People Don’t Dislike Sales People, They Dislike Bad Selling!

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People don’t dislike sales people, they dislike bad selling! I wish I had said that, but it originally came from Andy Rudin—thanks for the great quote.

There’s a lot of data going around about customers not wanting to engage sales people until very late in their buying process. The numbers vary, but they seem clustered around 70% of the buying process is completed before sales people are engaged. The implication is that somehow the sales person is no longer necessary, customers have other alternatives for getting information, evaluating alternatives, and developing a short list.



Sales people complain, “I can’t get people to return my calls,” “I can’t get meetings with customers.”

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that people dislike sales people. Some think, there’s a way to get around this, let’s not call sales people “sales people.” Let’s call them Business Development Managers, Relationship Managers, Advisors…….. But this doesn’t seem to work. Customers are clever, they break the code, they know a sales person by any other name is still a sales person.

We can quickly get an inferiority complex, perhaps deserved, that people don’t like sales people —- there are enough jokes to reinforce this.

Then something happens, you see a truly great sales person. This person has little difficulty seeing prospects and customers (yes there is baggage from those that have gone before). Customers don’t avoid them, they welcome them. They become trusted advisors–not by title, but in the way customers think of them. We then examine, what makes these sales people different?



It’s easy–they are great sales people. They create great value for the customer–in every interaction with the customer. They sell well!

Sometimes, I think we overcomplicate things. People don’t dislike sales people, they dislike bad selling. It’s not whether sales people are provocative, provide insight, are consultative, are problem solvers, or provide great solutions—though those are all elements of great selling. Great sales people sell well.

We know the characteristics—they understand their customers and their markets, they understand their products, they ask great questions, they get the customers to think about things differently, they are problem solvers, they meet their commitments, they are well prepared and thoughtful in the use of their and their customers’ time, they are collaborative, they listen well, they are disciplined…… The list goes on.

In short, they are always creating value for their customers and their own companies. They don’t waste their or their customer’s time.



People don’t dislike sales people, they dislike bad selling! How well do you sell?

18 COMMENTS

  1. Dave, I think you’re right that great sales people will get meetings and engage earlier in the process, while others will struggle to get appointments and not be invited to the dance until it’s too late to have a real impact.

    The problem is that a prospect — unless they have previously dealt with a rep — won’t know whether a rep is great or not. So the knee-jerk reaction is just to avoid all reps they don’t know and trust, and do more exploration without sales involvement. There goes 60-80% of the sales process!

    Why risk a not-great sale encounter if you (the buyer) can move the process along with google searches, contacting peers or reviewing social media?

    This makes it all the more important that sales reps build truly value-adding relationship with the customer they DO get a chance to work with. I wonder how many reps really know how to do that, vs. those that just want to get a foot in the door so they can “sell.”

    I guess I would say all this a bit differently … just speaking for myself here. I don’t want to deal with a sales person at all. I want to deal with a help-me-with-my-problem person. To me, that great selling, and it’s all too rare.

  2. Dave,

    I am in my 40s and have been in the game of business for over 25 years – both in the B2B space and the B2C space. And i can categorically state that I have NEVER experienced a scene when the buyer threw his arms up in delight and embraced the sales guy with open arms singing “Halelujah, praise the Lord, my wish has come true, the sales guy has arrived!” No not even close.

    For the normal buyer in the normal/everyday world, in the background lurks fear/suspicion about the sales people – in particular, their motives. There is a feeling that a sales person will say/do anything to make the sale. At best, he will be economical with the truth: not lying but not telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Put differently, the picture that the sales person is painting is the one that he wants you to see. And he is not showing the other side that would be take the appeal of the side that you are being shown.

    At best sales people are tolerated as something one has to put up with from time to time. Kind of hurdle/unpleasantness one has to deal with when one has to buy something – especially when it comes to B2B. That is certainly the case in the UK, cannot speak for the USA.

