Sales is the oldest profession in the world. From the moment there was a product or service to be offered, there was somebody trying to sell it to other people. It is also probably the one area of business that has been most written about, taught and coached. I have read countless books on the subject over the years, and to all intents and purposes, they say the same thing: “People do not like being sold to but they love to buy” and it is the sales person’s job to “professionally help people to buy.”
However, for something that can be stated so simply, it seems to be one of the hardest things to master. I suppose it is like playing a piano. You may be able to hit the keys and make some sounds, but could you string those notes together to play a concerto?
The fact is that no matter how good or bad we think we are at sales, we can all get better by practising, reviewing our performance and improving one tiny thing each time we do it. So it amazes me when I meet business owners or sales directors and ask them what budget they have put aside for sales training, and they look back at me as if I was asking them if they had a budget for space travel!
The fact is that if you want to be the best, you need to practice. There is a well-known theory that states that it takes 10,000 hours to really master a skill, but that is just the start. If you want to stay the top in your field, you have to keep on practising. For example, concert pianists will practice for upwards of 6 hours a day to stay at the top of their game. Only when you decide to give up do you stop having to learn.
Anybody that has trained for a professional qualification will be required to obtain Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours to ensure that they stay at the top of their profession. So why then do so few businesses invest in training their team in sales? After all, as I said at the start, sales is the oldest profession in the world, and without an effective sales department, no business will thrive.
The first argument that I get around sales training is “we get on the job training every day”, or “we learn from the school of hard knocks.” While this form of learning can be useful, if it is the only form of training you are getting, the danger is you are just learning to reinforce bad habits. Look at a golfer or tennis player who has never had a lesson; they never see how it should be done properly, so continue to embed those bad habits. Talent can get you so far, but it takes hard work and practice to become a master.
The second factor I come across is that because sales has been around for so long, people think that it is the same now as it was hundreds of years ago. Whilst the adages about sales and sales people that I quoted in the first paragraph still hold true, the challenge is that the market has and is constantly changing and therefore HOW we approach selling needs to change as well. So what are these changes in the market and HOW can we adapt our training to suit?
In the early days of commerce, people could only travel a short distance so they would buy from the most convenient seller, but as everybody was local, they would choose the ones they liked the best. So relationship selling was the key to being successful for these early Convenience Sellers.
As time passed, some sellers became more sophisticated in their distribution and could manipulate things to make it more convenient to buy from them. Direct mail, catalogues, super stores, shopping malls and the internet have all been a step by step progress to make the process of buying things more and more convenient. As a result, the need for relationship based selling started to fall. You do not need to have a relationship with Amazon if that it is the easiest way for you to buy the product you want. So now, most products and service that could be bought from these places had to compete on price and retailers thus became Commodity Sellers.
Today we have a world where you can buy what you want for the best price without having to do more than click a mouse or drive to one mega store. But this is not actually what people want. As we already noted, “people love to BUY” – they actually like the buying process as well as the product or service they are buying. And this comes back to the fact that humans are social creatures and so we are now returning to the old values and buying from Community sellers.
The result is that we have actually gone full circle, and as a therefore our sales training has to go back to basics. People buy from people, and the best sales skills anybody can learn are the social, communication and relationship building skills. These are skills you cannot learn on your own, you need to have feedback from others on how you are doing and the safest and most effective way to do this is through training and coaching. So go on, take ACTION and start training for sales success!