It’s time to Rethink sales.
The act and art of selling has a long and storied history. To some it is a bad word, to others it is the noblest of professions and to Webster’s it is: to persuade or induce someone to buy something. For me it has been a profession, a skill and an art for 20-plus years. But the time has come for a Rethink.
The world has fundamentally changed. In today’s hyper-connected, transparent marketplace buyers have access to virtually all the information they need to make informed choices. People and companies no longer want to be sold to; they want to buy when and how they want and they can. With information and knowledge now much more readily accessible the balance of power has shifted and the way buyers evaluate from whom to buy has changed.
These developments call for a fundamental change in mindset of sales professionals. It starts with changing how we describe and live out the essence of what we do: sell. My company long ago struck the word “sales” from its vernacular and replaced it with the word “Enlist.” This is not a matter of semantics or appearances. No, it’s about companies rethinking the nature of the relationship between sellers and buyers, with a much needed shift from a transactional to a relational approach. The word “enlist” is meant to signify the meeting of minds of sales professional and buyer, with the latter’s decision to voluntarily join or choose to be part of something offered by the former–-an idea, a product, a service, or a solution. Adopting the word itself should both shape one’s thinking and animate our behavior.
At the core of true enlistment is the need for trust, trust in the relationship and trust in you. Without having gained the buyer’s trust, a seller might make the sale and, if she does, it may only be because what is being sold is special or even unique and therefore has great value to the buyer for a short period of time. But without trust, the seller cannot realistically hope for a long term partnership with that buyer and probably not even a recommendation. We would all much prefer to buy from someone we trust, and even more so to be enlisted in something that brings us real value. Consider how different the scenario is in which the buyer doesn’t feel like he’s being treated as a means to an end—a stepping stone to the quarterly sales quota—and can see genuine interest from the seller to ensure they get to a mutually beneficial outcome. When that happens, the chances of it occurring again—and again—are high.
How might it feel to think of your next sales meeting as an enlistment meeting? For some people it may seem counterintuitive to adopt a mindset in which information is shared transparently instead of on a selective basis, in which proposals are structured to go beyond pricing fairly for fair return and seek to add value beyond expectations. Those who think beyond short-term goals and embrace the ideas of service, transparency and trust aspire to enlist long-term partners, not just customers or clients. If you brought that mindset to your next meeting what would you do differently? What intent would you bring to the meeting, and how do you think it would turn out?
Would the world be different if more people believed their jobs were about building trust-based relationships in which goods and services are bought and sold as a happy outcome? I believe it would, and in a good way. In an age when so many things have become commoditized, the advantage goes to those businesses which have learned to think beyond what they do to How they do it: behavior as a route to sustained competitive advantage has never been a better proposition.