take on the attitude instead of, “Well, the worst that could happen is they say no.”  That’s it!  ‘No’ can’t set you back unless you let it.  This is where the “me” society comes in.  ‘No’ only hurts when it’s all about you.

The ability to determine the needs of others and then find the solution is becoming a rare trait and is threatened with extinction due to information technology.  The ability to find effective solutions to complex issues involves much more than Facebooking, texting, tweeting or emailing.  There are many solutions these tools offer and they are wonderful.  Information that is needed for decisions can be gathered and obtained quickly through these tools.  But effective and long lasting sales still comes down to a face-to-face relationship.  Yet, we have a generation now that lacks the ability to execute, and even a fear, of this type of communication.

I know most of you believe you are not in sales and therefore do not need to develop these skills because “they are for someone else.”  Do you have a significant other?  Children?  Involved in a group?  Have a friend?   Every relationship involves the sales process; we are all salespeople.  And all of us could use further development in the skills of listening, servicing, following through and asking questions.