For those who don’t know, I have an extensive background in all types of sales – everything from small transactional sales, to large complex enterprise solutions selling; from face-to-face person-to-person sales, to large-group business-to-business sales. I also have a deep interest in sales, selling, and the sales process. I currently work as a “territory manager” – a sales representative responsible for growing the business of the company I work for within my defined territory (geographical area).
I went down the sales career path may years ago after reading Robert Kiyosaki’s book “Rich Dad Poor Dad.” Somewhere in that book he remarks that everyone should be a waiter at some point, and should be a sales representative (rep) at some point. His reasoning was that waiting tables teaches you to serve other people, and being a sales rep teaches you how to sell things (serving in a different way) – a skill that is critical to any and every type of business. I agree with Kiyosaki. Those experiences will enrich anyone’s appreciation of business and of life in general.
I agree completely. The sales path has brought me a much richer appreciation for life, and taught me so much about human relationships that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I’m constantly enriched on this path.
I’ve been trained in and used multiple sales methodologies. Some of them have been incredibly complex, others very simple. Interestingly, the “simplest” methods have had the longest training durations (one was 2 weeks long), and some of the most complex methodologies have had trainings consisting of literally one day.
I realized a few weeks back that business processes are similar to any other type of relationship process. The thought struck me while watching one of Eben Pagan’s videos.
Pagan started out as a dating coach (David DeAngelo), and his product’s tagline was “Attraction Is Not A Choice.” Pagan meant by this that attraction is a complex reaction to multiple cues all happening on subconscious levels. Attempting to attract a particular individual who isn’t already interested in you on some level is relatively futile. Their gut-level feeling about you is made up well before you even say a word to them. We reference this same basic truth whenever we talk about “first impressions.”
Watching one of Pagan’s online videos I realized that, in the same sense, ideally, “Buying Is Not A Choice.” His point in the particular video was that a business should ideally create a product and message that are simply irresistible to the customer – that give the customer what they already want.
Why? For most people, buying things is also largely a reflex-reaction. Even for people who say they have very good “reasons” for buying something – those “reasons” (like most) are usually made up after they’d already decided to buy, or actually already purchased the item.
I had the opportunity to watch quite a few of Pagan’s dating materials back in the day, and his philosophy of relationships culminates in a simple message – become who you are.
Because you will only ever attract people (reflexively) who are already attracted to you – how you look now, how you act now. And because you can never escape who you really are at your core, regardless of how many tricks you can use to get dates, or talk to potential romantic partners. The only way you’ll ultimately be happy is by becoming/being an authentic individual.
In my graduate research I studied human motor, emotional, social, and evolutionary development extensively.
The crux of being a living organism is the process of relating. Hence Aristotle’s saying – “Man is by nature a social animal.” Whether we admit it or not, we relate constantly with everything around us.
The development of that relating is relatively fixed in certain ways. We have developmental milestones for certain motor capacities, and for certain relational capacities too.
As infants, we relate in a reflexive way, with little sense of the separation between ourselves and the outside world (in the womb, we are very barely separate from the “outside” world).
As we grow, we begin to define our “selves” more and more, based on our natural predispositions (“nature”), and our interactions with/in the environment (“nurture”).
Ideally we mature into adults who recognize their own unique “self” and the existence of other “selves” to which we relate. And all of that happens within our environment – physical, social, and cultural.
The step of mature adulthood isn’t necessary. People can continue their entire lives with a relatively adolescent view of themselves and their relation to other things.
Fulfilled adults creatively relate with external “objects” in order to expand their sense (sensation) of themselves. Relationships become deep and meaningful as the adult is able to relate from an increasingly solid, and yet flexible, base of personal identity.
Mature adults who regularly act from the base of their personal values, through boundaries built on those values, are said to have “integrity.”
Self-Secure, But Immature
It’s important to understand that someone can have strong values and strong personal boundaries, and still not respect other people and their values, boundaries, and process.
This type of person is “self-secure, but immature.” These folks usually only listen to and talk about (or talk to) what they’re interested in. If they display interest in the other person, it’s only to find ways to assert their own agenda more fully.
