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The Accidental Salesperson

What’s the problem with salespeople and why do traditional sales techniques need to be changed for today’s consumer?In the first of a series of articles, award winning sales strategist Frank Romano introduces the concept of Precision Selling.

Let’s begin with the problem: the general negative perception held about sales people.

Do you think the average person in the street would describe sales people as “professional, caring, competent, knowledgeable and generally nice people”? Or are they more likely to be described
this way: “Salespeople? Some are OK but many are untrustworthy, manipulative, uncaring, pushy, dishonest, frustrating and inappropriate.”?

For as long as I can remember, the majority of salespeople have been perceived in this negative light. This IS the problem – the problem for the profession of selling.

…it became obvious to me that selling had to change from salesperson centric to buyer centric

As an optometrist you may think this is not your problem. It quickly becomes your problem though, when you consider that sales of frames and lenses are such a key component of practice profitability.

Traditional Selling

Albert Einstein once said: “You cannot solve a problem by using the same thinking that created the problem in the first place.”

So-called sales “gurus” and “trainers” have been educating people using methods and techniques based on similar if not the same thinking for the past 60 years.

The traditional approach to selling was largely developed after World War II. It was a time when demand for consumer goods was at an all time high. Consumers of the time were not very sophisticated, so selling was a “numbers game”. Deliver a canned pith to as many prospects as possible in the least amount of time, and you were sure to hit your targets.

Successful salespeople began by breaking the ice with a little small talk (which they equated with relationship-building), then delivered the razzle-dazzle pitch. There was little, if any, information gathering as to the consumers’ needs. Instead, the sales process concentrated on a persuasive pitch, manipulative closing techniques, and the salesperson’s skills in managing client objections. Superstar salespeople were those who had mastered the art of arm-twisting.

The traditional sales pitch was generic

All of the features and benefits of a product had to be covered because salespeople had no way of knowing which features and benefits were applicable to the individual. This was a typical shotgun approach were the sales person attempted to sell their products to every prospect, regardless of need.

Unfortunately, this traditional selling approach still exists anywhere there is a high-ticket, high-commission dynamic in play. Despite significant changes occurring in the marketplace today that have led to a generation of informed and savvy consumers, some salespeople are still insulting customers with high-pressured, traditional tactics.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the traditional commando approach to selling is out of date and doesn’t engender referrals, references, repeat business, word-of-mouth advertising, goodwill and/ or satisfied customers.

‘Make a Sale’ Mentality

Now, of course, I recognise that not all sales education is based on the commando approach. Over the years, there have been several less aggressive sales techniques, such as Solution Selling, Consultative Selling, Spin Selling, Relationship Selling and others.

While these approaches are a great step forward from the traditional hard sell, they still share the fundamental flaw of focusing on the ‘Make a Sale’ mentality. In other words, the salesperson is asked to consider: “How do I find out what I need to know about you so I can pitch my product or service and then close the deal and make a sale?”

I believe the reason salespeople are not held in high regard is because of this ‘Make a Sale’ mentality. Sure, that is what selling is all about – making the sale. The problem, as I see it, is not the goal, but the mindset and methodology behind achieving that goal.

The Accidental Salesperson

Like you, I didn’t plan to work in sales and be considered a ‘salesperson’. While you set out on a career of optometrist, I dreamt of being a musician… or an airline pilot.

Alas, I became a salesperson in much the same way as you have had to develop one part of your role as an eye care professional into that of a salesperson.

Forty years ago, with limited education and no formal qualifications, my job opportunities were somewhat restricted. As I scanned the employment pages I was drawn to an advertisement that would chart the direction of my life, it read: “Salesperson wanted, no experience necessary, all training provided.”

A 30 minute interview secured the position and on day one, I was assigned to shadow George with the words: “Frank, this is George, George is our top sales guy and he is going to take care of you for the next two days and teach you the ropes.” So after two days of watching George and observing his expertise as a sales professional, I apparently had received all the training I needed to begin my new career in sales.

The Sales Manager handed me a set of car keys, a box of brochures, my territory contact list and said “Good luck Frank we’ll see you back in the office on Friday”. So with my desire to succeed, along with newfound skills, I set out to make a name for myself in the profession of selling. I figured that all I had to do was replicate what George had taught me and I would be fine. So that’s what I did. Just like George, I managed to do OK and make enough sales to keep my Sales Manager happy.

After my first two years as a mediocre performer, I became aware that I could improve my sales skills by reading books written by the sales masters and also listening to audio programs in my car.

For the next five years, I read almost every book available on the topic of sales and listened to hundreds of hours of audio programs. I began to notice that, fundamentally, the messages from these ‘sales gurus’ were not that dissimilar.

The underlying philosophy was that the sales person had to get the prospect to buy, and in order to do this the salesperson had to master certain techniques, script and dialogues all designed to reach the ultimate outcome of closing the deal.

I was a keen student, and as I began to master these techniques, scripts and dialogues, I noticed that my sales increased slightly. In the process, however, I began experiencing a feeling of conflict with my personal values and beliefs. I began to realise that I had just spent the past five years learning how to be a product flogging nerd!

Personal Values Challenged

My personal values and beliefs were telling me that selling isn’t something you do to a customer to get them to buy from you. Nor that selling is a game of numbers and that I should be pleased when a customer says ‘no’, because it means I’m getting closer to a ‘yes’. I just wasn’t totally sold on traditional sales philosophies.

In the early 90s, I was invited to attend a meeting held by the national speakers association. The guest speaker for the evening was Marvin Oka on the subject “Agents of Change”. Although highly regarded by some of my colleagues at the time, I wasn’t familiar with his work.

I’d heard hundreds of presentations before, but none had caused me to feel so motivated to change my thinking. I realised I had to step outside my comfort zone and reevaluate all I had learned about sales and selling.

New Mindset

I realised that while there is much to be learned by modeling the behaviours of successful salespeople, it would be infinitely more valuable and useful to take a different approach – learning to understand the mindset and unconscious behaviour of buyers.

How do buyers buy? What are the neurological processes that occur that causes a person to make a decision to buy something – anything, anywhere?

Based on my research, it became obvious to me that selling had to change from salesperson centric to buyer centric. This led to the principle of ‘Buyer Based Selling’, which, over the years, has developed into a program called ‘Precision Selling’.

Precision Selling devotes considerable time to personal, as well as professional development, based on the belief that you cannot separate your professional development as a salesperson from your personal development.

I believe that the role of a salesperson must be reframed. The salesperson must effectively influence their customers, so that they perceive value in the goods and services they are being offered.

The commando, numbers-driven sales person, must make way for someone who first and foremost has a strong belief that their product or service does truly add value.

It is likely that when you chose the field of optometry, you were, in part at least, hoping to help people. You believed – and still believe – in the importance of eye health. It would be safe to say that for the optical professional, the importance of eye health is a given. It is also beyond dispute that the ability to see clearly adds enormous value to a person’s life.

As eye health professionals, therefore, you are half way to becoming truly effective, customer-focused sales people… without perhaps realising it.

As I outline the principles of Precision Selling, I hope it will help you become a true value adding sales professional. Next month, I will develop this more fully. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Frank Romano is an internationally acclaimed award winning sales educator, and customer contact strategist. Over the past 20 years he has delivered over 3,000 workshops and keynote presentations to thousands of sales, service and management professionals in 18 countries.