Obsolete Salespeople

I heard a speaker several years ago say that in the not too distant future the sales profession wouldn’t exist. He said that everything, absolutely everything would be purchased online with no human interaction.

 

I thought that was one of those attention grabbing throw-away lines that speakers sometimes use to get the attention of their audience. (Not that I would ever do that) But he was serious, he really believed what he was saying. 

 

At the time I was certain he was wrong, in fact I thought it was a downright stupid thing to say. I’m not so sure anymore. Research shows that the Centennial Generation (that’s the generation just entering the workforce) would prefer as little contact with a person as possible when buying something.

 

Have you seen those commercials where you buy the car online and then go pick it up at a car vending machine? (I don’t know what else you would call it) That company was built for the Centennial Generation. 

 

There was a time when I couldn’t have imagined anyone buying a car without seeing and test driving it. Now I can easily imagine car dealers only existing to repair cars bought somewhere else. 

 

I still can’t believe that the sales profession will ever completely go away. But I can certainly foresee the day when there are far fewer people selling than there are today. That day is likely less than 10 years away and if you still want to be selling in 10 years then you had best start making some changes right now.

 

There are lots of very lazy salespeople around today. They are basically order takers who are unprepared, unaware of their customer’s needs, and unlikely to ever overcome an objection by proving the value of what they are selling. 

 

The good news is that they will be the first salespeople to leave the field of selling. The ones who remain will need to be professionals of the highest caliber. They personally will need to provide value to customers. They will be highly paid and much sought after professionals.

 

Think about this, if you can get everything you need, pricing information, product knowledge and customer support online then why would you need a salesperson mucking up the transaction? 

 

If you’re going to be in sales 10 years (or less) in the future you MUST add tangible benefits that a customer or prospect can’t get any other way. 

 

The question to ask yourself today is “what do I bring to the table?” 

 

Can you, with a high level of specificity state why someone should buy a particular product or service from you? I’m not asking why they should buy it from the company you work for, I’m asking why buy it from YOU as opposed to some other salesperson. 


This may sound harsh but if you can’t answer that question then you should plan on a career other than sales in the near future. Alexa, Siri or some other form of Artificial Intelligence will have taken your place.

Customers are People Too

In many industries customers often become more than customers. They become friends. Not necessarily the kind you would invite to non-business gatherings, but people you truly care about and who care about you.

 

You may think you are in the business of selling or manufacturing stuff, but you are not. Even if your products are sold only to other businesses, the business doesn’t make the buying decision. A person does. You are in the people business. Learning to show people that they are important and cared about will help you make both the initial sale and long-term sales over the course of time.

 

No matter what you sell, every customer should receive your best service during the sales process and after. That service should be delivered in a way that shows you care about the customer. 


Good salespeople listen far more than they talk. They ask meaningful questions and then listen. The best salespeople even take notes. 

 

A Minneapolis business legend, Harvey Mackay, has a long list of information he requires his salespeople to gather about customers. This includes not only information required to do business, but a few personal details such as birthdays, whether or not they’re married, children’s names, and whether or not they have pets. That information is used to make contacts and to start conversations with customers after the initial sale.

 

It also helps the salesperson…and customer, develop a relationship beyond the sale. It’s far easier to do business with people you know than it is to do business with someone who shows up to peddle something every once on a while. 

 

People like to do business with people who are like them. People who demonstrate that they care about them beyond making the sale. People who keep them in mind when something new that might be of interest to them pops up. They come to rely on businesses and salespeople they know they can trust to have their needs and interests at heart.

 

Here is the real trick to building real, long lasting relationships – there is no trick. You need to understand that you can’t build a relationship with a business or an organization. You can only build relationships with other people. 

 

Even the biggest companies and organizations are nothing more than a group of people. Real people. People who value real relationships with other people. Even salespeople. 

 

To build a real relationship you must have the other person’s interests at heart. If you do not, they will eventually figure that out and you will become just another product peddler that they will try to avoid.

 

Customers are people too. Never forget that simple, too often forgotten fact because you do so at your own peril. 


One more thought….if you’re a Sales Manager or a business leader who expects your people to build relationships with your customers then you should know that your people are unlikely to build those relationships unless you have built one with your people first. 

No, Sales Don’t Fix Everything

Sometimes I’m at a loss for words. I know frequent readers of this blog may find that hard to believe but sometimes I am so flummoxed by something I hear that I don’t know how to respond.

 

I recently had one of those conversations when the subject of selling came up. I pretty much despise discounting of any kind. If a company has built value into their products and services then they should be able to sell that value to customers. The purchase price of that product should reflect the value that was built into it. 

 

In a perfect world that’s the way it would always be. But the last time I checked the world wasn’t perfect. 

 

So salespeople, even at times very good, well trained salespeople will be forced to offer a discounted price to earn the business of a customer. That happens for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest is a competitor pricing their inferior products well below the price of the superior product. Then they sometimes deceive the customers into believing the products are nearly identical. 

 

They in effect commoditize the product and tell the customers “it’s all the same so why pay more.” It’s not exactly ethical but if you don’t have a lot of mirrors around and you don’t need much sleep at night it works.

