The Purpose Of Sales

Do you hate selling? Do you distrust salespeople? Do you find the whole concept, premise and purpose of sales to be somehow distasteful?

You are far from alone. Even the dictionary is loaded with secondary and tertiary meanings of “sales” that suggest selling is considered manipulative, conniving, even morally offensive.

This revulsion toward sales isn’t limited to our lives as retail consumers. In business, many buyers of goods and services are deeply suspicious of those whose job it is to sell. But the issue can be even more acute for the sellers than it is for the buyers.

Consider the case of complex professional and intangible services. The people who sell such services are highly intelligent, and even more highly educated. They have invested enormously in their technical education, and are justifiably proud of their proficiency and expertise. But they are even more proud of their objectivity, devotion to quality, and service to their clients.

The last thing they want is to be seen as “salespeople.”

And so they struggle. They strike the word “sales” from their vocabulary, talking instead about “business development” (note: even the grammar is instructive – the use of the passive voice, rather than the direct verb ‘to develop business’).

They abhor talking about price, and are apologetic about it when it can’t be avoided. They are proud of their qualifications, and believe (hope?) that their resumes will suffice to do the job of selling for them.

And yet it never seems enough for the feckless professionals. They are stuck with the undeniable proposition that they are being held accountable for getting their clients to fork over filthy lucre in return for the timesheet they hand in. They are confounded by the inability to distinguish themselves from the used car salesman, both in the minds of their clients, and – perhaps worst of all – in their own innermost thoughts.

What’s a poor professional to do?

The answer – amazingly – is at once simple, profound, and easily accessed. It lies in fundamentally redefining the purpose of sales – beginning in our own minds.  Let’s start by trying to understand the purpose of sales.

The Purpose of Sales

You may think the purpose or goal of sales is obvious – to get the buyer to buy, to get the sale, to get the buyer to hand over the money. Indeed, that’s what most people believe – and it’s precisely the source of the problem. It all starts there, and heads downhill fast.  Here’s why.

If you believe the purpose of selling is to get the sale, then you have made three key assumptions. First, that the ‘purpose’ of selling is one-sided – all about the seller. Second, that value to the buyer is per se irrelevant, as long as it’s enough to result in a sale. And third, that selling is essentially competitive – that you fail if you don’t get the sale, whether the loss is to a competitor or to the ubiquitous DND (Did Not Decide).

Those assumptions just fuel buyers’ paranoia. They enforce the notion that sellers do not have their buyers’ best interests at heart, that ‘the deal’ is all that matters, and that you can’t trust anything sellers say. It’s the kind of attitude that fuels sales ‘wisdom’ like “buyers are liars,” and “there are no be-backs.”

And those are just the key assumptions. There is a host of secondary implications which also follow from believing the purpose of selling is to get the sale. For example, it suggests that sales efficiency is key – that salespeople should work to qualify their leads so they don’t waste unproductive time. For example, it suggests that you should be very careful about giving away ‘free samples.’ And especially it suggests that you should never, ever refer a competitor to a client.

All of these are equally pernicious beliefs. It’s easy to characterize them as just traits of used car salesmen, but those beliefs are equally held by serious B2B salespeople, and taught in many ways by well respected sales training programs. Of course, that doesn’t make them better. They are still the source of all the negativity held by so many, including by salespeople themselves.

So – what is the alternative?

The Striking Alternative

Instead, try this simple statement on for size.

     The purpose of selling is to improve the buyer’s business. 

If that doesn’t sound radical, consider the implications. It means, for example, that if the product doesn’t improve things for the buyer – if the buyer is kidding themselves, in other words – then you shouldn’t sell it to them. That’s a little bit radical.

Much more radically, it means that if a competitor truly has a superior solution for a given client, you as the salesperson should actually recommend the competitor.  (Rest assured that the willingness to do so endears you so strongly to the buyer that you’ll virtually guarantee future sales).

But the radical implications aren’t the point. It is the day to day matters, the little things, that truly make the difference.  If your purpose is to improve the buyer’s business, then you’ll forsake that absurd acronym, Always Be Closing. Instead, you will Always Be Exploring, to make sure you help your client find a solution. This means the end of artificially-driven period-ending sales contests and forced attempts to close deals; instead, you focus on good decisions, in the appropriate timeframe – the client’s timeframe, not yours.

If your purpose is to improve the buyer’s business, then you won’t shut down the minute it appears your lead is not going to buy. Instead, you’ll spend another five minutes to help them look elsewhere for solutions from other businesses or different providers (and you’ll be amazed by the marketing payoff of that so-called inefficiently-spent sales time).

If your purpose is to improve the buyer’s business, then you won’t have problems with cross-selling. Instead, you’ll pursue it with a good conscience because you know what you’re seeking is in the client’s best interest.

You won’t have problems with pricing, because you’re not trying to put something over on someone – your goal is pure, and your firm needs a fair price to continue doing that truly good-for-client work.

You won’t have a problem with transparency regarding pricing, contracting or service policies, because those policies will likewise be truly aimed the betterment of the client’s business. And if they’re not aimed that way, then you’ve got a strong argument to make internally that sales shouldn’t bear the brunt of customer resentment – the problem lies elsewhere, and sales can be a force for client-focus good.

The Bottom Line of the Alternative

When you see the purpose of selling is to improve the client’s business, things change fundamentally. Your goals are no longer in conflict with the client – they are precisely and profoundly aligned. Your clients have every reason to trust you – and no longer to distrust you.

Selling is no longer about competition – with your clients, competitors, or your partners. It is about collaboration, in ways that can unify your sales organization. The sale itself becomes not the goal, but a byproduct.

And here’s the ultimate paradox. If you re-conceive the purpose of selling in this way, your clients will recognize it very quickly – even instantly, in some cases. Think about it from your own perspective as a buyer. How would you react if you ran into a seller who behaved in ways such that:

  • you can believe what they tell you
  • you can depend on their promises
  • you can confidently share confidences with them, and
  • you can be sure they have your best interests at heart?

The answer is clear: this is someone you would buy from.  And so, this approach to selling is paradoxical. By your very willingness to forego the sale (by making it no longer the object of your sales activity), you actually increase the likelihood of buyers buying from you.

But there is a catch. You can’t work the paradox against itself. You actually have to be willing to forego “getting the sale” as your objective in order for it to come true. After all, you can’t fake trust. But then – why should you even try?

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  1. […] * This post was provoked by Charlie Green’s great post, The Purpose Of Sales. […]

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