Mum. “No you don’t son, you want to get a proper job: ‘selling is for failures’.
“I was different, I didn’t want to be a Fireman, a Police Officer, a Footballer, or a Doctor. I wanted to be a professional salesperson.
In “To Sell Is Human” Daniel Pinks estimates that more than 40% of professionals sell in one way or another as part of their jobs. Let’s do some quick estimates – if 5% of the 650 million people employed across the OECD are professionals, 13 million people are engaged in selling in the developed world alone.
So why do so many people see sales as a ‘Dark Art’? Why do people associate selling with dishonesty? Why are salespeople seen as insincere and bullying rather than helpful and persuasive?
Of course, there are some bad salespeople but there are some seriously great ones too – just as there are good and bad accountants (and indeed footballers). But this general perception can only come from people’s previous experiences and social conditioning: the customer is always right.
It’s part of our job as sales professionals to change this perception. We need to change the way that we come across to our prospects and our customers. One model (based on psychologist Albert Bandura’s work on Self-Efficacy) looks at the interplay between confidence and competence:
At the bottom left are salespeople who might be beginning their career or transferring from a non-sales role into sales for the first time. At the bottom right are self-doubting advisors who have the competence but struggle to articulate their value due to a lack of confidence; they might leave the customer feeling unconvinced by the value they add. At the top left are the arrogant experts. These are the blustering and sometimes intimidating salespeople, poorly prepared, much given to lengthy monologues, whose confidence outstrips their knowledge. They are the salespeople who give the world of selling its negative image.
Our development as sales professionals depends on our ability to plot a course towards the top right-hand corner, developing confidence and competence in parallel. With that in mind, here are a handful of practical steps that should be part of our everyday routine.
There’s always more we can learn, but these three principles are essential:
Much research by Maxwell Maltz (author of Psycho Cybernetics) and others has gone into understanding how we can build and maintain a resilient sense of confidence, particularly in tough environments. Key learnings include:
Of course, my Mum was right (Mum’s are always right). After all, it was her perception of sales. But as a Sales professional, I am on a mission to elevate the perception of sales through value-based selling. And I’m using a balance of competence and confidence to move towards trusted advisor status with my clients.