On a daily, almost hourly basis we are being sold to. Unconsciously, we are selling constantly every day too. Maybe it’s negotiating with our partners over who’s cooking dinner or children over homework (probably simultaneously during the lockdown), setting up a new phone contract, convincing our boss to give us a few more days to deliver that project or hit that target. I feel that, right now, the perception of sales is sadly at its lowest. Why would I want 50% off business shirts when I’m not leaving the house, let alone getting dressed? While it’s lovely to dream about destinations and holidays, the reality is I’m not going to book one right now, no matter how cheap it might be. There have also been some clumsy attempts by companies to profit from the current lockdown and prey on the vulnerable, with inflated pricing for essential items or cheaply produced products. These “sales” promotions are at best misplaced, at worst annoying and illegal. What all of them do, however, is contribute to the negative image of sales. Salespeople are traditionally perceived to be arrogant, pushy, sneaky, generally annoying – as portrayed in great films like ‘Wall Street’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. These portrayals haven’t helped the perception of salespeople. But I like to think times are changing. In the USA, sales is a respected profession, way more so than in the UK.
I’ve been in sales for the last 25 years. The best salespeople in my teams have invariably been the complete opposite of the typical sales person stereotype. Instead, they are genuine, honest, determined and driven people. The top performers keep their relationships with their clients strong, becoming partners and colleagues even. They don’t treat clients as just another sale before moving onto the next one. They don’t “love you and leave you”! Don’t forget sales is one of the oldest professions. People have been trading/bartering/negotiating for products and services since the beginning of time but, for some reason, it’s not something anyone is proud of – who introduces themselves as a salesperson when on a date or at a dinner party? I’m in “marketing” or a “commercial” role sounds much more respectable. Often, pre-lockdown, I would love it if I met a good salesperson while out shopping. Someone chatty and sociable, genuinely knowledgeable about what they were selling me and courteous, even if I didn’t make a purchase. The type of salesperson who did everything right and so would make me want to buy from them next time. I hasten to add that my wife and son used to hate these interactions and couldn’t understand why I would spend so much time talking to a stranger, let alone a selling stranger, when I wasn’t going to make a purchase. The reality is those salespeople are, at the end of the day, just people – they too have aspirations, families, commitments and jobs that carry lots of stress and pressure to hit those targets. In my experience, often the best salespeople come from non-traditional backgrounds. They have amazing social skills, natural curiosity and a tremendous work ethic. When recruiting those at an early stage of their sales career, I’ve always considered the skill versus will model. So, consider this. The next time you find yourself being sold to, don’t be too quick to dismiss the person selling to you and exit the store or put down the phone, or move to another seat at the party. Hear them out. You might be pleasantly surprised. The best salespeople believe in what they sell and how it will benefit your life. Afterall, what’s the worst that could happen? You lose a few minutes from your day. Alternatively, you might just, as I once did, end up employing that selling stranger, who then goes on to become a great salesperson for your own business and one of your top performers!