Is The 'S' In Sales For Sleazy??

I remember being in business school, and one of our real professors (a full-time executive, part-time academic) started discussing different career paths that his bright-eyed and bushy-tailed disciples might choose to take.

He began to shout out different professions and asked us to play word association. I distinctly remember when he shouted "sales" that there was a resounding chorus responding "sleazy." He then took a poll of the class and asked how many of us thought we'd become sales professionals. No one raised their hand. It was clear that no one considered sales as a "profession." He paused and began his dissertation on the importance of sales and understanding the sales process.

Selling a product, a service or one's ideas is as much of an art as it is a science. The way you approach the process and the sophistication you bring to the table is critical to building and managing successful client relationships.

Here are a few tips for sales professionals to avoid sleazy connotations and exhibit sound business conduct:

1) Ask Questions: Whether you are meeting with a client, your boss or a colleague, if your mouth is moving, you should be asking questions. I start every new client meeting by asking about one's background, their experience (both professional and personal) and, ultimately, what business issues they are experiencing. "Business issues" is the euphemism for problems. The customer took a meeting or a call which means they need something. Find out what it is! I can't count the number of sales calls I've attended with inexperienced or over-enthusiastic sales people who hit the "play" button the minute they get into a meeting and begin their pitch. They have no data, no reference point and no framework for the presentation. Ask questions and tailor the conversation to meet the needs of your customer.

2) Listen: Listening is NOT defined as the waiting period for you to get to speak again. So often, sales people will ask questions in an attempt to gain perspective, but they don't actually listen to the client's or prospect's response. Once again, if you are speaking, you should be asking more questions or getting clarity.

3) Frame the Discussion: Once you have asked the questions and actually listened (not waited just to speak again), you will have the client's or prospect's perspective. Frame your pitch by repeating back to the client what you just learned. If they begin to nod, you are on the right track. If not, immediately refer back to numbers one and two above.

4) Less is More: Many times, sales people create a slide presentation for a pitch. They then feel compelled to present the 200 PowerPoint slides they have prepared. The goal of the meeting is not to finish the deck or show that you are the smartest person in the room. The goal is to "close" for the next step in the process. This could be another meeting, a proposal or even a signed agreement.

I have seen some successful sales people fail over time because they forget these four basic techniques. These should be used with prospects, clients and even long-standing business relationships. If you are not continuing to cycle through this process with your existing clients, your competitors will, and these customers might not be your future clients.

Sales is a profession, and sales skills can be used in any profession. Demonstrate this thoughtful sales interaction with your customers, and the sleazy connotation might just turn sophisticated.

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