by Steve Adubato, PhD

There are many different approaches to selling. Bookstores and libraries are filled with shelves of “how to” books on sales. But what often gets missed in the “art of selling” is that when times get particularly tough, clients and prospective clients make decisions on whether to retain you or let you go based on your value. Translation—successful selling isn’t simply about who communicates effectively or gives the most dynamic sales presentation. It’s about having an attitude and philosophy of “problem solving” and seeing the world from your customer’s perspective. It’s about empathy and understanding more than it is about closing the deal.

Q—Where do most salespeople go wrong?

A—One of the biggest mistakes people make in sales is doing the absolute minimum amount of work according to a particular contract or an agreement. People convince themselves that if they can make the greatest amount of money for putting in the fewest hours, they are being efficient. The problem with this approach is that you are not fooling anyone. When budgets get tight and cuts have to be made, these type of salespeople are usually the first to go.

Q—How exactly do you communicate to your client or prospect how much you really care?

A—By going beyond your written or implied agreement. Proactively seek ways to identify challenges, problems or opportunities facing a client or a prospect and offer recommendations or solutions. The more the other person can see you as someone who is thinking about them and their situation, the more they will view you as a valued colleague or strategic partner.

Don’t wait for someone else to ask you to perform a particular service. Instead, consider this; “Jim, I know you’ve been having some problems with XYZ company. I have a friend over there who I feel can be really helpful to you. I would like to reach out for him and set up a call for the three of us.” Performing this service is not in your contract and it is probably not even expected of you, but just the effort of reaching out and going above and beyond communicates clearly how much you care about the client and their situation.

Q—So is part of the problem the words “selling” or “sales” themselves?

A—In many ways that is true. They shouldn’t be dirty words. Except, the more you feel pressured to “sell,” the more some are tempted to cut to the chase or the so-called bottom line. It causes impatience and shortsightedness. In turn, your prospects and existing clients feel pressured. Too many sales managers pressure their people to “hit the numbers.” What this often produces is a sales force that is so caught up in quantifiable measurements that they always have the meter running. So, if a client needs something done, these pressured sales people are often calculating in their head how much they can charge by performing a particular service or delivering a product.

Q—But isn’t this approach all about productivity?

A—In the short run, maybe, but over time the truly great salespeople build powerful and lasting relationships that endure rough budget times and new competitors. Selling shouldn’t be an action, but rather a way of conducting yourself. Instead of running that meeting in your head, find ways to make yourself useful and ironically you will have a much greater chance of hitting those lofty numbers. For too many people, selling IS a dirty word. It’s why we often joke about the “used car salesman.” But we never joke about someone who provides a valuable service or helps us solve a vexing problem. We appreciate and respect those people. We see value in their contribution. That’s what great selling is really all about.