In the first of an occasional series, Ian McMurray — who is PR Manager for GE Intelligent Platforms’ embedded computing business — reminisces about the good old days in sales…
“Nothing happens until someone sells something.” You ever heard that? Don’t get me wrong – someone needs to make that something, and someone needs to ask for the money for that something – but without sales, jobs like manufacturing and accounting wouldn’t exist.
That’s why I’ve long been an ardent student of salesmanship — ever since I trained as a salesman with Burroughs, the computer company, who morphed into Unisys. Since then, I’ve undertaken a number of sales training assignments, and have loved passing on not only my knowledge, but also my enthusiasm for the sales job.
You know what worries me? How little formal sales training seems to take place these days — and how few skills refresher courses salespeople get sent on.
Selling has moved on
I know that selling has moved on, and it’s all about ‘customer oriented selling’ or ‘customer relationship management’ or ‘consultative selling’. Many of those principles are good, and work.
But can you be a salesman — and do yourself and your company justice — if you don’t know what a closing question is, or how to ask one? Let alone have practiced the arcane arts of assumed closes, trial closes, either/or closes and so on. I remember being taught my sales ABC: “Always Be Closing”. And then there was the golden rule: “Ask a closing question — and shut up”. (The thinking being, you wanted your prospect to either say “yes” or provide you with another objection to handle).
If you look at today’s message board discussions about closing techniques, you’d think asking a closing question wasn’t far behind insulting the customer’s wife, dress sense and religious beliefs all at once. Yes, we were taught closing ‘tricks’ which have no place in today’s world — but if you never ask for the order, you’re unlikely to get it.
And there’s another thing — knowing how to handle objections so that they contribute to the sales process. Don’t get me going on qualifying prospects, either. Many times, I’ve despaired when I’ve been on an accompanied sales visit, only to quickly establish that there was no way this company was ever going to buy. Why hadn’t the salesman qualified the prospect properly? Because he had so few so-called prospects that he didn’t dare qualify them in case he ended up with no-one to talk to. His prospect pipeline just wasn’t full enough to enable him to ask the tough questions so that he could quickly move on to someone who was more likely to buy.
That leads me on to looking out for buying signs. If a prospect says something like “That looks like just what I need. How much is it?” — it would be foolish to continue with some pre-planned spiel, wasting both your time and his. And yet I’ve seen that, or something like that, happen so many times. Just take the order!
What’s the common factor in most deals? It’s something of an overstatement, but I’ll make it anyway: the best salesperson won. Not the best product, or the lowest price, but the best salesperson. Have you ever looked back at a deal and asked yourself “How on earth did we lose that? We had the best product. We had the lowest price.” The simple answer is, in most cases: you were outsold. That, for a salesperson, can be very hard to swallow.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a complete return to selling as it was in the 1970s, when I trained. One of the ‘techniques’ I remember most fondly was being advised to ‘accidentally’ leave my hat in the prospect’s office, so that I had a reason to return. It seems laughable now — I mean, who wears a hat these days? (In fact, even back in the 1970s, no-one wore a hat either — I guess they were very old sales training videos) — but the underlying truth remains: in many cases, it’s important to create a reason why you need to return to continue the dialogue.
No, the old days weren’t necessarily better — but that emphasis on professional, ongoing sales training has been largely lost. And that’s a shame.