    There is one exception. The sales person that is not listened to as being a sales person. Who am I talking about? A person who has a reputation for being an authority on the issue that the buyer is struggling with. In that case the buyer welcomes the sales person. There we have the key problem: most sales people are not authorities on the problems/issues that buyers are grappling with. At best, and that goes only for the top 25% or so, the sales person know the functions/features/benefits of the product he is selling. And has a way of being with buyers such as to seduce them into the sale.

    I was doing some research recently and interviewing customers – buyer who happen to come from engineering backgrounds and work in engineering contexts even if they sit in a n office. What was the consistent theme? Let us talk directly with your engineers, bypassing the sales folks. Which they summed up as “Engineers buy from engineers!”

    No Dave, I disagree with you totally not from some theoretical perspective nor from commitment from ideology. My lived experience including the most recent one is that which disagrees with you. And I get that your lived experience may be totally different and I respect that.

  3. Bob, you make great points. One of the problems that great sales people face in prospecting, is the poor experience customers have had with other sales people have poisoned the well. It makes it more difficult for good and bad sales people.

    Having said that, good sales people constantly find new ways of engaging with customers to overcome this. It’s not easy, but they constantly explore and change up how they engage.

    Here’s an area where active participation in social media can help overcome this–even get people to invite a visit from a sales person (as a personal example, I get many such requests daily)

    I think everyone want some one that helps them solve problems and achieves goals. Perhaps it’s timely to remember Zig Ziglar: “Stop selling, start helping”

    Thanks for the great comment Bob

  4. Maz, first let’s put a little perspective on this.

    1. People don’t like to be interupted (scheduled or otherwise) by anyone.
    2. People resist considering change–whether presented by a sales person, a boss, a colleague. The resent being put under pressure and being forced to think about and possibly do things differently.
    3. People hate participating in meetings that waste their time.
    4. While they may not express, people hate more than just sales people for the reasons above and many others. The difference with sales people is customer can choose not to see sales people.

    Your exception proves the case of truly outstanding sales people. They are outstanding because they engage customer in a meaningful way, helping first, then selling when appropriate and welcomed.

    Unfortunately too many really bad sales people poison the well, making it difficult for people who are extraordinary. But as I said, in my reply to Bob, the great ones persevere and find ways to overcome this–though not easily.

    So we have a tremendous history of poor salesman ship, which causes people to hate sales people. While being a little idealistic, should we accpet this? Do we have no pride in our profession? Should we tolerate the poor salesmanship that impacts all of us, or should we continue in whatever way possible to try to change this and change people’s perspective.

    People buy from people who are knowledgeable, helpful and trustworthy. This is part of what separate great sales people from hacks and peddlers. Yes, engineers do buy from engineers–but I’ve seen many engineers that are hacks and bad as well. And I’ve seen engineers become enormously effective sales people.

    I guess where we really may disagree is whether this is a condition that just “is,” or whether we should do everything we can to change the practice and perception of our profession.

    I do respect your view and appreciate the chance to discuss this. Hopefully it illuminats the issue for others.

  5. Hello Dave

    Reading your comment it occurs to me that you are talking about what should be, what salesman should do, how they should show up. And how they would be welcomed by buyers if the salesmen followed your advice. To use an analogy you are pointing out how we could all be so much healthier/fitter if we only ate the right foods, at the right times, in the right quantities and threw in the right exercise, at the right time…… In philosophy this is labelled as “normative”. To use another analogy, as I have a physics background, in your world friction/gravity/viscosity do not exist. And so the equations are dead easy to solve.

    I, on the other hand, have been speaking from the phenomenological context – my 25 years lived experience of what has actually showed up in my living. Put differently, I am speaking about what is so. And using the physics analogy, I welcome/accept the friction/gravity/viscosity. That makes my world heck of a lot more complicated/messy and the equations that show up are not solved through neat tricks/formulas.

    So, as one human/professional to another, I say that you and I are bound to disagree on this because we are standing in two fundamentally distinct places. And as such the view that shows up for each of us is different!

    I wish you the very best.
    Maz

  6. Great thoughts Maz. Likewise, I’m a physicist by training so I appreciate your analogies.

    My perspective is really one of every day practice, having been a line executive for more years than I care to remember.

