The State of Sales

The Unexpected Salesman is a mentality. It’s the the idea that anyone can sell, they just need the proper motivation and training. In fact, sales is skill that will serve anyone, regardless of their profession. Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Everyone lives by selling something” and that still holds true today. While selling is just as important today as it was decades ago, the art of sales has changed and the salesman has too.

I took some time to interview Dr. Shane Smith, founder of The Unexpected Salesman, about the state of sales in 2016.

Question 1: How has sales evolved over the past decade?

In the past few decades, we have emerged from a sales orientated economy to a market orientation. What this means is that there is a focus now more on the customer and their needs (customer-centric) as opposed to the old style of trying to the sell everything to everyone approach of the past. This new thinking encourages the company to learn what the customer wants/needs first and then produces and delivers it to them. This eases up on the effort of the sales force. Also, the customer is now much more knowledgeable than ever before. Technology has played a big role in this. Thus, rather than coming to us and putting all their faith into the sales force as a knowledge expert, they are now utilizing the sales force to merely facilitate a lot of the purchases.Relationship plays an even bigger role these days. With the customer being so knowledgeable, it often comes down to the relationship between the two parties.

Takeaway: Sales has moved from a one-way communication channel (Company –> Customer) to a two-way communication channel (Company <—>Customer) that emphasizes the value to the customer rather than the offerings of the company.

Question 2: What part of the sales process do you think is most neglected today?

Shamefully, relationships are still overlooked by a lot of sales forces.  Also, there is still a lack of listening by a lot of sales reps.  The old 80/20 rule should be applied to listening versus talking.  We need to learn to ask the question and then step back and listen to the needs that are uncovered by the discussion.  A masterful sales rep knows what to ask and let the customer uncover their own needs and let them hear themselves say it.  Pretty soon, the customer sells themselves on your product.

Takeaway: You can sell someone without ever saying a word. Active listening and building rapport are critically undervalued steps in the sales process.

Question 3: Do you use social media in your sales process? If yes, how?

Social media is huge to today’s sales force.  Not only is it a form of getting in front of the right prospects, but relationships are key in today’s sales environment and the customers are using social media in their daily life just like me and you.  Used properly, we can leverage social media to engage the customer in an active manner, with much less cost.

Takeaway: Communication is critical in the modern sales environment and social media provides sales representatives with a direct line to the decision maker, a task that used to take several days, weeks, or even months.

Question 4: What is the single, most important tip you could give someone who is just starting out in sales?

Listen.  Simply learn to listen.  Listen with intent.  If you ask the right questions, you will hear the right answers.  Too many sales reps feel a need to pitch, to talk about how wonderful their product is from the get go.  It is reactionary.  They know that they have to compete with other salespeople so they try to beat them with the better product.  However, this immediately alarms the prospect to being ‘sold to’ and they become defensive.  Instead, the sales rep who slowly gains responses to intelligent questions will learn of the exact needs and wants of the prospect thus allowing for a custom reply by the sales rep tailored to the prospects needs and wants.  If done well, the prospect will even hear themselves talk about their own uncovered needs and wants and be clamoring for the sales rep to offer them a solution.

Takeaway: Customers will open up, if you let them. The best way to make a sale, is to listen to the customer and pull out the pain by asking questions. Eventually, the customer will reveal the hook and you kindly offer the solution.

Dr. Shane Smith gave a lot of great tips as to how the modern salesman should approach selling in today’s environment. Sales is never going to go away, but with new technology, more knowledgeable customers, and increased competition, the salesman must evolve. Fortunately, The Unexpected Salesman’s professional sales training can help prepare you to succeed as a salesman.

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