When it comes to hiring salespeople, why has it become so hard to get people excited about a job in sales in the first place?
If you’re hiring salespeople right now, you’re not alone. After a devastating year for layoffs and record-setting degrees of turnover on the horizon, open sales positions abound and salespeople are in hot demand. But there’s a reason so many of those roles remain unfilled. A recent Wall Street Journal article caught our eye because it pointed out that, even with the opportunity to make good money and help customers solve problems, few people seemingly want the job right now.
WHY HIRING SALESPEOPLE IS SO DIFFICULT
So, why has it become so hard to get people excited about a job in sales?
One contributing factor that the Journal highlights is the persistent negative perception of what the job entails. Accurate or not, for many people, selling brings to mind the historic stereotype of the pushy, manipulative salesperson doing whatever it takes to close the deal in a pressure-cooker account based selling environment. It’s not surprising that few people today want that job.
Of course, you may say that’s not at all what the role of salespeople is in your organization. The problem is, in some cases, the attitudes and behaviors of managers only reinforce that negative perception. And the reality is, the truth about sales comes down to each person’s view of selling — their internal belief about what the process of selling really is.
HOW DOES YOUR COMPANY DEFINE SELLING?
For some people and organizations, selling is viewed as something you do to customers. They think of sales in terms of persuading and convincing people to buy what they’re selling. Others view selling as something you do for customers. They define it as a process of identifying and satisfying people’s wants or needs.
These are vastly different views of selling, and they affect not only how someone carries out the functions of the job but also how it feels to do the job. When your focus is on figuring out a way to get this person to buy what you’re selling, you’re in an almost adversarial position right from the get-go. It’s all about convincing them to see things your way and do what you want them to do.
On the other hand, when you define sales as a process of identifying someone’s wants or needs and then creating value for them, you reposition it as a mutual win-win activity, where both sides benefit. Instead of expecting people to give in to your powers of persuasion and well-versed knowledge of the product, you’re focused on making sure your solutions are a fit. You’re working through problems and helping people reach their individual goals.
That’s quite a difference from the typical definition that sales is about talking people into buying what we’re selling.
SALES SUCCESS IS DETERMINED BY YOUR VIEW OF SELLING
These beliefs are powerful. They ultimately impact a person’s ability to sell, because someone’s deepest intent will manifest itself in their behaviors. If you believe your job is to persuade someone to buy what you’re offering, then you’ll expect them to buy once they fully understand your product. That means you’ll spend a lot of time explaining features, benefits and advantages.
Selling the Way Customers Want to Buy
Once you’ve gotten that across, you’ll attempt to negotiate and close the deal, whether or not you’ve uncovered or addressed the customer’s needs and any potential barriers. Essentially, it’s all about you — and that rarely works as a sales strategy, particularly when you’re dealing with complex selling situations.
Every salesperson would like selling to be a nice, neat, linear process: contact, present, explain, close. But customers don’t buy that way. They’re more digitally sophisticated, more savvy and- as a result- more demanding than ever. They don’t want or need a “features and benefits” discussion with a salesperson (hence the weight your brand carries in the sales process). In essence, the customer is largely in control of how they buy and when they engage with a salesperson, so a value-added, insightful customer experience is essential.
You can see then that “explaining” is not only not selling and ineffective, it creates inner conflict. Most people don’t want to spend their time figuring out the best way to coax someone into doing something. Between the struggle to close deals and the inner conflict that comes from this approach to sales, it can all be pretty draining and demoralizing.
In fact, we know from observing thousands of salespeople that their view of selling influences their achievement drive level. Generally, those who view sales as a process of convincing customers, or doing things to them, have a lower achievement drive.
Selling By Solving Problems
We’ve also seen that salespeople who view sales as a process of identifying and filling customer needs exhibit more energy, a stronger work ethic and an eagerness to tackle the difficult activities that must be done to reach goals that are important to them.
This healthy, value-focused view of selling creates an emotional congruence within them that gives them confidence and a sense that what they’re doing is positive and good. And more achievement drive is released when they believe they should be rewarded in a way that is consistent with the value they create.
BUILDING A POSITIVE VIEW OF SELLING
Salespeople today are not the only ones who have a responsibility to engage customers in sales-related discussions. But they’re the only ones with the word ‘Sales’ in their job titles. Effective training and ongoing coaching can help develop and shape the internal dialogues that take place within salespeople every day. In fact, sales training that does not overtly address these internal issues does the salesperson a disservice. Nothing will sap sales confidence and motivation like inner conflict.
From day one, selling should be positioned as being curious, listening, coming up with innovative ideas and problem solving. In this way inner conflict, self-doubt, disengagement and resistance are broken down- and the sales mindset is allowed to thrive. The ability to actively listen and develop a questioning mindset is a critical part of training salespeople and, when done correctly, will help salespeople draw out customer wants and needs vs. taking you down a dead end.
In the end, the more salespeople are focused on serving the needs of others, the more meaning they will enjoy selling and the more motivated, energized, and successful they will become. This positive view of selling creates a self-reinforcing, positive sales loop. And these ethical sales practices build trust.
The negative perceptions of sales come from a mindset that says:
I need to sell you something for my benefit.
I’m totally focused on how I’m going to survive, rather than how I can help you.
I’ll say or do anything to make the sale.
The interactions that come from this mindset often lead people to feel guilt or anxiety about what they do. It’s not a job they can feel proud of. They end up discouraged and demotivated.
Positive conflict, on the other hand, energizes and creatively motivates salespeople. It uplifts and enables them. They feel good about who they are and what they do, and as a result, they have a healthy self-confidence and self-respect.
Here’s the kind of mindset that triggers positive conflict:
I need to create as much value for you as I can.
I would never try to sell you something unless it’s the best solution for you.
I am constantly searching for ways to help more people and create high value for them.
ATTRACTING AND HIRING SALESPEOPLE STARTS WITH CULTURE
If you’re looking to attract, develop and retain great salespeople, you have to build a culture where people feel good about what they do and are providing customers every day.
Think about how you onboard and develop, coach and reward your salespeople. Mindset, attitudes and beliefs often take a back seat to things like simple product knowledge, sales techniques and CRM and outbound activity management. That imbalance tends to reinforce that selling is merely a “numbers game” and the negative perceptions of selling, regardless of how you describe the role. And not only will this negative view of selling keep people from wanting the job, it will also keep them from succeeding in the job.
How do salespeople in your organization view their role? And how are your sales leaders reinforcing that view?
Chief Sales Officer
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