Art or Science

“He could sell ice to an Eskimo.”

Why do we think that the propensity to talk equates to the ability to sell? By the very virtue of the process, the ability to listen is the natural gift that transcends the good to the great. Without that basic skill, the sales person has no foundation upon which to build his presentation.

In my years spent on the customer side of the table, I have had only one sales person meet my expectations of great. We’ll call him Mark. Before we get to meet Mark, let’s talk about the twenty years of sales interactions before he walked into my office.

If you manage sales people, no matter your title, Manager, Director or VP, you’re tasked with setting sales goals, coaching your team to excellence and assessing progress. That is why I am still amazed at the number of sales people who miss the mark.

There is the initial contact, usually by phone or letter. Eventually it became a sort of game for me, in which I would become an unwilling participant. The phone rings; it’s an outside line; a good clue it’s a sales person. “Good afternoon. Mrs. Fogelman?” Yes. “My name is Neeta Closs. I’m with ABC Company and we are doing a survey. Do you have a few minutes to answer some questions?” No. Or my personal favorites, “Hi, Veronica, Dave here. I understand you are the woman in charge.” Really? “Yes, and I’m the one who will help you save the day.” click. I wasn’t aware my day needed to be saved.

The unsolicited mailing can be equally offensive because it makes assumptions. Even though they may be true, I was perturbed that I had no input into the decision about what I needed. It usually went in the trash.

However, the most regrettable was when the person actually gained the appointment and had an opportunity to sell to me. They were so often ill-prepared and tried to wing a sales call. This usually led to me asking all the questions and ended in frustration for both of us. Even worse was the over-confident person who came with the problem identified and solved. This usually ended with me creating the next blog in my head while they pompously displayed full color service brochures in which I had no interest.

Then one day, I received a phone call that went like this:

Ann (my secretary): “Roni, there is a man calling who would like to speak to you when you have a few minutes. He is from Strategy Inc.; he talked to me for a few minutes to see if I thought you might be interested. I like his style; he is genuine. Want to talk to him or shall I schedule a better time?” (He went through the most trusted confidant-my secretary)

Me: “Put him through, Ann.”

Mark: “Mrs. Fogelman, thank you for taking my call. My name is Mark Smith from Strategy Inc. Ann said you have a few minutes; I promise to only take 5 minutes. Is that OK?” (He thanked me, identified himself and promised a timeline)

Me: “That’s fine Mark. What can I do for you?”

Mark: “I understand that in your role at XYZ Company you have implemented a new sales training and a new hiring system that has been fully integrated throughout the company. At my company that is exactly who we want to work with…successful sales teams that have the support of operations.” (flattery will get you everywhere)

Probably no need to go on…you get the point.

When Mark came in for his sales appointment he asked me so many questions, that I felt he was a part of our team. Not insignificant questions; questions that were built on my answers. In that way he swiftly developed a picture of our culture, our successes and our challenges. He never pulled out anything other than a small pad to take notes, for which he asked my permission. In what seemed like ten minutes, he asked if he could make a few suggestions, pulled out his small pad and began to draw. Only now did he begin to talk as he drew his simple diagram. It clearly depicted our challenges with structure and he introduced his services to create how their team could help us solve the problem. I have never forgotten how skillfully he directed the questions, did not over sell or over promise. The science of a skilled sales system moved him through the process and the art of a talented communicator created a memorable sales experience.

I have moved on from that company but still carry Marks card with me and when the opportunity arises, I will call him and hope I handle it as well.