 

The skill of the salesperson must match the quality of the product. If not then the customer may not have the opportunity to compare the products on a level playing field. 

 

That’s what first attracted me to sales training. Companies with high value products need salespeople who are skilled at showing that value to customers and prospects. 

 

Without highly skilled and professionally trained salespeople the companies that sell products with high value will leave their customers and prospects vulnerable to the offers and “deals” on inferior products put forth by their competitors. 

 

The customer loses in that scenario. They may not realize it at first and truthfully some may never realize it but they lose all the same. But the high value company loses as well. If they can not receive fair value in return for the value they offer then they will fail as a business. The failure may come quickly or it may take a while but the end result will be the same. 

 

If your business is selling high value products and services then you must be compensated fairly for those products and services. That requires a well trained and professional sales force.

 

This is a bit of an aside but if you’re training your salespeople today in the same way you were 10 or 15 years ago then you are only partially training your salespeople. The marketplace is far more chaotic today then it’s ever been before. There is more information available to customers and prospects (much of it misinformation) than ever. There are more ways to purchase something than was imaginable only 5 years ago. Sales has changed and your sales training needs to change as well.

 

Which brings me back (finally) to the point of this post. In a conversation with someone who should know better, who in fact MUST know better, they used that oft stated cliche “well, sales fixes a lot of ills.” 

 

I immediately corrected them and said “no, sales HIDES a lot of ills.” The problems are merely disguised for a time. If too many of those sales are heavily discounted then you have a problem.  If you are a high value company you have two choices: stop selling high value products or go out of business. 

 

Businesses don’t succeed because of an impressive top line. Businesses succeed when their bottom line is reflective of the value they sell into the marketplace. 

 

What truly flummoxed me was this person’s disagreement with that statement. They insisted that if you were selling enough you would be successful regardless of your profit margins. 

 

For emphasis they repeated, “it’s all about sales and only sales.” 

 

That is almost scary! I wonder how many people in business feel profits are optional? I never considered there would be people in a for profit business that felt that way. Now I’m wondering if I‘ve discovered the cause of a whole lot of business failures. 

 

Sales are not what keep a business going. Profitable sales are what keep a business going. If you don’t know that, if you don’t live that, then you won’t be in business very long.

 

Just so we’re clear, profit isn’t the only thing a business should make. They hopefully make a real difference in the lives and businesses of their customers. They do that by providing them with high quality products and services. But if they hope to do that consistently, for the long haul, they MUST make a profit. 


Because no no matter how much we may want it to be so… sales do not fix everything. 

Ask For The Order

I had a salesperson who worked for me years ago who was outstanding at building relationships with prospects. She had a way of genuinely connecting with people that built instant trust and credibility. 

 

She valued her relationships with her prospects above all else. Even above asking them to buy something from her. She couldn’t bring herself to ask for the order. She honestly felt it could damage the relationship if the prospect saw her as a salesperson. 

 

She didn’t work for me very long. I had a requirement that my salespeople made certain that all prospects knew full well that they were there to sell them something.

 

I understand it can be uncomfortable to ask people for their money. However, too many salespeople put their proposals and presentations out there and wait. Very often they end up walking away with no sale.

 

If a prospect doesn’t quickly see the value of the salesperson’s products and jump right in to buy the sales opportunity may be lost.

 

Asking for the order is a vital part of the sales process. It is the logical conclusion to a professional sales presentation. Prospects expect to be asked.

 

Researchers asked people who were not persuaded to buy why they didn’t go ahead with whatever it was they were offered. Interestingly enough, the most common answer was that they were never asked. In some cases, they were convinced of the value of the offering and would have gone ahead, but nothing happened. The salespeople didn’t ask them to make a commitment or to part with their money, so they didn’t.

 

Don’t ever let the fact that you didn’t ask someone to make a buying decision be the reason a buyer doesn’t move forward. It can be as simple as saying, “How would you like to handle the investment for this?” Practice saying it in a business-like manner. It works fine when delivered with confidence.

 

Knowing when to ask, however, is every bit as important as doing it. Sometimes salespeople wait so long to ask for the sale that the right time to ask passes them by. To get past this timing challenge, use trial closes to take a prospect’s buying temperature.

 

You do this by simply putting the word “if” in front of your usual order asking questions. For instance, “IF you were to go ahead with this how would you handle the investment for the purchase?”

 

It’s designed to take the temperature of the sale. If the prospect is warm enough, you would move to asking your final order asking question about delivery date, paperwork, etc.


Asking for the order doesn’t always work, but this much is certain; it works a whole lot better than not asking. So ASK!

The Costliest Mistake in Selling

Many salespeople and sales executives, especially sales executives, believe that the costliest mistake in selling is losing the sale. That’s not quite accurate; the bigger mistake in selling is taking a long time to lose a sale that you should not have lost. I‘d say the costliest mistake in selling is learning nothing from the experience. 

 

A professional salesperson should never feel good about a losing an opportunity to help a customer. But even the most honest and professional salespeople will sometimes lose a sale. What makes them so successful is that they rarely if ever lose a sale they could have earned. 

