Sales is not for the faint of heart

Friday, October 1, 2004

Each of us has heard, at one point in our career, someone described as having a personality for sales. But is there such a thing? There are almost as many sales styles as there are successful sales representatives. Further complicating the profession is that many reps cannot clearly define what it is that they do. For the sake of clarity, I will define sales as, compelling someone to take specific action at your direction.

By defining what sales is, the fundamental question remains: how do you achieve success in sales?

The answer lies in the fundamentals. Why not use the techniques that created the success in the first place? Often, clarity comes when you break things down to their least common denominator and that’s the Three Cs approach. These include comprehensive understanding, commitment to the solution and compelling selling

The first step, comprehensive understanding of the opportunity, emphasizes the current situation, and most importantly the needs of the customer. The key here lies in the word comprehensive. One of the most dangerous things a rep can do is to allow the feeling that he or she knows the market. In fact, a humble salesperson is an effective salesperson. Sure, the rep must understand the marketplace as a whole, but in the details lies the sale. Some steps to consider include identifying key questions to ask; creating a meeting blueprint or needs assessment; listen to the answers; identify the drivers and needs and learn from each experience and evolve your template.

At street level, there are a few fundamental things you can apply to this effort. When you probe, you must first ask the right questions; and then listen to the answers. More often than not, we find ourselves thinking about what we are going to say next. No, that is not listening. Over time, we have come to think of sales as talking until you convince them. Selling starts with an understanding that you reach, moves to a shared understanding with your customer and becomes a mutual agreement, based on that understanding.

Once you get a sense for the drivers and the other nuances, you have the building blocks for your value proposition, the return on investment that makes the sell logical and compelling.

The second step is the most often short-changed, commitment to the solution. Put simply, they must believe that what they are presenting is the first, best and even the only option for the customer. Do not be in a hurry. Skipping steps is like building a house on sand.

Ask yourself and convey the answer to your customer,“How well do I know what I know and do what I do?” Next, ask yourself, “What value does what I do and know have to my customer?” In other words, can you show a direct relationship to your solution to customer’s needs?

In this state of mind, you can achieve the final C, compelling selling. In short, you know the story and the need, and you truly have the courage of your convictions.

Often, history is your best sales tool, so use your own experiences. Write case studies on key successes customers have enjoyed from your solutions. Use specific details and key metrics to illustrate the benefits of your solution and create the value proposition.

Certainly, how you present the solution is critical. Use your experiences over time to craft a consistent, formal proposal. Use an outline, follow a regular flow, and even go as far as scripting some parts if necessary. Despite the adage, practice does not make perfect practice does. Develop your compelling message, create a format you can repeat, allow it to evolve and work it again and again, until it is second nature and smooth.

Finally, sales is not for the faint of heart. Sales is compelling someone to take specific action at your direction. That viewpoint clearly requires that, if you are to direct the action, you must drive the action. You must be prepared to do the work, ask the hard questions and maintain the value you purport to offer.

Robert Ricucci is president and chief executive officer of Protection Service Industries in California. He can be reached via email at