Selling the concept of sales

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Written by Martin Addison on 4 December 2013

If there's one aspect of the learning curriculum that is looked on less favourably than others, it is sales. Perhaps this is because 'sales skills' conjures up images of cold-callers or flash wide-boys trying to flog us things we don't need. And yet every business needs to sell. Bankruptcy awaits any organisation that cannot close a sufficient number of sales.

In today's service-centred economy, sales skills are often referred to as business development, account handling or client relationship management. But the principles are the same. You have a product or service to sell - and, hopefully, a customer has a need for exactly that. No matter what you call it, if you can put the two together, your business will prosper.

Make no mistake, 'putting the two together' is a dedicated skill. Just because your product meets the customer's need doesn't mean they'll buy from you. Other factors will, of course, come into play, such as price and availability. But the customer may need convincing about the benefits of your offering, so you have to be well versed in all of these aspects in order to answer their queries. You need to understand the nature and details of their business, so you can relate your offering to their needs, and you have to know what your competitors will be proposing, so you can position your product or service appropriately.

Plus, the customer may have objections, so you have to learn to put these into perspective and present a counter argument. They may be difficult to deal with, so you have to stay professional. You might have to probe for other opportunities to sell more or different products or services. Most importantly, you have to be able to 'close the deal' and win the business, once you've got a customer interested.

All of this may seem straightforward but it isn't. In the real world, even very experienced salespeople come unstuck because they get sloppy in executing these essentials.

That's why, at Video Arts, we've just completed the production of a new video resource which highlights the techniques and principles of effective sales by humorously showing the mistakes a salesperson makes and then, after coaching from an expert, we see how it should be done and the salesperson is shown closing sales more effectively. The resource is aimed primarily at people who are new to sales-related roles but we think it will also be useful as an on-demand refresher training tool for those who might need a reminder of best practice.

Our challenge is to 'sell sales'; because it's not just a skill that business developers need. It's far more important than that. We all need to negotiate, convince others, overcome objections and understand someone else's point of view. These are universal skills that reach far beyond the sales team. What's more, they're widely valued. A study of all Fortune 500 CEOs, by US executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, found that the majority of them spent their early careers in finance or sales roles. Sales skills are therefore a proven route to the top. As such, they are a useful part of any manager's personal development.

The problem is that L&D often dismisses 'sales skills' as something that' s either not important or as something that's covered within broader marketing-related courses. Also, organisational buying habits have changed in recent years. Many companies used to employ large numbers of field-based salespeople who would call on customers at frequent intervals but that model is less prevalent today. The idea that sales skills are important seems to have vanished along with many of the salespeople who'd spend all day on the road. 

A third challenge is to overcome the perception that good sales skills can be learned from a book. Several prominent salespeople have written about their experiences and given their secrets of success. But that doesn't mean it's easy to pick up and run with their strategies. Applying those principles when you're actually face-to-face with a customer is something very different.  

So we've got our work cut out in highlighting not only the value of the much-maligned skills of selling but also that video is the ideal learning medium for sales training. All we can do is trust in our product, trust that there are customers out there who really do have that need - and trust that our own sales team can close the deal!

About the author
Martin Addison is CEO of Video Arts. He can be contacted at maddison@videoarts.co.uk
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