For any business to thrive, selling is a critical function. If you’re recruiting a salesman, what competencies do you look for? I love the scene at the end of the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street”, where Leonardo Dicaprio’s character, Jordan Belfort, asks numerous members in the audience to sell him a ballpoint pen. “Well this is a lovely pen”, “You can use this pen to write down your thoughts” and “I personally love this pen…” are some of the answers received. Everyone appears to highlight the superfluous details of the pen, not making a very convincing sale. So, what does it take to sell?
Scratch the itch:
No one identified that they needed to scratch the itch, or create a solution to the problem. A more apt response would have been to ask Jordan, “Won’t you do me a favour and write this down?” See what I did there?
However, selling a pen, or anything for that matter, is a lot more than just offering a solution to a problem.
The Emotion Economy:
The industrial economy was based on ‘make and sell’; the 1950s introduced the information economy which is based on ‘listen and serve’. (Does the saying “Customer is King” sound familiar?). A new approach is emerging today, called the Emotion Economy. Service and information is now being taken a step further if companies want to attract clients. Take supermarkets as an example: you’ll find some are a little more upmarket than others but on the whole, you could shop just about anywhere with much of the same quality and service. People are using the internet even more where they are able to call up a virtual trolley of products and compare items from store to store, before making their decision to buy. But which supermarket will you eventually choose? Increasingly, your decision is based on relationship, trust, connection and emotion – ahead of price, quality or speed of service. Based on these findings, what individual competencies should you look for when hiring a Class A salesman?
Nothing may be quite as impressive as meeting a car salesman who shows a genuine interest in your needs. Perhaps some of his questions may be: What do you currently do for a living? Do you drive a lot? Do you enjoy driving? Do you have a family? If so how many children do you have? Are you planning more? Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? Does this car align with where you envision yourself going?
In business, one would desire a salesman who demonstrates a genuine interest in a client’s operational and strategic requirements, as well as communicating his offering with ease.
Here’s a biggie: building rapport by actively listening, asking intelligent questions and adapting to a client’s needs are critical. When my husband and I purchased our house four years ago, what really stood out for me was my estate agent’s approach to selling. She made an effort to get to know us on a personal level, remembering small details like how to pronounce my name (and if you know me personally, you’ll realise that’s quite something for me). I’ll never forget that even when everything was signed, sealed and delivered, she brought us a bunch of flowers, chocolates, champagne and a card to congratulate us on our new home. Even a week down the line, she called to check in, to make sure we were settling in nicely. I’ll certainly remember her when it’s time to sell up and purchase a new home.
There’s nothing worse than being made false promises so you commit to a purchase, only to experience disappointment later. An effective salesman is someone that is not shy to say “I don’t know” to touch questions, rather than over-promising. He should be able to raise risks without self –sabotage, as well as approaching negotiation collaboratively.
Value proposition is such an important competency to exhibit. Consumers, in any shape or form, are no longer looking for the cheapest / fastest / best product or service. Personally, when looking for a gym contract, I don’t want the cheapest gym membership that is closest to my house. I’d be willing to pay that little bit extra to know that I have an entire solution to meet my needs: I am attracted to a facility that offers me a variety of fitness classes, a playgroup for my little one to keep occupied whilst I work out, a fantastic vibe, the opportunity to earn membership points, and friendly staff who are only too eager to assist should I need anything.
Just today I had someone come in to quote on replacing our existing carports. He made a range of suggestions, but was also very specific on what he could not do – in this case, utilise the existing structure. He was willing to walk away from a potentially big contract because he said that he would not be able to guarantee his work if he was only “patching up” the current carports. As we chatted about our options, I felt comfortable to ask him “what do YOU recommend?” without feeling as if he wanted to suggest the most expensive option to make a quick buck. He took on the role of trusted advisor, influencing my decision as he spoke with confidence and persuaded me to see things from his perspective.
I attended a course last year, where one of the topics was negotiation. Being somewhat of a poor negotiator once upon a time, I was interested to learn that seasoned negotiators actually enjoy the to-and-fro process of negotiation. Thus, a seasoned salesman will know where to demonstrate flexibility, checking in with the client to address their business’s objectives. And here’s the million dollar secret: moving on beyond the price. The best salesman is completely at ease if they are selling a R 15 million home. They can acknowledge the price without being defensive, but credibly justify the reason for the hefty price tag, and turn objections into opportunities.
In my personal experience when assessing a candidate for a sales role, a salesman’s ability to bring an encounter to a conclusive, sales orientated end appears to be their biggest stumbling block. Someone who is polished and who wants to make a sale is unafraid to create a sense of urgency in a tactful manner. Those experienced in the art of sales will be able to drive an action plan that focuses on signing off on an order, instead of leaving things hanging.
Of course there are so many more competencies to look out for in an effective salesman, but it’s also important to note that one also needs to embrace their own personal style, and work to their strengths. I am yet to meet a salesman who demonstrates every single desired competency, but obviously these competencies may become more or less important as the role demands. The bottom line is if you are looking someone competent, make sure they are: trustworthy and honest, make their clients feel special, provide a tailored service, and network with their clients, treating them like human beings and not just biological machines.
Codrington & Grant-Marshall, (2010) Mind the Gap. Johannesburg: Penguin Press
***Disclaimer: I used the stereotype of male in this article as a salesman for ease of reference, but I am certainly not communicating that men are superior to woman in their manner of selling. We all have unique approaches as different genders and individuals, which we should capitalise on.
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