Why ‘selling’ doesn’t work any more (and why it is so hard to explain this to ineffective sales representatives)

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do not call stuff
The days of outbound cold calls for business-to-business marketing, thankfully, are mostly done for good.

Metal DetectorRight now, our business has five sales representatives. One does very well — with an income at the six figure level. One does okay, paying his way (and, because he now gets it, he is starting to pull forward with improving goal-setting income achievements.) The third also gets it, and is about to retire. The two stragglers struggle onwards (and possibly out).

Yesterday at our regular sales meeting I tried to explain the “it” and fear that my expressions of what the weak sales reps need to do to break out of their ruts went in one ear and right out the other. Paradoxically, but perhaps logically, I sense the effective representatives read this blog — the weak ones don’t. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

The magic formula, if there is one, might be compared to the secret implied in Napoleon Hill’s 1937 motivational classic: Think and Grow Rich.  

The more you try to sell, the less you sell, and

The more you give and share and contribute (without worrying or expecting reward), the more you achieve.

These observations create challenges for weak sales reps. They think they have to call people, reach decision makers, and pitch the offer. They think it is a numbers game — the more you call, the more you sell. They hope for a magic formula for success, and then — when told it — go back to the calling, calling, and more calling (and failing).

Simply put, the best sales representatives are great personal marketers. They focus on building trust (their brand) by earning it. They appreciate that community spirit, generosity, and a helpful, non-sales focused approach helps to build the reputation and and acceptance and makes it easy for the potential purchaser to say ‘yes’ when the question is asked, or to not feel that he or she is being sold anything.

I’m sure some conventional sales/manipulation practices are sometimes effective,perhaps in selling stuff to unsophisticated consumer markets, but if you read the SMPS Foundation’s recently published book: A/E/C Business Development: The Decade Aheadyou will see how ineffective cold-calling and overt “business development” efforts by non-technical representatives (that is, salespeople) really is. The purchasers don’t want to deal with uninformed sales reps pitching stuff — and the real purchasing decision-makers hide away from the bad sales reps.

I see this every week. It takes me just a few seconds to knock out the “personalized” email spam. If someone sends a junky pitch call through to my voice mail, I delete it, without answering. If the sales rep reaches my office and connects with the company’s administrative assistant, she’ll generally try to screen the call. Yet, (and this is important), I’m not in hiding. Heck, I publish my direct phone line and email address (more than most CEOs) and make it really easy for people to communicate with me. I’m always open to new ideas, innovations and possibly some business-development opportunities. Just forget the sales call, please.

Here is what we preach to the sales team:

  • Personalized thank-you messages are vitally important. We should send thank you cards any time someone does something for us (like purchasing, or providing a lead, or helping out).
  • We should openly and helpfully provide some value to everyone we call. This could be some positive publicity, a referral, or (in some cases) simply a listening ear.
  • Knowledge, thought leadership and a genuine understanding of the clients’ needs is vital.
  • Community service, expressed through charitable and public service initiatives, is worth its weight in gold.
  • Association participation and leadership provides an ideal environment for both thought leadership and community service. “Getting involved” on committees and later association executives leads to incredible business development opportunities
  • Transactional, quid-pro-quo thinking leads to failure.

Weak sales reps “dial for dollars”. They think they need to meet people to “pitch” stuff. They think that giving, sharing and supporting community activities is a waste of time. They believe: “If only I had some more leads, or if only I could break through those gate-keepers and reach the decision-makers” they would succeed. They fail.

These facts are frustrating to me. If I could take our weak sales representatives and turn them into effective business developers, our business growth would skyrocket. But I cannot create that heart. I wish I had the answer.

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