Before I translate how all of this applies to sales, let’s define what “sales” is.
Most of the books on sales offer “tricks” to help a rep to sell more. Most of them identify sales as a series of techniques or activities that one does daily – prospect, qualify, present, close.
But I don’t think those are what “sales” is. At it’s most basic:
Sales is the act (or trans-action) of trading one thing of value for something perceived to be of the same (or greater) value.
That is the act of a “sale.”
So the “sales process” is everything leading up to that moment…to the actual sale-act – also called the “close,” when the relationship-dynamic achieves closure.
Looking at it this way, everything a company does is part of the “sales process.” The sales person is the one who completes that final transaction.
In some corporate cultures, this type of understanding results in a very negative view of salespeople and their role in the company. The sales rep is seen as a mere middle-man who gets a lot of glory for closing a “simple” transaction.
In other cultures, the sales rep respected and is seen as the orchestrator of corporate communication with the customer, and as the culminating link in the chain – a critical member in the relationship with the customer.
(Similarly, sales reps can see themselves either as the most important piece of the company, or as mere order-takers.)
Most of the perception of the sales rep in any given company will have to do with the way the company is structured, and the way the CEO or executive leadership view the role of the salesperson.
A corporation is technically defined as an individual. Strangely, we don’t apply what we know about individuals to corporations, except to call them psycho- or socio-pathic, which isn’t fair, since many corporations are neither of those things.
What does a company do? It creates a product that fills a (perceived) need in the world, and communicates that product to people so they know that it is available and that it best meets their need.
In commercial capitalism, companies compete with one another for market share. They compete based on things like quality, price, etc. “Marketing” is the process of communicating those differentiating factors in a way that attracts more customers to your product or company.
What is the first most important aspect of a company?
Know (And Respect) Thyself
Though some people would say the first most important thing is to know your market, your product, or your customer, I would disagree. While you have to fill a need in order to be a company, how you fill that need is what will distinguish you from every other company in your market.
What are your values? What is your mission? What need is the company helping to solve?
The last sentence above is the most accurate statement about a company. This is where companies and individuals diverge somewhat (at least in my opinion). I do not see human beings as things that need to be “useful” in any particular way, or that fill some “need” necessarily. That is a human metaphysical definition of the meaning of existence.
But companies are human constructs, and only exist within the human-construct-world. So for a company, there is a definite need that it fulfills in that world.
What is it? Without that base level knowledge, you are lost.
I would add that the first question is equally as important to an individual. Who are you? What are your values?
The creation of this results in personal boundaries – the places you will or will not go based on your values.
The definition of values (even if they aren’t articulated) and the creation of strong personal boundaries is what defines mature adulthood, and what enables mature relating, as mentioned above.
Know (And Respect) The Other
Mature relating means understanding that other individuals have their own subjective experience that is as meaningful to them as your subjective experience is to you. Communication happens from this fundamental understanding, and a respect for the other person’s views and process.
In business, the better you know your customer, the better you’ll be able to serve their needs.
Pagan takes this a step further, suggesting that a company should understand the aspects of the customer’s need that the customer themselves can’t articulate. That would represent a very very deep understanding of the customer. Pagan calls this “creating value” for the customer.
Hopefully, that would occur within an ongoing relationship – a process of relating.
The “marketing” process, then, is one of relating to and with your customer.
“Sales” is the act of bringing some aspect of that relationship to closure. It can mean that the relationship is essentially terminated (barring some product defect or customer service need). But it can also mean that just one piece of the relationship achieves closure, and the relationship continues on another level from that point forward.
The Sales Process
So the sales process is the entire chain of events that leads to the final transaction (the sale).
Within that, every piece of the company is focused on the customer and their needs, as they relate to/with the boundaries of the company.
Sound like a relationship?
Mature processes result in long-term relationships that grow over time. Immature processes result in feelings getting hurt.
Companies that just focus on one aspect of the customer are like people who focus on just one thing from a prospective romantic partner.