    None of this is easy, to make any progress, it requires not theorizing but working in real time in the real world up to your elbows in the muck of how organizations work and how people behave/respond.

    Your dietary/exercise example is good. We see examples of peope doing this every day and making it work, producing compelling results. When we talk to those people we understand it isn’t clean, easy, or straightforward.

    But because it produces great benefit, we argue, push, coerce, cajole other to do the same, recognizing a great number will fail, some will get partially there, and some will never start, though they should.

    Likewise in sales, none of what we are talking about is new. We have seen horrendous performances since the very first sales person though current times. We can expect to see much of this continue.

    But does that mean that we shouldn’t hold out high expectations for the sales force, should that mean that we should accept as excuses, “this is just the way things are—it’s difficult and tough.”

    I don’t write this stuff for the vast majority of peddlers and hacks that are out there–they would never read this anyway, because they have no aspiration to improve, to be top performers, and to be the best.

    I write this for the people who are reading this and the great stuff from you and other thought leaders. Readers are people actively interested in improving their practice of selling, helping and creating value. They know it isn’t easy, there are no magic solutions. They know that much of this is aspirational–but they are trying to get as close as possible to achieving it. They are focused on continous improvement.

    We can improve our practice, we can improve our professionalism, we can create value for customers and be welcomed because we can change their lives and businesses. There is too much solid evidence of this to abandon the idea because it is difficult.

    Bad sales people will continue to be hated and deserve. Unfortunately some of that impacts those outstanding sales professionals. But still they seek to stand out and demonstrate that great selling and great sales practice creates relationships that customer value.

    As a profession, we can do better!

    Regards, Dave

  7. Dave: first, thanks for the mention. As a profession, we can benefit from introspection and improving our skills. What’s curious to me in all the sales-bashing that I read (and there’s plenty of it) is that you could replace the job title salesperson, with dentist, lawyer, radiologist, accountant, or teacher, and the issues remain the same. That suggests to me that poor listening, lack of transparency, insensitivity, lack of knowledge, and unprofessional behavior are widespread, and not unique to selling.

    What is unique to our profession is self-loathing, and how acceptable it has become, which I think is most unfortunate. Just yesterday, I attended a sales program at the Gannet World Headquarters in Virginia given by salespeople for salespeople, and heard no fewer than three self-deprecating remarks about selling, including “customers don’t want to talk to salespeople.” (I am not making this up.) Not only do these comments send mixed messages to salespeople, they’re hypocritical and demoralizing. (If you’re interested, you can read my Tweets about those comments by searching on hashtag #smsellprof)

    Over thirty years, I have worked with some amazingly talented salespeople who have inspired me greatly. I have competed against some of them, and I can assure you that the difficulties I had in replacing them as suppliers had everything to do with the fantastically strong relationships they built with my prospects.

    Like Maz, I haven’t hugged too many salespeople either, but my lack of outward expression doesn’t mean I don’t respect their work when it’s done well, or don’t become annoyed when it isn’t. In fact, I treat my insurance agent, financial advisor, and plumber the same way. Professionalism–or lack of it–isn’t unique to selling.

  8. I believe what is being said above the salesperson has to be trusted. I believe this was taken from Covey training or reading but Trust = Intent + Expertise.

    I believe most sales people, and organizations are quite good at what they do. We jump into the fray with a customer ready to design and deliver a solution. We love to talk about our solution. The problem that surfaces with so little time (30%) we jump into our solution mode because we feel we must. It is easier said than done, but we are asking the salesperson to let go of their solution before they walk in the door. I equate that to a yoga instructor discussing taking a deep breath; you are instructed to exhale first.

    The intent is equally important and that is what I am getting out of the conversations above. Do I have my client’s best interest at heart? More important, have I demonstrated that I do? That demonstration is now taking place many times through a digital handshake more often than not. As Dave said above, 70% of the decision making process has taken place before a salesperson arrives. That means that we need to demonstrate intent, a social function, before we walk into the door. Without, we have little chance of succeeding.

