Here’s what you need to know about me. I love sales people, I love our industry, and it is without a shadow of a doubt the place to be for me. BUT. And it’s a BIG but, when the world thinks about sales people, what easily comes to mind is the perception of sales people being self-centric and mis-selling products to their own gain. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this is a stereotype that has been cultivated – and in many cases, still validated – by the way clients have been treated by sales people.

Just to illustrate a real-life example:
A friend of mine had a sales rep in his office with a sub-standard product, and told him not to come back until the product was working. However, the same sales rep came in again through another avenue and when my friend saw him, he again asked the sales rep not to come in if there was no change in the product being sold. The sales rep said yes, it was the same exact product, and so was told to leave the office.
That same sales rep then sent an email to his boss saying he had had a good contact with the client (i.e. my friend) and that their meeting went well. While actually cc-ing my friend. You can imagine what happened next…
We can all see how the situation above has gone wrong on so many levels – it’s a perfect demonstration of not listening to clients, of having a over-focus on hitting quotas, of not telling the truth, and of how a high degree of incompetence can damage the brand and reputation of both the sales person and his company.
There are probably many factors that may have led to this, be it incompetence at the level of the sales rep or his trainer, excessive pressure from management, lack of direction and structure from the company etc., but the main question is…
How can you make sure you don’t end up there? 

 

1. The 25% rule

Steve Schiffman, the world’s number one sales coach, says with great emphasis – if you cannot make a client 25% better off than they were before they met you, don’t do business with them. Now, just to be clear on what he means about clients being better off: it doesn’t just refer to financial gains, it can be in terms of recruitment numbers, or effectiveness, or even corporate identity etc – the only pre-requisite is that they must be significantly better off with you, than without you.

So why does this philosophy work? For me it’s clear, in the industry that I’m working in now, if I believe I can’t help someone, I tell them straightaway. With this simple rule added into my working style, I am able to fundamentally transform from being a sales person to a consultant. Yes, I still want to make sales, but I will not mis-sell to get there. I am here to help my clients do what they do better. This is not just me being idealistic, this is me making continual efforts to make my philosophy a reality. 
What are the benefits of this? Well off the top of my head – your clients trust you; they don’t feel pressured any more; their spidey sixth sense will tingle positively with you; they like you more; you have very few unhappy clients and this all leads to many more referrals, longer relationships with clients, less client turnover, lower cost to on-board clients etc. 
But when you say you cannot help them and do it early enough in the process, the three most interesting and amazing things that happen is:

  1. Clients trust you and come back to you if they can
  2. They refer you to other prospects even though they did not do business with you
  3. The sales person feels good about what they do and has a deeper relationship and pride in what he does, which has obvious and positive connotations on his well-being, behavior and performance.

2. Solve your clients’ problems

I believe anecdotes are a great way to illustrate a point, so here’s another story from me: Last week, a friend of mine was confiding to me about the loss of a big sale. He described how he managed to pitch the unique selling points of his product, and sold it really well to a client but somehow, at the last minute, the client pulled out. I asked why the client did that, and he said he didn’t know, and couldn’t even begin to hazard a guess. 
This clearly showed that my friend hadn’t managed to get a deep enough understanding of his client in terms of what they had been doing, why they’ve done it like that, when did they start doing it this way etc. He had only scratched the surface, and didn’t demonstrate the ability to deeply understand where his clients were coming from and what specific problems they were facing.
Sadly, this is how many sales people sell – a little bit of questioning, a little bit of disturbing the dust, then a presentation and some USP’s and off they go to the next prospect.
What we’re advocating here is this: you need to dig deep.
You need to look at your product or service from the perspective of your client; you need to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing now, and why they did what they did before to lead them to their current situation.

With this level of understanding, it becomes very easy to look at what exactly are they doing now that is ineffective, what their plans are for the future and how to help them do what they need to do at least 25% more effectively.
Just a quick demo. Let me ask you a question: What’s your name and why were you called this?
Can you tell me why your parents chose your name? 90% of people have no idea.
Think of how profound this is, our parents without a shadow of doubt, put huge amounts of effort into thinking of our names and we do not know the back stories to our own names. Unfortunately, this is our modus operandi as sales people, we do not truly understand our clients deeply enough. The answer to fixing this is that we need to be listening actively and asking further probing questions based on our client’s initial responses, going deep, with the goal to understand why they did what they did, what they are doing now, and what their plans are going forward. This is an art and have no doubt that its a lot more difficult than it seems, but only after achieving that level of understanding, can we truly figure out how to help our clients solve their most pressing issues.

