Death of a Salesman

Ever since Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman was first published in 1949, pundits have been using this overworked phrase to forecast the demise of practitioners of our profession. Reports of our death are apparently premature. Rather than dying off, there are probably more salespeople per capita than any other occupation.

Mind you, some types of selling, and with it some types of salespeople, have died. The backslapping, joke-telling, low-content salesperson that roamed the North American continent early in the last century with his carpetbag has become, like the dinosaurs, extinct. There is a different type of salesperson out there today. More professional and more attuned to his prospect’s needs.

Times Have Changed

Times have certainly changed, and so has selling. The information explosion has created a more knowledgeable customer with an increased awareness about you, your company and your products/services than ever before. If you don’t know your product or service extremely well, or you can’t add value to the transaction, you’re on the way to extinction.

When I say you must know your product or service, I don’t mean what it is, but what it does and what it means to your prospect. While some people downplay fact and benefit selling, too many salespeople are still rattling off facts and features and expecting the prospect to uncover the benefit. If the prospect can say, “So what?” to your sales presentation, you’re not doing your job.

Product Knowledge Isn’t Enough

Most salespeople are knowledgeable in their product/service, if only because it’s the only form of “sales training” they receive. This training usually consists of reading a catalogue, product brochures, or data sheets. Frankly, based on our experience with a large number of people who call themselves salespeople, I’m not sure they even read the stuff!

The professional salespeople who survive and thrive in the 21st century will be those who bring something more to the sale than a glib tongue and product knowledge. They will provide a value-add of some kind.

Standing Out

The value-add may be a service that goes above and beyond the expected. Simply taking the time to properly qualify a prospect by asking intelligent questions is a value-added service that most salespeople don’t or won’t offer. Too many seem intent on selling before they qualify a prospect. Selling without qualifying is like a doctor who writes a prescription without first making a proper diagnosis. Not that any good doctor would ever do that.

I remember being subjected to a 15-minute sales pitch by someone who should have known better. Without knowing anything about my company, or me, the salesperson dove right into telling me ALL about his company and what they offered. My mind was wandering and I was just about to say, “Let me tell you a bit about what we do here,” in the hopes of getting him on track when he finally ran out of things to tell me and started asking questions. This 25-year sales veteran had never had any formal sales training and was still operating under the old “telling-is-selling” philosophy. I only wish that this was a rare occurence. Unfortunately, this type of “selling” still goes on today.

It’s up to the salesperson to add value.  Ask yourself, “What can I do to bring additional value to the situation?”What can I do to make a difference?” Another way is to try putting yourself in your prospect’s shoes. If you were the prospect, what might you want and why would you want it?

If salespeople develop the skill to add value and truly make a difference, the reports of our death will indeed be premature and we will continue to live on for a long, long time.

Authored by Brian Jeffrey, co-founder of SalesForce Training, and originally published in the Targets newsletter.

SalesForce Training & Consulting is a professional services firm and training firm based in Toronto, with training centers in Boston and Chicago, helping sales leaders achieve truly lasting behavior change amongst their sales teams.

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