One position that has not been impacted by the economy is sales. Ask any CEO and you will hear that one of their biggest issues is finding and retaining good salespeople. Something happened on the way to a sour economy: Too many companies learned the hard way that their salespeople didn’t know how to sell. Instead, their salespeople were good at taking orders and providing customer service. There is nothing wrong with this approach, as long as the marketplace is always going to serve up new customers and keep current customers in business. Does that kind of marketplace always exist? Unfortunately, no.
As a sales consultant who works with a wide number of companies, I am not surprised with the current state of sales. In the past 20 years, books and soothsayers have inundated us with advice saying that the best way to grow your company is through great customer service. (Think of companies like Disney, Marriott and Honda, just to name a few). These are certainly great companies, and I’m personally an avid customer of each one. However, if great customer service is all that is needed to win, then why is each of these companies struggling in today’s economy?
I don’t offer up this example to generate an in-depth discussion on economics and market share. Rather, I put it out there to say that customer service alone is not going to help a company achieve its growth targets. It is essential for salespeople to be focused on selling as their first priority and providing customer service as their second priority.
Selling is about digging in and working with customers to help them see needs they didn’t realize they had. It’s about helping customers see how the solution for which they are looking can be found in what you are offering. Selling is not about sitting back and taking orders based on what the customer wants. If that’s selling, then there really is no need for a salesperson. The entire process could be done on the internet or over the phone. I know that observation just hit a sore spot to many of you reading this. Possibly, you’ve watched your industry be decimated by the power of the web. Nowadays, many customers can get what they want, when they want it and how they want it, all through their computer.
If your job was lost because of the internet, then let me share something that you may not like to hear, but is simply true: you weren’t selling; you were merely taking orders. I am not putting myself on a pedestal, because one of my first sales jobs I thought I was a salesperson (at least, that’s what my business card said). In reality, I was doing nothing more than going around to grocery stores and taking orders from store managers. I wasn’t selling. I was conveying information and providing customer service.
Today’s economy is crying out for salespeople. Are you someone who is willing to be assertive in making phone calls, meeting with customers, and spending time doing what I refer as the “deep-dive” with high-potential prospects to secure the really big business. If a salesperson is not willing to go face-to -face with a customer, then they have absolutely no right to be in sales. The only thing they are doing is hurting themselves and their employer. The fastest test I know to measure a person’s aptitude towards selling is to ask them to explain in detail how they develop leads and handle cold calls.
When a company looks to outsource the lead generation process, or spend so heavily in advertising to try to create enough leads for everyone, then they are setting themselves up to fail. Over time they will wind up with a sales team focused on capturing the easy sales. They do this by making everything a customer service moment. This is akin to a pro-athlete thinking because they are a professional, they no longer need to stick to a physical workout program. When a pro-athlete stops their conditioning program, they may not experience a falloff in performance immediately. Over time, however, the decline will be evident. The same is true for salespeople who are not routinely in the game of prospecting and developing new customers. They will lose their edge. The decline will be so slow that they won’t realize it is happening, let alone why it is happening.
Each client with whom I have the privilege to work hears this message: The responsibility of finding and retaining new customers is the responsibility of every employee. Salespeople by the very nature of their position must take the lead and be assigned weekly, monthly and quarterly goals of prospecting calls they must make. Management owes them the tools that encompass an effective sales process. This process must include employees outside of sales whose primary responsibility it is to provide customer service. After all, salespeople should focus first on selling. They need the time to achieve this realistic expectation.