 

3. Culture

Just take a look at the typical sales people around you – I’m one of them too – we tend to be lazy and suffer from discipline issues. However, if the culture around us is structured, well-defined and helpful enough to keep pointing us in the right direction, we will happily embrace it. Unfortunately, the reality is that we often find many issues about the culture within companies. For one, there seems to be an unspoken expectation that all sales people entering the field should already know what they are doing, how best to do it and what’s their job all about. This is clearly wrong. Because if that was the case, the majority of salespeople would perform at their best, would hit their targets easily and would not be living in a stressful microcosm of a world that offers them no answers.
Just look at Apple, Rolex, BMW, and SAP. They all have a culture of developing their sales people. This doesn’t refer to a 12-hour crash course once a year. It’s an embedded culture of structured processes involving training, recruitment, skill development, goal-setting, understanding the client and the product… just to name a few. More crucially, they have a culture of creating happy clients who love their products; clients who use those products as a core part of what they do and who they are as companies, as well as individuals. It’s a way of life.

So, if your company culture is just about making money; about hitting targets at all costs instead of keeping clients in the long-term; about pushing your sales people instead of developing them, then you should take some time to figure out how to change this.

4. Consistent training

We are focusing on sales. And the general rule is, if you don’t train people they will not grow. Of course, there will always be some exceptions, but generally, if you don’t train, don’t have a specific selling style, don’t push ethics and don’t develop a company culture through training, you will be left behind.
Honestly, the cost of training nowadays can be really low. You can automate it, do it in virtual classrooms, get books, even DIY – it can be that easy! – but the key to effective training is that it needs to be done consistently. The benefits and reasons for this are clear.
I like the comparison of sport and if you look at different classes of athletes for example i.e., novice level, intermediate level and the elite.
All of them benefit from a structured training plan, so long as it is delivered on a regular and frequent basis. That is the key to a successful training plan – consistency. Clearly the structure and intensity of training needs to be different for athletes at different levels, but in order for it to be effective, they all need to work at it consistently.

Interestingly, the elite sales people we work with – contrary to popular belief – want the most training and support. At the elite level, such training does get delivered to them differently and tends to involve one-to-one coaching, specific information tailored to their needs, backed up with data analytics on their performance as well as team support and development etc.
Given the pervasive and lasting benefits of personalised and consistent training, it is one of the least costly and easiest ways to increase your company’s revenue, decrease staff turnover, retain more clients and keep your company progressing on the right track…

5. Monitoring

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve
it.” – Peter Drucker .
How many new appointments, with new leads, were done by your salespeople last week; who were they with; how did it go; how many had the next meeting booked; how many leads were generated last week; how many times were referrals asked for; how many referrals came in?
Look, these are just examples of a myriad of information from various useful statistics, but as a salesperson; a manager; a sales director or even a CEO, can you actually pull out such information right now to analyze it and break it down? An obvious question is, do you even know which are the key metrics you need to be following?
Well, there is a concept that we like, the HERO metric. This is the one key statistic within your sales cycle that should be hitting a specific value on a daily or weekly basis, and which will impact about 80 percent of how you will be moving forward, i.e., it is a key indicator of growth, and this can differ from company to company. Get this statistic right and the rest will follow.
For some, it will revolve around lead generation, for others it’s the number of first meetings booked, for others, including myself, it’s the number of second meetings. For example, I know that if we do “x” number of second meetings – where we present our collaborative document to a client – we will get around “y” amount of sales. Therefore, at this value of “x” number of second meetings, I can tell that our business is stable and we are moving forward securely.
But, some common challenges with metrics include:

  • The wrong data being collected
  • The wrong analysis being done
  • Feedback often being done only annually

Hence, the solution is to:

  1. Properly identify the right data to collect;
  2. Display the collected data daily or monitor it weekly, and;
  3. Have a clear method of how to use the data with salespeople, managers and senior management.

Also, remember the golden rule – it’s not a tool for beating up salespeople.
It’s a tool for identifying challenges and issues well before they become troublesome problems. It should be used to help find solutions to challenges that salespeople face throughout the sales process, thus allowing them to engage with clients more confidently, in a less stressful way.

6. Learn to ask questions

I talk about this in other articles. Unfortunately, the art of asking questions and active listening has been lost – people generally don’t pay attention to what other people are saying, and they don’t listen. This is due to a major problem of people trying to push the client down a particular road without even hearing the client out first. For a lot of sale people, selling is not about building up a relationship, not about building up trust, but about how to get the client to buy your product, regardless of whether it’s necessary for them or not. This is not ethical selling, but sadly, a lot of salespeople still practice the art of sales with such methods.

What’s the solution to this? Well, people first have to learn how to ask questions, and listen and engage clients about what they have done in the past, what they are doing now and what their plans are going forward. This is simple but incredibly hard to do. The massive benefit of this though is that you end up with what we term as the natural close. This is when the sale is a matter of common sense and you both naturally agree that it’s the way to move forward.
To summarise:
Yes, ethical selling is possible. Selling does not have to be ramming things down people’s throats and pitching at every opportunity. To be really successful at it, you need to take a step back and really understand your sales model, your craft, your strengths and weaknesses and start to engage differently with your clients. Leading to the point where you are the trusted advisor and the way ahead makes sense for you and the client.
To understand this in more detail, check out our Sales Bootcamp and feel free to get in touch with us.

Fraser

CEO SchiffmanMorrisonAsia, Co-founder SchiffmanVT