The biggest myth of professional selling is that good salespeople are born, not made. This myth should be destroyed, relegated to the scrap heap.
Just as the child learns to swim or perform gymnastics through years of practice, the tools a sales person needs to master are selling skills. It is not a natural process to ‘close’ a deal. It is a skill set just like anything else and so can be learned.
“There goes a born sales person.”
What does this mean? I believe it’s another one of the dangerous myths about sales. I believe sales is a profession that is learned, not something with which we emerge from the womb. How many born accountants or lawyers do you know? What’s the big deal about a phrase like this? Well, the problem is, like so many clichés in sales circles, people have heard it so often, they start to believe the myth is a fact.
CEOs start thinking that they need to find born sales people and their sales team will rock. They believe that they don’t need to train sales people; and that sales people come pre-packaged from the nursery as ‘revenue-generating machines’.
There’s a huge underestimation of the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of skills which sales people need to learn. In reality , nobody comes pre-packaged with many of these skills. I reckon sales is one of the most- demanding professions out there. A large proportion of the people who are really great at sales are totally committed to constant learning. They realise that they have a huge potential to learn more and be better .
The fact is to be a great sales person, you do not need the gift of gab. You need the opposite; a well-refined ability to listen. Buyers today have become remarkably sophisticated and are turned off by a slick, pushy approach to selling. Think of the last time you felt as you were being sold to. It probably made you feel that the salesperson wasn’t listening, and you are one hundred percent right. One of the most overlooked skills of professional selling is listening. Worse, people often believe they are better listeners than they actually are.
Can we make an ordinary salesperson into a rainmaker?
It’s our belief that we can. The proviso is the person must have a positive attitude and a bent for learning.
A Typical Scenario
Your typical sales person has everything they need to do their job well. They look good, have great personalities, are capable of establishing a rapport with prospects and have all their FAIS credits, along with a good knowledge of the products and services they are offering. But (and it’s a pretty big but), they’re not as good as they could be at selling.
According to our research, sales staff is often weak in key areas, such as closing deals, handling objections and negotiating offers. But should they be blamed?
In most of the cases we’ve seen, it’s more the fault of the training process than individual incompetence. At The Peer Group we believe that being a good salesman is a discipline like any other trade. Sales staff has to be trained and occasionally have some mentoring in key areas, such as closing deals, handling objections, negotiating and listening skills.
Sales people don’t come with all the skills they need to be successful. This takes a lifetime of learning.
Invest in training and, when you hire people, establish their willingness to learn at the first interview . The broker or sales agent, who has seen it all, is not the person you want to have in your organisation.
In an insurance environment which changes regularly with new legislative requirements, only hire people who love to learn. Unfortunately, in many firms when the going gets tough, the tough are told that their services are no longer required. This is incredibly shortsighted when you think about the amount of training that goes into making a sales person proficient in a company’s technology or product.
The Big Ego
It may be true that professional salespeople are prone to big egos. To them, asking for help is not an easy call. We believe it’s the duty of either the salesperson’s assigned mentor, or the sales director who should be monitoring performance and be ready to step in and help out when the going gets tough.
Of course, very often the sales director may have many of the selling skills needed (why else did he get the promotion?), but he or she may not have the necessary teaching skills to pass this knowledge on. An organisation like The Peer Group offers an invaluable service at this point, with highly trained and sensitive facilitators who step in and apply the necessary ‘medication’ to make the sick sales department better .
Simply hassling staff to check whether they have closed the deal is hugely demotivating. The Peer Group starts right at the
beginning and checks every step from prospecting to closing. Asking intelligent open probes is the least-known skill in sales today , and yet it is the most critical skill
in a salesperson’s repertoire.
Our office receives dozens of enquiries weekly from frustrated sales managers imploring us to come and teach their staff how to close more
assertively . “Our salespeople are great but cannot close” is the common cry . We are able to teach the five closes but it means very little. If you have not opened gaps, opportunities or problem areas through skilful probes then closing becomes a hit and miss affair. Do not leave this to chance… it’s way too important.
To summarise, if you or your sales staff are not closing, it’s not a case of poor closing techniques, but rather a case of poor probing techniques.(see graphic)
Does this make sense?
Get the gaps first and then plug them with the benefits of your services/products. The analogy is much like a military campaign – once we have the gap, we can aim our presentation with precision. And hit the bull’s eye.
If it’s so important, why don’t salespeople don’t ask penetrating questions?
Whilst salespeople have been told to ask penetrating questions, they understandably become reticent when the prospect shuts them down
with curt answers. This intimidates the salesperson to the point of avoidance. Why do prospective customers do this? Because admitting a need is akin to admitting a weakness or vulnerability…and who likes doing this? We need to practice this sensitive skill using a technique called scenario selling. Scenario selling is a process that makes it easier to ask tough questions.
“Dee, one thing we see happening in the market today is a growing frustration amongst investors to get a reasonable ROI on their retirement annuities. What has been your experience?”
“Bridgette, our research shows that cash flow is a major issue with our customers given the fluctuating petrol prices. What has been your experience with cash flow over the last year?”
In both scenarios, the salesperson initially painted a picture outside of the prospect’s personal situation which made it easier for the prospect to comment on. The prospect doesn’t feel so alone or ‘on the spot’. So it’s okay to admit to the ‘pain’, and broaching an awkward topic becomes easier for both parties.
Tip: Identify the points of pain with your fellow salespeople that your product/service can fix, solve or reduce. Practice so the flow becomes natural. Then deliver it and see the impact on your sales figures.