I recently had lunch with a friend of a friend who is looking to start his own business after working for someone else for decades.
Like most enterprising businessmen, he has identified a need that is not being sufficiently met and believes he has the answer. His business plan is solid. He has identified a target audience. He has researched what he can charge for his services. He has put together a forecast that has his company making a million dollars within five years. He even has a clever name and tagline.
The only problem is he doesn’t know how to sell the services his new company is offering. He’s never done sales before. He doesn’t know where to begin. He’s never wanted to do sales and he doesn’t see himself as a “sales guy”.
I’ve had this same conversation with men and women between the ages of 23 and 73 dozens of times over the past 25 years. Some were entering the workforce for the first time. Some were moving into new positions within their company. Some were business owners who had been in their position for decades. And some have been entrepreneurs starting a new venture.
My dad spent his professional career in sales. He sold copiers, billboards, and saw blades among other things. I never wanted to be in sales. It seemed too disingenuous – trying to get someone to buy something they didn’t necessarily need. I could help someone come up with the words or the pictures or appropriate medium to get their message out, but I was never going to be in (pause to make sour face) sales.
It wasn’t until I was searching for my last job 18 years ago when it hit me. ALL BUSINESS IS SALES. I was selling myself to prospective employers. I had been selling agency services to clients for years. I had sold ideas to co-workers and opinions to supervisors. Today I have to sell my employees on internal strategies for our business.
Sales doesn’t require an exchange of money or even getting someone to do something they wouldn’t necessarily do if not for your persuasion. Sales is about identifying a need and communicating your willingness (and ability) to help.
No human really WANTS to be sold something. But we could all use a little help.
So when I get into these conversations with people who don’t “do” sales, I always talk to them about changing their attitude, not their pitch. Approach a prospective client or customer with empathy for whatever it is he or she is going through, listen to their needs, and talk to them about how you might be able to help.
We’ve all been subjected to the salesperson who pushes just a little too hard. And it’s a rare occasion when we’ve actually bought something from that person. People work with people they like and trust – not salespeople who reek of desperation and appear more interested in their own need to close a sale rather than helping the prospective client with their issues.
So I encouraged my lunch companion not to be the “sales guy”. I told him to be the business owner who has the experience to solve problems. Listen to his prospects’ issues and have an honest conversation as to whether or not his service can alleviate their pain.
If the prospect can’t see how your product or service is going to help them, or they’re not willing to pay the price you’re asking to fix the issue, or if you don’t believe you can really assist in providing relief, THAT’S OK.
If we approach business and sales with the objective to be of service to someone rather than simply making the deal, it means we’re doing the right things for the right reasons and the customers we want will appreciate the help.