As long as its out in the open, and both people are looking for the same thing, that can definitely be mature relating. Boundaries are clear, and are being clearly communicated.
But more often, one person doesn’t necessarily have clear boundaries, and the other person does. And/or one or another person doesn’t clearly communicate their boundaries around the relating process. Feelings get hurt.
This also goes to the way that one identifies prospective customers (“prospects”).
There are three ways that make “prospecting” easier. 1. Find people who have a common goal to yours (or your company’s) or who are in alignment with you (or your company). 2. Find people who desire to have your products…really, who desire to have what your products offer (that is, it may not be the product in itself that the person is really interested in, it may be what they get from/by having that product). 3. Find people who already have your products and like them, and ask them to help you create relationships with other people like them (“referrals”).
But again, all of those activities come from a deep knowledge of yourself/company and what precisely you are offering and how that fills a need they might have.
A lot of this discussion comes from reflecting on various sales tricks that I was taught over the years, and from reflecting on human social-evolutionary psychology as it relates to marketing, advertising, and propaganda.
Many of the tricks are psychological warfare, that will result in a sale, but may not result in the best long-term relationship, and definitely don’t reflect well on the values of the salesperson.
What I realized is that many of these “tricks” are simply examples of mature relating, that have been taken out of the context of maturity, and turned into selling tools.
That is, at base, most “sales tricks” are examples of what happens when the salesperson has solid personal boundaries. “The Takeaway” is an example.
The takeaway happens at the end of a sale when a customer is being slow to be decisive and purchase the product. The salesperson removes the offer from the table, saying “I’m gathering that you aren’t ready to make a decision. We will have to start from scratch some other time.”
Often this trick is used at the end of a lengthy discussion where a lot of evidence has been offered about the effectiveness of the solution. The promise from the people who profess this trick is that the customer will react and choose to purchase immediately.
It works sometimes. But why does it work?
We can look at it from a very manipulative standpoint – that you’re leveraging fear and scarcity reactions in the person to get them to make a sudden decision.
But a mature salesperson does this process for a very different reason. They will do “the takeaway” for two reasons. First because they feel that the other person truly isn’t ready to make a decision at that point in time (for whatever reason). And second, they’ll do it because they need to respect their own personal boundaries – their own effort and time. As a sales person, they have to make sales transactions. Spending an inordinate amount of time on a sale with someone who can’t make up their mind is not productive. It is also out of respect for the time of the customer. Taking up more of their time is non-productive form them as well.
There can be multiple reasons, too, why a customer will buy at this point in the discussion. There may be some people who react to fear and scarcity, or rejection – people who have a reflex response to the deal being removed. Some may respond because they’ve spent so much time on the deal up to this point, and don’t want to lose that time or effort. Others may respond because they were testing the sales person, and respect the salesperson’s strong personal boundaries – their respect both for the customer and for themselves.
In any regard, this behavior likely was observed in sales reps who had very high sales. They probably were people with very strong personal values and boundaries, who had very clear ideas about their company’s mission and how they serve their customers.
These “tactics” were then isolated from the activities of these mature individuals, and turned into sales tools or tricks.
But minus the mature relating capacity, these tricks usually don’t work well (for either party), nor do their effects last very long.
As I mentioned above, sales reps are also usually expected to have certain levels of activity in certain areas. Most companies and/or sales methodologies will suggest daily minimums for activity like:
20 outbound calls.
2 in-person visits.
X number of new contacts.
Update CRM and forecasting software.
And general guidelines like:
Always ask for referrals
Collaborate with internal resources, and channel/other partners.
Check internal systems for order holds.
Sales reps will also be tasked with managing their sales opportunities (pipeline) in certain ways, such as:
Pipeline = X% above quota.
Opportunity name format.
Linking opportunities to campaigns.
Listing top 5 deals and their status (% to close).
Presenting territory overview and plan on a regular basis to upper management.
Nice, But Not Enough
These activities are nice, as they can be tracked and managed to. In the same way, sales methodologies are nice because they offer a solid framework that the rep can work from, giving them a chance to test their activity against the framework and adjust as needed.
