Writing the Next Chapter of Being a Salesperson

With change all around us, salespeople must adapt their skill set and find ways to deliver real value, not ‘speeds and feeds.’

Alan C. Brawn Leave a Comment
Writing the Next Chapter of Being a Salesperson

bnenin/stock.adobe.com

When was the last time you could just coast? By that, I mean sit back, relax and go along for a month or two, without having something — personal, professional or social/civil — significantly impact your life. 

The impacts that prevent us from coasting might be short lived or long term; they might even be existential in nature. They might be positive or negative — more likely, they reflect the shades of grey between the two. 

The word “change” is a synonym for impact, and change is a constant over time. However, unfortunately, the fear of change is also a constant. From time immemorial, humans have liked routine. It makes us feel more in control of our lives. Our fear of change, despite our inability to control it, can become irrational. This phenomenon is so prevalent that there’s even an identified phobia for it — namely, metathesiophobia. People with this phobia feel as though they have no control over their lives due to constant change. 

Metathesiophobes tend to live in the past, and they’re unwilling to progress. Often, this leads to depression, which can seriously impact their lives professionally and personally. Most of us do not experience full-scale metathesiophobia, but we might feel that many things in our lives are out of our control and constantly changing. 

What Kind of Change? 

Change, by itself, is neither good nor bad. It depends on what the change is, how it affects us and how we react to it. What we do know is that, if a society, country or industry rejects change, there is no growth and no progress. The inability to change, progress or grow results in stagnation. It has been said, “Stagnation rejects realizing one’s full potential. Stagnation is not a healthy flowing river; it is an idle and stale pond.” None other than Benjamin Franklin noted, “When you are finished changing, you’re finished.” 

Noted author and culture design consultant Gustavo Razzetti, writing in Psychology Today, tells us, “We fear change because we can’t anticipate the outcome. However, staying put can be riskier than changing. Whether it’s in your career or a relationship, you risk being left behind if you don’t continue to grow.” Continuing, he points out, “Although we reject uncertainty, we have the skills to change and evolve. Fear is an emotion that gets in the way — we lose clarity about our potential.” 

Research shows that, in our very DNA, we are hard-wired to resist uncertainty. The human brain tends to prefer a predictable negative outcome over the fear associated with an uncertain one. The good news is that our minds are flexible and (most importantly) adaptive. That is, we can train our brains to thrive amid changing circumstances. And training is the key concept. Basically, this refers to doing something different than you did before. Although the quote is erroneously attributed to Einstein, the fact remains that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome. Changes in action beget changes in outcome. 

The Stories We Tell Ourselves 

Razzetti opines, “Our fear of change is based on stories — both real and the imagined ones we tell ourselves. We narrate our lives as if they are out of our control — we feel as [if] we are playing a part someone else wrote for us. Your life is not a book written by others — create your own storyline. The fact that most outcomes are out of your control doesn’t mean you can’t play a more active role. If you want a different outcome, start by changing your mentality. You are not just a character; you are the author of your life.” 

What that boils down to is that you’re more in control of your personal story than you think you are. The ACT acronym — Action Changes Things — tells us that. 

Just like a book, your life is composed of chapters. Inside each chapter, there are changes. Challenges are specific changes that we must face. 

Let’s link the “changes and challenges” concept to one specific aspect of the commercial AV industry: sales. This centers on the three-foot distance across the width of a table; this is what separates the salesperson from the customer, and the outcome determines a business’ ultimate health. I would suggest that, over the last 20 years, nothing has changed more than sales. Please permit me to make the case, using historical context and considering the challenges we face today. 

A Salesperson’s Traditional Role 

The story begins with a salesperson and their traditional role. Their primary role was to collect, deliver and explain information. Alarmingly, this sounds a lot like what buyers get from the internet today. Historically, we interacted with three or four stakeholders on a project purchase. These days, however, Gartner Research reports, we interact with anywhere from 12 to 20-plus stakeholders. In this environment, stakeholder opinions flourish and everyone wants to chime in. What’s the “culprit” causing this change? The availability of information any time, any place, on any digital device. 

We encounter a plethora of buyers who think they know it all. This is most often product centric. In other words, they know a generic product description and what we call “the speeds and feeds” (i.e., the specs). They saw something online at a “reputable” website, so it must be true, right? The truth is, the “answers” they have are, at best, incomplete and could actually be wrong. The challenge lies in telling someone that what they think they know is not the real information that they need to know. Accepting this truth is a tough pill for many to swallow. 

Related: Sales and Marketing: Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

You don’t necessarily have to tell people that they’re entirely wrong (although they might be); just tell them that their information is incomplete. Yes, their perception is their reality, and, in their minds, you are only trying to sell them something. But, the fact is, you aren’t (or shouldn’t be) there simply to sell products; you should be there to solve problems! 

Addressing and Changing Their Perception 

Addressing and changing their perception is the biggest challenge that we face. Recent end-user research (Gartner, Harvard Business, Forbes, etc.) shows the following: 

  • Only 8% of customers say their sales reps exceed expectations. 
  • Only 23% of buyers look to “vendor salespeople” as a top-three resource to solve business problems. 
  • About 70% of customers have already defined their own needs and decided to purchase something before they engage salespeople.
  • According to Forbes research, 55% of salespeople lack basic sales skills and do not have effective communication skills. 

Salespeople must change those perceptions. We cannot change buyers’ behavior, so we must alter our sales behavior. Whereas, at one time, we led with products, we now must focus on buyers as individuals — that is, we must understand their hot buttons, their pain points and their problems. Most importantly, we must understand the implications of those problems for them, their department and their company. 

This injects the concept of “value” into the equation. I’m not talking about the value of the product; instead, I’m referring to the value you offer by telling them something they didn’t already know. The secret to success is to employ a new sales approach built around really knowing the customer and providing value in their eyes. They can get product anywhere; they cannot, however, get the value you provide just anywhere. That is unique to you and differentiates you from competitors. It also differentiates you from the good ol’ internet. 

Here’s the Good News 

Now, here’s the good news. As noted earlier, our minds are flexible and adaptive. We can train our brains to thrive amid change. Sales is a skill that can be taught and learned if you have an open mind. You can wade through what is available for sales training to see what fits (or take our AVIXA-sponsored seminar, called “Sales’ New Role and the Importance of You”). But, whatever you do, get trained. Over 74% of Fortune 500 companies say that coaching and sales training can improve the performance of individual salespeople by, on average, more than 20%. Sales training arms the sales team with the skills they need to do the following: 

  • Provide a better sales experience for current and prospective clients. 
  • Help improve the company culture and promote professionalism. 
  • Help improve sales-team collaboration.
  • Improve the desire for product knowledge. 
  • Stay up to date on industry trends and the competition. 
  • Identify and address individual strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Retain top sales talent. 
  • And…drum roll, please…increase and improve sales performance. 

Not every chapter or episode in your personal book of life will be successful. And that’s OK — after all, you can always write a new one. The beauty of life is that you can correct your course and adapt. Richard Branson said, “In business, if you realize you’ve made a bad decision, you change it.” Don’t feel frustrated if what you’re currently doing is not working as well as you expected. Seek out answers and use your energy to write the next chapter. 

This article was brought to you with the support of LG.