 

The average sales cycle across all industries is changing and much of it now happens out of the site of the salesperson. Most customers have done at least some research online before reaching out to a salesperson. In business to business selling many of the purchasing decisions are becoming more complicated. They are driven not by price alone but by brand, service, timing and tax considerations as well. That takes much of the decision away from a single buyer and leads to more “committee” type decisions. That takes longer.

 

There are lots of challenges with a longer sales cycle. There are usually more people involved. There are more objections to overcome. Second chances are provided to competitors. The good news is that most of those challenges can be overcome by effective information gathering. The longer the sales cycle, the more influence required to earn the business. Influence in sales comes directly from information. 

 

Do you influence your prospect’s and customer’s decisions or stand on the sidelines and observe from a distance? Are you in the deal, making a difference for your customer, your organization and yourself? Do you have the information needed to do that?

 

Are you selling products and services or showing them? To really sell requires influence. That can only come from taking the time to understand your customer’s true wants and needs and most importantly, why the need exists. 

 

You should have no problem with a longer sales cycle, so long as it leads to a sale. Your challenge today is that it can take just as much time and effort to lose a sale as it does to earn the business. 

 

When you invest your time with a customer make sure it counts. Ask the tough questions and get the information that leads to influence and the sale.


Don’t commit a too common mistake in selling, using your time to watch a competitor take away your business and your income.

Are You a Pitcher or a Professional?

Okay, so let me begin by acknowledging that I’m likely to offend some long-time salespeople. There will be other people who think that “it’s just a word” so what does it matter. 

 

To the first group I’d say get over it, if you’re that easily offended then your success in sales will always be limited. To the second group I’d say if you think “it’s just a word” then think also of all the times “just a word” changed your attitude, changed your thinking, and maybe changed your level of success. Words matter!

 

The word I’m writing about today is “pitch.” 

 

A pitch might be the legal delivery of a baseball by a pitcher. It could be the slope of a roof. Sometimes it’s the quality of a sound governed by the rate of vibrations producing it. My personal favorite use of the word pitch is a high approach shot onto a golf green. 

 

But a “pitch” is never never never a professional sales presentation. Now, before some salespeople, and even some sales trainers, tell me that pitch is only a word let me stop you before you begin. It’s not just a word, it’s a huge word. 

 

It’s huge because it plays an important role in determining your mindset as a salesperson. Your actions tend to follow your words and your thoughts. When you say you’re giving a pitch, or even think it, then everything you say and do around your prospect or customer will be affected….and not in a good way.

 

Salespeople, at least professional salespeople, need to stay focused on what’s important. The only thing that really matters to professional salespeople is their customer. Professional salespeople don’t make a pitch to a prospect; they craft a presentation based on their customer’s needs. 

 

Professional salespeople make recommendations based on information. The information comes from customers as a result of a thorough discovery process. 

 

Sales isn’t a game where you make a pitch and hope the prospect takes it. It is not a game where you try to pitch something past a customer. You don’t need to “pitch” anything because if you’re a professional salesperson you don’t play games with a customer. You don’t think of a sale as a “win” for yourself. The only win in professional selling is making sure the customer gets what they need.

 

Do not kid yourself. If you’re not thinking in terms of helping a customer or prospect reach a goal or an objective then you’re not thinking like a professional salesperson. 

 

Thinking in terms of “making a pitch” puts a salesperson in the wrong frame of mind. It diminishes the importance of what a professional salesperson does. Peddlers and average salespeople make pitches. Professional salespeople make formal, professional, and meaningful presentations. 


So ditch the pitch and be the professional salesperson your prospects and customers deserve. 

The Gift of Listen

As far back as I can remember there has been a saying that good salespeople have the gift of gab. 

For the last 30 years or so I’ve known that saying to be utterly false. Good salespeople, actually great salespeople, truly professional salespeople, don’t have the gift of gab, they have the gift of listen. 

You’ll never hear a truly professional salesperson say that they “talked” anyone into doing anything. The best salespeople actually listen far more than they talk. They  don’t want to sell people stuff that they don’t need. They want to help them buy products and services that help their customer receive a real benefit in return. 

Great salespeople ask great questions of their customers knowing full well that if they ask the right questions what follows are honest answers that will help them help their customer.

Once they ask great questions then they listen and they don’t just listen to respond, they listen to understand. They linger on the words of their customer until they fully understand the needs and wants of their customer. If for any reason they don’t fully understand they will ask more questions until they do. What they never do is guess. They don’t guess at what their customer might need or what they might want, they ask great questions and then they listen until they understand.

They listen as if that particular customer is the only customer in the world because they know that, in that moment, they are in fact the only customer that matters. 

If you want to know how you measure up to the best sales professionals in the world consider this: the best sales professionals listen more than twice as much as they talk. 70% of their interactions with a customer are invested in listening and only 30% are spent talking. For average salespeople those percentages are just about reversed. 

You will never learn how to help your customer by talking to them, talking just starts the communications process. Listening to your customer helps you learn how to help them, listening completes the communications process.

So… are you listening yet?