    In this day and age, decision by committee seems to have hurt relationship selling, am I wrong? Another question, has the role of marketing, the digital handshake, become a more important aspect of the sales process? Can we have only outside salespeople or do they need a digital persona as well?

    In memory of Zig, he once told a story that he overheard a conversation one day as a secretary took his card into the next office. She said, "It's just another salesperson.” Zig thought about that for a moment, straighten his tie and told himself not to disappoint them. How can a salesperson not disappoint someone? What does he need to do?

  9. Great comments Andy, thanks. Perhaps part of the problem is too many aren’t proud of being sales people (why they choose to keep doing it is beyond me). This creates a negative sense of worth, which is reinforced by the experience we see.

    Lack of pride goes to bad attitude goes to bad sales man ship goes to……

  10. I’m not as pessimistic as Maz, but do agree that great sales experiences (from my biased buyer perspective) are rare. I wrote about one in this post a few years ago: Sell More by Showing Your Customers Some Love! (http://bit.ly/YeDrtn).

    It’s sad that sales profession is so conflicted. I’m proud of my time “selling” at IBM and since, and never felt I had to apologize for that role. But it’s interesting that IBM’s name for a sales rep was “marketing,” don’t you think?

    Being inside the IBM bubble for many years after getting our of college, I didn’t know any better. To me, the “marketing rep” was the person in charge of the customer relationship and responsible for making quota. Don’t know the back story, but suspect that someone at IBM in the early days decided that they wanted reps to be perceived differently, and used “marketing” to help.

    The core issue is that now buyers have other digital/social alternatives to help them explore solutions and define a short list of vendors. They don’t need to interact with sales reps until late in the game. Or in some cases (Amazon.com) not at all. This disruption will force the sales profession to change, or get left behind.

    More on this in my recent article: B2B Sellers, Wake Up! Adopt Buyer Experience Management, or Get a Pink Slip from Customer 2.0 (http://bit.ly/SctS6I)

  11. Dave

    Delighted that you and I share humanity, professionalism, purpose that we write and that we both are physics graduates. That is good enough for me. As for the rest, as I said when you stand in distinct places you expect to see and thus describe different views. That is simply what is so.

    I thank you for an interesting conversation. I wish you the very best. And if you are ever in the UK, you have a friend in me.

    Be great, be an awesome contribution to the sales profession.

    At your service and with my love
    Maz

  12. Hello Bob

    What has become clear to me as a result of the work that I have been doing recently is exactly what you point out regarding alternatives. Buyers no longer need sales people to educate themselves. Buyers no longer need demo’s because they expect them to be on the net – you know that YouTube thing. Buyers can check out the quality/reputation of the product/company through a number of channel – digital/social.

    So what is left for the sales guy to do? He is invited in when the buyer wants to talk “commercial”. Which means the encounter now often is between the buyers rep – procurement – and the sales guy. And it is pretty much all about the price, terms & conditions. Frankly, I really don’t see sales guys excelling in this negotiation arena unless the product they are selling is the best product by some margin. If not procurement dictates the terms, the seller drops his price and voila the deal goes to the one that often offers the lowest price – in the acceptable range. Sometimes the lowest price bidder is so much lower than the rest that his bid is seen as suspicious and thus discarded.

    Incidentally, I wrote a post on my B2B sales experience spelling the dynamic that I have witnessed: http://thecustomerblog.co.uk/2012/11/15/b2b-can-you-help-me-figure-out-why-b2b-sales-folks-do-what-they-do/

    To me it occurs that B2B organisations have to fundamentally rethink marketing and sales. The ‘customer world’ has changed and many B2B organisations have not. One of the worst misuses of ‘customer-centric’ in sales folks that I have witnessed is the expectation and excuse that they need to sit back and wait for the customer to take the lead and lead the conversation. And then they blindly follow the customer as opposed to take the initiative.

    From where I stand that is not customer-centric, it is plain laziness or helplessness disguised as ‘customer-centricity’.

    And I have been mistaken, might just be mistaken now, and will make mistakes in the future. When I do, I learn and I apologise.

