The Sales Professional: Sales excellence made, not born

The Sales Professional: Sales excellence made, not born

THINK of this: Everything you own or will ever own is paid for by the customer — your food, housing, car, clothing, vacations, hobbies, your children's education; everything is paid for by the customer.

So, does the customer deserve better than he is getting?

How about your company?

My first boss had a saying, "There's not so much wrong with this outfit that more sales wouldn't fix." Does your company deserve better than it is getting?

Technical service staff, purchasing agents, manufacturing facilities, trucks and even company vice presidents are not really needed unless something gets sold.

During my 40-year career in agribusiness, there were only two years (1975 and 1976) that my job title was "sales rep," yet I am a salesman. You are, too.

Regardless of job title, we all are trying to win more customers. Regardless of job title, salesmanship skills are important. I take my salesmanship skills pretty seriously and endeavor to be professional.

Are effective, professional salespeople born or made? It is more made than born. Sure, it helps to be born with the gift of gab and an appealing physique, but there are a whole lot of sales failures out there wrapped in those genetics.

It takes a desire to invest effort into skill development that can result in salesmanship excellence. Introverts with a squeaky voice and an ordinary-looking body, face and hair can make great salespeople. It's all about skills development.

All development is self-development. Sports announcers refer to the "will to win." The important thing actually is the will to prepare to win.

My favorite analogy about salesmanship is demonstrated with a bicycle. Old-fashioned Currier & Ives bicycles had those huge front wheels and tiny rear wheels, so why haven't we seen any in use in our lifetime? It is probably because they were difficult to ride. The bicycle designs that have survived the history of bike riding feature front wheels and rear wheels of equal size.

A true sales professional is balanced similar to a bicycle: The rear wheel is product/industry knowledge, and the front wheel is interpersonal skills. The rear wheel is the drive wheel, and the front wheel is the directional wheel. Allow one wheel to be more dominant than the other, and the bicycle gets out of balance and does not perform as well.

Putting effort into learning, practice and preparation for both product/industry knowledge and interpersonal skills is the key to competing and winning in sales excellence.

Product/industry knowledge is the stock in trade. For the customer, it's the "what" to buy — the factual stuff. Accuracy, expertise and ideas are among the differentiators.

There's an old saying, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Thus, it's the interpersonal skills that help the customer answer the "why" — the emotional stuff. The differentiators include being accommodating rather than imposing, being empathetic, understanding and having integrity.

Customers will listen if a sales rep (or company) is likeable and knowledgeable. Customers will do business with a sales rep (or company) they trust.

We all know that perception equals reality. There is not one person (well, maybe one) reading this column who purposely cheats customers. Yet, at times, customers perceive that they've been cheated.

Why does this gap exist between perception and reality? How can it be closed? How can trust be built? The answer lies in the learning, practice and preparation of professional interpersonal skills.

In the coming months, this column will provide an overview of various interpersonal skills that can help result in professional sales excellence. Most readers will be familiar with these skills but may not want to further learn, practice and prepare them.

The best baseball players in the world go to Major League Baseball spring training. The best football players in the world go to National Football League summer camp. The best golfers in the world get tune-ups from a Professional Golfers' Association of America teacher.

The world's best are learning and practicing fundamentals; they are preparing to win. They do not take the fundamentals for granted and say, "I heard that in a seminar 10 years ago." They pay attention to fundamentals in daily practice and in competition. They play the way they practice.

When it comes to bicycles, kids don't learn to ride bikes in a seminar.

The fact of the matter is that all development is self-development.*Pat Whidden has enjoyed a 40-year career in animal agriculture-related agribusiness, with experience ranging from the dirty boots to the boardroom. He is a consultant specializing in strategy development and execution, as well as sales and customer service coaching, seminars and corporate events. Contact Whidden directly at (615) 719-2447 or [email protected] Watch for his Sales Professional column in the first issue of every month in Feedstuffs.

Volume:86 Issue:13

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