What Is “Sales”? Too Many Words, Not Enough Information
When you say “salesperson”, most people think of somebody who talks, and usually a lot. This is a stereotype, because very often it’s true. Too many words, not enough information! Individuals within service based organizations who are designated as salespeople, or “representatives” (a frequently used euphemism), are often selected on the basis of their ability to string together a lot of words that have something to do with the services being represented to prospective purchasers. A recent research study found that most sales representatives talk 65, 70% of the time. The problem with this is that top-performing sales people talk only 40% of the time, leaving 60% of the time for a customer.
Who Succeeds at Sales?
Experience has demonstrated that people who are optimists are far more successful at sales (especially at “prospecting”), than are those who are more realistic. It takes a true optimist to get up in the morning, hurtle oneself at rejection repeatedly, then go home, go to bed, get up the next morning and do it again. Yet this is what we expect our salespeople to do. It is also true that optimists are more talkative than are realists; they just talk more! Putting these two things together, that successful salespeople listen more than that talk, and that optimists are inclined to talk more, it’s clear that in an ideal world we would start with an optimist and teach him or her to represent our services by listening carefully.
An Accidental Salesperson
When I started my healthcare sales career, I wasn’t even aware that I was starting my healthcare sales career. As a very young man, working for a rapidly growing national medical services provider, I was assigned to an experienced sales person with whom I would travel to hospitals around the United States (usually small, Hill-Burton hospitals). My job was to be the “educator” while his job was to be the “salesperson”. In reality, he talked, I listened. In the process, the salesperson taught me through absorption, how to present a feature and a benefit, overcome an objection, and to close. And while I was watching these interactions (often 10 to 15 a week), it became clear to me which ones were successful and which ones were duds. I could watch the reactions of the hospital administrators in a way which the salesperson could not, because he was busy talking.
When I started my consulting business in 1991, these lessons were deeply embedded, and extremely valuable. I don’t always adhere to them, because, frankly, I’m an optimist! Whenever a client asks me to evaluate their sales system, or to coach their representatives, the very first thing I do is to watch and… Listen.