    Maz

    Maz

  13. Great articles and great comments Bob. I think we are all agreed the state of professional selling has to change for sales to have any relevance at all (liked or disliked).

  14. Customer-centric selling is not a new idea. It’s been a part of solution selling, consultative selling, and now the “challenger”-style selling.

    Oh yes, and even CustomerCentric Selling, a term trademarked by http://www.customercentric.com/, a sales training firm.

    They all use similar terms like being a trusted advisor and so on. But none of them strikes me as fundamentally different from the training I received 30+ years ago at IBM, where selling started with a deep understanding of customer issues and problems.

    But despite all the rhetoric and money spent on good sales methodologies, companies could succeed without really being customer-centric. Until now. Because customers don’t have to put up with a non customer oriented approach.

    So I agree with you 100% that “B2B organisations have to fundamentally rethink marketing and sales.” That’s starting to happen with
    1. The marketing/sales process being treated as ONE integrated process, where marketing has a bigger and more important role in the digital/social interactions.
    2. Sales organizations need to add more value to earn their right to participate earlier in the process. The “challenger” methodology stresses this, but it’s really part of other B2B sales methodologies too.

    Agree that sales reps shouldn’t “blindly follow the customer as opposed to take the initiative.” That’s another abuse of the customer-centric idea.

    But let’s be real, many (most?) buyers are tired of sellers trying to control the process — what are sales processes for, after all. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the default position of buyers is to lead and put the rep into a price discussion at the end. Only the best, truly customer-centric sales professionals will be able to avoid that trap.

  15. Hello Bob
    You and I are in violent agreement – that is what occurs to me. Where I do not find myself in agreement with you is on leading the client. That may be because leading can be distinguished in a number of ways. One way of leading is ‘controlling” which is not leading. Controlling is controlling.

    When I say a sales person should lead I mean lead. Let me give you an example from my life. There is dialogue going on between the seller and the buyer. The buyer organisation (number of people) are convinced about something – absolutely certain – they have built their marketing and business strategy on it. The sales guy is not that certain. He goes out and does genuine research – looking at the data provided by the buyer, asking for a different set of data cut in a particular way, interviewing some customers, looking at competitor websites. He then takes this research and puts together a 20 page Powerpoint presentation. And ask for a meeting with all the folks as he has some interesting news for them.

    The day arrives and the sales person takes them through the slides. Answers their questions. And there is hushed silence in the room until one of the key people says something like “So we are leaving money on the table because we are not targeting these buyers. They are buying from us and yet we did not realise they are buying from us and represent almost half of our sales in this category!” At this point the sales person has generated credibility and the buying team are willing to listen and be led down the path the sales person has proposed. Which they were not when the sales person first proposed it!

    That is a real life example. I am that sales person and I consider it a privilege, a honour, to say that I love that client, the members of that buying team, and I went all out for them to reward/payback their trust in me. And we built a sound relationship.

    To conclude, on can lead a buyer by leading. Control is something very distinct from leading. You can argue that when I sell a client on the strategy I have developed for them I have to lead them into it and through it so that they get it and are inspired to execute it. I cannot and never have been able to control them to execute the strategy!

    Maz

  16. Maz, I agree with your distinction leading vs. controlling.

    Not sure where I suggested controlling. In fact, I have objected to the subtitle of the new “The Challenger Sales” book: “Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.”

    And I said in my article (http://bit.ly/SctS6I)

    Let’s start with what buyers don’t want. I believe it’s a huge mistake to attempt to take “control of the customer conversation” as the Challenger book’s subtitle implies. For heaven’s sake, buyers are fed up with sellers pushing and dominating the conversation! In part, that’s why they are opting out of the seller contact in the early stages of the buying journey.

    I afraid that some sales reps will equate lead with control, but it just won’t work. Buyers want more leading in the way you described where valuable insights are provided. And NOT leading by attempting to control the sales process.

    So unless I’m missing something, I believe you and I are in agreement on these points. But I wouldn’t bet any money that the sales profession will “lead” in the way you advocate. Old habits die hard.

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