How Much Should Sales Approaches Vary by Industry?

An open letter to my readers:

Hi everyone. First, let me thank you for following TrustMatters. 

Now, let me tell you a bit about your fellow readers (and by extension, yourself). You are a disproportionately well-educated businessperson. You are most likely a professional—law, communications, accounting, consulting. Some of you are in financial services, some in software and technology; a lot of you follow new media heavily, some of you are curmudgeons. You’re more likely young than old, you’re pretty hip, and you’re pretty literate.

In the field of sales, there is a lot of range. More of you are in B2B than B2C. Some of you sell into government vs. selling into the private sector. Some of you sell to purchasing agents, others to ultimate users.  Many of you don’t like to think of yourselves as being in sales, though you know you have an impact on clients’ buying decisions.  And we all tend to look for that slice of life, those lessons, those situations that speak uniquely to our own little corner of experience—often dismissing the experiences of those who look different.  

Sometimes, though, we overstate the differences, and forget how much of great sales is fundamental, consistent, inviolable across nearly all sales situations.

I was reminded of this the other day by one of Jeffrey Gitomer’s weekly columns.

Jeffrey Gitomer: King of Sales

If you don’t know Jeffrey Gitomer, you’re missing something. He is bald, rumpled, given to 82-point powerpoint fonts, and looks disturbingly like late-night comic Dave Attell. He wears a red Staples-like shirt, and his normal volume level is a shout.

He grew up in rough-and-tumble sales, in central New Jersey. Cold-calling. Wearing out shoe-leather. Closing, handling objections, fighting for lead lists. Hard core.

I know what you’re thinking. I’ll say it for you. He looks like a hick. What could he possibly have to say to me, a successful (consultant / accountant / finance professional / commercial banker / software / technology) business developer?

Well, look again. By any measure of success and respect, he’s The Man. And if you go to his seminars, you’d be surprised at how much the crowd looks more like you than like him. So I’m very proud, by the way, to have a testimonial quote from Jeffrey Gitomer on the front page of my own Trust-based Selling.

Gitomer’s List of Smart and Dumb Sales

But don’t take my word for it. Take a look at Gitomer’s recent ezine article How to Sell Best: Ask Someone Who Buys. It’s a great collection of wisdom from a purchasing agent fan of his about how salespeople blow it, and how they succeed.

My point is not how bright the purchasing agent is (very), but the fact that Gitomer—with all his schticky-hicky presentation—chose to highlight it in his e-zine. Because he believes in it.

Here’s an abridged list of what Gitomer considers smart—and dumb. (For more detail, see his original piece).

smart 1. Honesty. Truth at all times and at all costs.

dumb 1. Telling an expedient lie.

smart 2. Give me valuable ideas.

dumb 2. Function only as an order-taker.

smart 3. Understand and be interested in my business.

dumb 3. Communicate non-sense.

smart 4. Treat me with respect.

dumb 4. Use bad manners.

smart 5. Be a decent human being, with some sense of ethics and morals.

dumb 5. Schmooze bad about the competition.

smart 6. Know your own business cold.

dumb 6. Assume that I know nothing about your business.

smart 7. Be friendly and personable.

dumb 7. Fail to attempt to form a relationship.

smart 8. Remember the details.

dumb 8. Make a presentation with no copy of your proposal or supporting materials to leave behind.

smart 9. Make good on your word.

smart 10. Take responsibility.

dumb 10. Refuse to take responsibility; shift blame to other people.

Single smartest. Don’t "sell" me. Let me "buy."

Single dumbest. Manipulate me.

Now, let me ask the accountants out there: is there any item on that list that is wrong for selling tax, attest or risk management work to your clients?

Systems consultants: which items don’t apply to you?

Financial planners: which items apply only to big box stores, but not to you?

And so on for the rest of us. 

For my part, I can’t think of one that doesn’t apply. More importantly, if I did my own Top Ten smart/dumb list, it wouldn’t add or subtract much, if anything. 

And if all that’s true—well, let’s explore some implications.

First, when it comes to the important things—sales is sales is sales.

Second, maybe it’s time for us “professionals” to stop looking down on sales, and recognize that great sales are great professionals in every relevant sense of the word. Sell is no longer a 4-letter word. (Note to self: send email to inform Webster’s).

Third, about all that content expertise you’re in love with? It’s there all right: see items 2,3, and 6. But the other 7 items? They’re about relationships. 

Bottom line for me: there’s a conceit that exists in the professions, a deeply-embedded cleaner-hands-than-thou mentality, when it comes to selling. It’s unjustified, it’s wrong, it’s just another form of arrogance, and no one benefits from maintaining it. We all need to just get over it.

Great selling, above all, is about service to others: it requires great relationships.

What a metaphor for life.


Selling in Three-Part Harmony

I am fascinated by sales.

The sale is the point at which the personal meets the commercial. How we view the personal / commercial relationship informs how we look at business in general.

So it’s instructive to read those who write on sales. The reigning sales author of our time has to be Jeffrey Gitomer. As of this writing, on Amazon’s best-seller list of Sales and Selling, he has books at the numbers 5, 9, 13, and 17 slots.

Popularity doesn’t necessarily mean quality, nor does quality guarantee best-seller status.  But both hold true in Gitomer’s case.

Some sales people write about sales process, management and strategy. Gitomer is an unabashed throwback to the “old” sales gurus—he speaks to the individual who sells. He speaks about the intersection between the commercial and the personal.

Here’s an excerpt from his new Little Platinum Book of Cha-Ching!

I’m certain you have seen or heard the information about “typing” people. Driver, amiable, creative, whatever. And then you’re told ways of manipulating what you do or say to be able to communicate with them.

Go back to the Dale Carnegie book How to Win Friends and Influence People, and you’ll see the two words that explain harmony: “Be yourself.”

Selling is about understanding the other person. Each person has different motives to buy based on personality and needs. Salespeople cannot give the same presentation all the time. You’ve got to adapt the presentation to meet the needs and the personality of the potential customer without compromising your standards or altering your personality to a point where you have to remember the way you acted or spoke.

I’m against systems of selling. They teach you a way, usually a manipulative way. And you gotta use that way. The problem is the probable purchaser may not want to buy that way. Which way do you sell?

Why people buy is ONE BILLION times more powerful than how to sell…

Harmony is understanding, sensing the tone and comfort level of the customer, and using your character skills and interpersonal skills to harmonize. Your job is to take the characteristics of the probable purchaser and blend them with the reason they are buying so that it motivates them to act and gives them enough confidence to buy.

THINK! about harmony in music. Your notes blend with other notes to create harmony.

Think of it the same way in sales. Think of it the same way in business.

If Gitomer is in your town (and he will be), treat yourself to a ticket to one of his seminars.  He’s a showman.  His schtick is a working-class, red Staples-type sweatshirt gruff cigar-chomping straight talking regular guy. The last guy to get all philosophical on you. But he does get philosophical on you; he just does it in the vernacular.  (He is a regular guy—and regular like a fox).

Gitomer’s view is clear. Business is personal. It is not just about systems and forces and corporate battles.  It necessarily involves people relating to people—as full people, not just as cogitating neurons.

And his metaphor is powerful. Business as music. In particular, the harmonic element of music; the element that speaks to collaboration. Business in his view is inherently about collaboration, interaction—not a series of parallel solos.

Think of business as commerce—a relationship that is either competitive or collaborative.

It’s up to the seller, more than anyone else, to choose which it shall be.