But, just as with the sales tricks, the data points for Sales Activities seem like they were derived from companies or research groups looking at successful sales reps, extracting what looked to be the “key activities” that were making them successful or leading to their successes, and codifying them.
What gets lost is what drove those activities to begin with – that those salespeople were mature adults, relating deeply with their customers from a solid base of personal and company values (that often were felt to be deeply aligned).
Those individuals were responsible for their lives. They owned responsibility for the things they engaged in and with. For them, you couldn’t do business if you didn’t know your customer deeply. You couldn’t be responsible if you didn’t understand how many deals were in your pipeline and how much money that represented relative to your goal. You wouldn’t sell a product if you weren’t aligned with the company on a fundamental level (and vice versa).
After this realization comes the question – what happened?
This process looks like so many others in our culture in the past century. We as a technological society have gone down the path further and further of extracting data points from larger processes in order to find the “essence” of things – to improve efficiency or effectiveness.
In all of these instances, the underlying cause is lost. In the 1940′s and ’50′s, researchers started to try to solve this problem by creating the field of “systems thinking.” Systems approaches attempted to view the individual pieces of processes in a larger context. Some of these are somewhat successful, and some fail just as miserably as the isolated perspectives they attempted to enrich.
It’s interesting to note how this affected companies and their sales teams. I’ve read several accounts of how companies, up until the late 1970′s, would invest a lot of money in the training and development of their sales reps. They would attend several trainings per year, on different aspects of business and sales, all sponsored by the company.
Corporate allegiance to employees (and vice versa) has waned over the years, and so has investment in the education of the employee. Some companies are starting programs to remedy this situation, but the “free agent” model is pretty much the status quo nowadays in all areas of our culture. It’s hard to invest in something that might up and leave you any minute.
Business itself has changed as well. Many companies are competing in a sea of similar businesses, with similar products. Differentiation is harder and harder, and trying to reach customers is as well. Everyone has their message everywhere. In this way, business has appeared to become more transactional over the past 50 years. In reality, the same processes have been happening all the time. The pathways are (or appear to be) slightly different, but the processes are the same.
In addition to all of those factors, the individual has changed. People now seem to be less interested in owning responsibility for their lives (including their relatives, their communities, their nation) than people their age were 50 or 100 years ago. And work has become “just work” – just a way to pay the bills. As little as people are connected to their values and boundaries, they are similarly disconnected from aligning those values with their work. I know some readers will balk at this statement. It is hard because our culture has drifted away from creating self- and other-responsible citizens. But it isn’t impossible, and it is the best thing you can do. Read any self-help book…”Follow your bliss.”
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Please let me know what you think of all this, and share with your friends.
I have to end this post with a practice. It’s something I did naturally (reflexively) for a long time, but didn’t do it all the time, and didn’t do it with any sort of structure until recently.
Internal-development wise (i.e., without speaking about relationships, etc.), beyond constantly working on the process of becoming a mature adult, this is the practice that has most enriched my life in the past few years. I call it “First Principles.”
The First Principles practice can be summed up in one question:
“What is the root of this thing that I am engaging with?”
Don’t be satisfied with the first answer you come to. Instead, keep asking – “Is this the root?” This practice will eventually lead you to causes, rather than symptoms. Or it will lead you to an acceptance of what you can’t know. Admit when you can’t know.
Yes, creepy. But extremely insightful. Observe how Lecter refuses to be satisfied with superficial (though very important) details of the personality of “Buffalo Bill.”
Elon Musk (of Tesla Motors) has his own version (which I just found, looking for the above clip!):
Ask other people to help you to answer the question. Interact with them on that level. In general – seek out the source of your experience of life.
And of course – always work on the process of being a mature adult, relating with others on their terms, from the basis of your own well-defined values and personal boundaries. Be flexible and creative in your approach to yourself and your interaction with the outside world. Be responsible for yourself and your world. Own your life and the things you engage in. Dig deep.
Then “magic” will happen all on its own…