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The Age - 'Foot-in-door disease'

Date: 04/11/2006
Words: 879
Source: AGEĀ  Section: My Career
Page: 19

Today's sales reps know a pushy approach will get them nowhere. By Josh Jennings.

'THAT was part of the problem with a lot of sales people including myself when I first started selling," says Sales Staff Australia owner John Lombard. "We were fed this Americanised Tom Hopkins garbage. Of course, we were young and we bought it all. So we went out and people hated us."

Who hasn't had a sour experience with a sales representative? But how accurate is the stereotype of the pushy sales rep today? Mr Lombard says 21st-century sales people can't expect to succeed with a foot-in-the-door approach, and this stereotype gives the wrong impression of what sales jobs involve.

"Twenty years ago, the training that was given to a lot of sales people was very American, and really not adaptable to Australian standards. It was also very confrontational, so the sales people were taught that the customer was the enemy, and the process of the sale was a battle."

This school of thought emphasised sales at any cost and encouraged sales people to ignore the customer's first two or three objections, Mr Lombard says.

"Sales people obviously developed pretty poor reputations," he says. "This is where they got their reputation for being pushy and obnoxious. All they were effectively doing was treating it as a battle."

According to Mr Lombard, today's sales people are trained to take a more positive approach.

"It's more about win-win. If you can help enough people get what they want, you'll get everything that you want. So don't focus on your budget and your agenda - which was definitely the focus 25 years ago.

"Customers can't actually be sold. All you can be in sales is an assistant buyer. You just can't get away with what you could 20 years ago. People will throw you out of their homes and offices."

Sales Central's southern region manager, Greg Austin, says sales people need to focus less on their quotas and more on understanding what the customers stand to gain from their products.

"Most sales people are still focused on their quota and telling people what they want, rather than looking after a customer and earning the right to be doing business."

Andrew Aston, director of Morgan Consulting, says good research skills are the difference between a good and bad sales person.

"Someone that takes intimate product knowledge and is able to translate that into brokering solutions for businesses will succeed," he says. "This is where they make the transition from a sales person to a business person, or a sales professional as opposed to just a sales representative."

While intimate product knowledge is crucial, sales representatives best use it when they research the business that they are selling to, Mr Aston says. This enables them to identify a company's problems and work out how to solve them.

"They don't just talk about the product. They ask questions to understand the product and to understand how it can solve problems for businesses. The term 'solution sales' is one that's used a lot in the industry, and it's very much focusing on the solution that the business is seeking, and then brokering the right product for that solution."

Mr Aston says customers are becoming increasingly tired of transactional sales people who don't understand what they're selling and what sort of solution the customer is seeking.

"These people are getting eaten alive. People want to deal with sales professionals that have a greater level of sophistication, and they want to deal with people who are more expert, passionate and professional. The level of professionalism has increased considerably. Sales people don't have success by making more calls, they have success by making better calls - better-researched calls."

According to Mr Aston, the more passionate sales people are, the more likely they are to remain in the job. And a well-informed sales force is more likely to be passionate, he adds.

"If they only have a skin-deep knowledge, they're less likely to be passionate. Good sales people are often those that are enthusiasts and those that get in and get excited about the product. It's very hard for them to stay in their profession if they don't truly believe in or understand their product and customers," he says.

"Selling ballpoint pens might not seem very exciting, but if you go and research everything about a ballpoint pen - the different types of ink and how they're manufactured - suddenly you take a different perspective on the product you're selling. You can see a whole lot of sides that you didn't previously see."

Mr Austin says that the best way companies can assist their new sales recruits to identify the solutions that their business provides for customers is to get their recruits to speak directly with the customers.

"Research is talking to customers and potential customers, and getting those folk to talk about how they could use the product. A sales person will pick up on this information and use it to provide solutions, and that will have a positive impact on retention and sales.

"They need to do this to really genuinely understand what the value of their products and services is."

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