Monday, April 19, 2010

Fear of Selling

1st of a 3 Part Series on Consultative Selling

On Saturday, I had the privilege of speaking at a seminar entitled "Start Your Own Business" sponsored by Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, CA.  During the Q&A session, a great question came up,

"What if I want to start a business but I hate to sell?"

My answer:  Don't think of it as selling, think of it as problem solving.

In my experience, when I hear "I can't sell," or some variant, its typically because of one of three underlying reasons:
  • Fear of rejection
  • Lack of confidence in the value of the product or service being offered
  • "Telesales-at-dinner" view of sales
The last refers to that annoying telephone call we've all received, usually at dinner time by some untrained telesales person, reading (badly) off of some script, trying to push something on us in which we have no interest.  Unfortunately, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what sales is all about.

Sales is not about pushing a product or service that you have on an unwilling victim.  It's about matching what you have with a customer's need.  If you can find a match, you have the basis for a sale.  If you can't, you don't.

What's ironic about the question from this particular audience, is that I know many of these people are great "people" people.  Many are extraordinarily good at seeking out people with needs in the congregation and finding creative ways to help.  This is pretty much how sales works;  find a need and fill it.  The big difference is that in sales, you are seeking to get paid for fulfilling the need.  This interjects an element of transactional self-interest absent from a pure helping relationship.

But what sometimes gets lost in all the press about Wall Street abuses is that good business is based on relationships, not transactions.  In fact,  I would assert that it is when a business relationship shifts towards being purely transactional, that abuses flourish.  The fact that money changes hands in a business relationship shouldn't negate the mutual benefits to be derived from that relationship.  (Of course, it's important that both parties are clear from the beginning that what is being entered into is a business relationship, not a purely personal one.)  Just think about products or services that you've purchased that you've been happy with.  Did the fact that money was involved taint the relationship?  Or did you feel like you got a good value?

This leads to the issue in the second bullet point:  lack of confidence in the value of what is being offered.  Before you sell, you need to know the value of your product or service.  If you believe the value is truly there, then this should be a source of confidence, not a cause for apology.  Good sales people will tell you that the products or services that they are most effective at selling are the ones that they know at a gut level provide intrinsic value to their customers.  (Marketing departments pay attention:  if you're encountering resistance from your sales force in selling certain lines, maybe it's because they don't believe the value is there and you need to dig deeper.)
Now understanding the value of what you have can actually be very difficult.  How you go about determining this will be the subject of Part 2 of this series.

Let's assume for now that you do understand the value of what you're offering to a prospective customer and that you've this boiled down to a fairly succinct elevator pitch (covered in Part 3 of this series).  When you do this, one of three things will happen:
  1. Nothing - In which case you need to go back and reassess the value of what you have and/or your elevator pitch.
  2. Rejection - Now most people when they do this will do so politely at first.  After all, rejecting someone can be even more uncomfortable than being rejected.  (Just ask a high school girl whose been asked to the prom by a boy she isn't really interested in.)  So the "no" will likely be a gentle one.  Accept this and then follow up and find out why?  Let the other person know that you respect this and ask them if they wouldn't mind answering a few questions to help you improve your offering or better direct you to someone they think might be a better candidate for your product or service.  Turn rejection into a learning opportunity (fancy term:  market research).
  3. An Expression of Interest - Treat this as an invitation that the other person wants to hear more.  If they don't ask specific questions, the best way to move the process along is to ask questions.  And don't forget to let the prospect ask questions back.  For some reason, people never seem to consider questions as selling (unless you're asking leading questions.)  I've always found this  puzzling because questions are at the very heart of selling.  It is only by asking questions that you can truly discover what the underlying needs are and whether you do or don't have a fit.
So what will happen?  Will you get the sale?  Maybe.  If there is no fit; then there is no fit.  Don't waste your time or the prospect's trying to force something that isn't there.

Sales is not about closing every order.  It's about creating a mutually beneficial relationship, where in exchange for money, you are delivering a product or service of value to that person.

Next week, we'll look at how to determine the value of your product or service.

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