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How to Make Salespeople More Effective

Not withstanding the value that many salespeople bring to their customers, the selling profession is under the gun. There have always been those who have even decried the existence of salespeople, describing them as an unnecessary evil. At best, a salesperson is interested, knowledgeable, responsive – and helpful; at worst, totally self-absorbed, uninformed and untruthful.

This is the picture of selling today from the perspective of many customers. And while it’s certainly nothing new, there’s little indication that it will be changing any time soon. If anything, these criticisms may very well cut deeper unless salespeople come to accept the fact that customers are truly in charge of the sales process.

1. Customers expect to be their own salesperson

At one time or another just about every customer has taken a salesperson’s advice, only to regret it. Getting burned – perhaps it would be more accurate to say being betrayed – makes buyers suspicious and distrusting of what they’re told. While this might seem to be an easy problem to solve, it might be the most daunting issue facing salespeople today.

Clearly, the Internet is taking more and more sales out of the hands of salespeople. It’s an education in what great salesmanship is all about and leading the way is makes it easy for customers to be their own salespeople. In fact, the buying experience is actually enjoyable. And, of course, the customer is always in charge.

2. Customers like to play

Ironically, one of Apple’s greatest home runs isn’t electronic. At least this is the view of the company’s former CEO, Steve Jobs, who said at the introduction of the iPad 2 that Apple’s retail stores played a major role in the immense success of the first iPad.

Unlike any other retail store in the world, an Apple store not only makes it easy to look in and see what’s going on, but it’s welcoming, a place where customers love to go shopping. The “salespeople” are help rather than sell. Clearly, Apple understands that today’s customers want to enjoy the buying experience and getting involved.

3. Crank up the communication, not the sales pitches

Top salespeople have long prided themselves on being effective persuaders. However, if the truth were known, most of those in sales probably are best at talking their way out of getting orders.

For example, you walk into a major home appliance or department store. The ranges and refrigerators, the washers, dryers and dishwashers are all lined up neatly in one row after another. After awhile a salesperson comes along and asks if you have questions. You might get the facts but chances are you’ll completely miss the experience of the refrigerator. You can see it, but that’s all. It’s what the fridge does to add convenience and enjoyment to life that counts.

How would it be if a refrigerator manufacturer gave iPads to the salespeople, with brief videos of consumers using their refrigerators in their homes and talking about it? They could see it come alive. How much more compelling that would be than listening to a salesperson, even a good one, talking about the refrigerator in the cemetery-like setting of the showroom.

Would the right technology, such as an iPad, help increase customer involvement? Would it make products more compelling? And, would it help produce more orders? What are the implications for salespeople in all this? What messages does it send to those who want to be successful in sales?

4. What Your Salespeople can do... and what they need to know

  • With so much information available on the Internet, today’s customers are often better informed than the salespeople who are helping them.
  • Customers won’t tolerate a salesperson getting paid who, in their estimation, fails to provide meaningful value.
  • The day is gone when wearing a suit is the major prerequisite for a salesperson (male or female), along with the idea that by looking successful, customers will think you are.
  • What is the best education for becoming a salesperson? Being trained as an investigator where you are forced to be attentive to the facts, listening and focused on solving problems.
  • Failure to follow up contributes to most lost sales.
  • Many salespeople may be most successful in talking themselves out of getting the order.
  • Salespeople mistakenly attribute their success to their salesmanship or customer relationships, when it’s really that the customer is ready to make the purchase.
  • Avoid partnering new salespeople with those who are more experienced, since that’s often the perfect way to perpetuate bad habits and incompetence.
  • The biggest mistake salespeople make is trying to sell something. The right mission is solving a problem for a customer.
  • Too many salespeople depend on their mouth as their favorite tool for getting the order. They want to win sales with words, not by satisfying their customers.

This is the environment where most salespeople find themselves today. In many respects, it’s confusing and frustrating, quite different from the way it was just a couple of years ago.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He writes for a variety of business publications and speaks on business, marketing and sales issues. Contact: 40 Oval Road, Quincy, MA 02170; 617-328-0069;;