Selling isn’t just for salespeople: how to unleash your people’s potential

By rotide
Created 01/07/2020 - 15:46
Isabel Rimmer.jpg

There's a wonderful equation created by Charles H Green (author of the Trusted Advisor) that looks at how we build trust.  He believes that trust is based on our credibility (what we know) plus our reliability (we do what we say we will do) plus our ability to create a sense of intimacy where others feel safe with us.  All of these things matter but, he proposes, all of those things are underpinned by one denominator - he calls it ‘self-orientation'.  Trust can be wiped out if you feel that I have my OWN self interests at heart rather than yours where my self-orientation is seen as high rather than low.

And if you are to build a successful business, one based on trusted relationships with customers, suppliers and partners then these factors must be in place. And trust matters even more if you are to grow long term revenue and loyal customers who not only buy your products and services but, better still, will endorse them and recommend you to others. 

Whether your customers are business or consumer, through direct or indirect channels, online or in person - nothing happens until someone sells something or, put it another way, until someone buys something. And yet, for too long ‘sales' and ‘selling' has been seen as something perhaps underhand, tacky even. We hear reference to snake oil peddlers, sales ‘tricks', the hard close, stories of dodgy second-hand cars sellers, double glazing reps and their cousins punting aluminium siding in the USA or rogue market traders.

But we are all, in some way, salespeople - whatever it's our job title or role in life. If you are setting up in business, you most definitely ARE a salesperson. In particular, this includes entrepreneurs seeking investors, as I found when looking to raise finance for a satellite business in the 1980s. One of the biggest banks - and one that went on to have its own problems many years later - wrote back saying, ‘We've done a straw poll round the office and we don't think satellite TV will take off...' How I wish I'd kept that letter. We watch and squirm as Dragon's Den contenders look to convince the panel to invest in business ideas or we mock and judge young, enthusiastic apprentices seeking the approval of Lord Sugar. We call it entertainment as they struggle to sell their ideas and their skills.

But we need to think differently, look at ‘selling' through a clearer lens and reframe what it really is. Selling is about helping others to solve a problem and want to work with you and buy from you. 

Even the most solitary professional, shy accountant or the most geeky and introverted software engineer is motivated to help their customers and clients to solve problems. Reframe what selling is - helping someone solve a problem and want to buy from you - and we can all enjoy what is a fundamental human need: to connect, discover, share ideas and work and collaborate together.

The role of a business leader is to take that message across every aspect of the organisation.  Everyone, in some shape or form - whether they carry a quota or revenue target or not - is part of the sales process. I call these people your secret army.  Because of their knowledge, their skill, their expertise and know how, your secret army is unbelievably well equipped to serve and support customers. Imagine the potential if each and every one identified a new opportunity every quarter or one new project a month, or because of their discussions with your customers, ensured a contract was renewed. They can - if you show them how. And they will want to do it and even enjoy doing it, once you change their mindset about what selling really is - helping customers to solve a problem and want to buy from you.

It starts with the mindset but to help people to enjoy these interactions and build their confidence in talking to customers and creating greater trust, they need a framework or, to use another concept, they need recipes. They need to know what to do, how to do it and to see what a positive difference it makes. They need time to try things out, practise their skills and be encouraged with support and feedback.

When the soldiers in our secret armies start to see their customers and clients through a different lens, opening their minds and seeing the opportunities that are out there every day, we unleash their potential even more. We don't necessarily expect them to bring in revenue on their own, although some clearly will be able to do so and will want to. One, now very senior partner in a large accounting firm, told me he'd never realised how much fun selling was until he'd been through a training programme with me in his formative years.  It changed his whole outlook. He no longer saw it as something he had to do but dreaded, ("I didn't go to university and train to be an accountant to go into selling" he admitted) but instead as something that he enjoyed doing - helping his clients to solve problems, to trust him and want to work with him. He's gone on to manage multi-million-pound clients and a very successful career.

‘I don't want other people messing up my client relationships'

This genuine concern comes from salespeople (sellers guard their territory like a dog guards a bone - they may not actually bite, but don't get too close) as well as directors, business owners and partners. They worry that unleashing the secret army could do damage. But look at it another way - without training they can do more damage. Nurture your secret army and show them how to spot opportunities, build relationships, share ideas, solve problems and grow revenue. It makes their job more rewarding and is better for your customers, too.

And the irony? Your secret army is often more trusted than the salespeople themselves, precisely because they're not officially sellers.

To unleash the potential of everyone we need to train and develop them, giving them tools and techniques that are authentic - not tricks or underhand methods.  If we suggest that everyone attends a ‘sales training course' they'll run a mile.  If we show them how they can build even stronger relationships based on trust and that it's about their credibility and having their customers best interests at heart - we can unleash all that potential.

Very often it is the technical, subject matter experts who are working directly with customers every day.  These can be designers, software developers, technical specialists, lawyers, service engineers and so on.  One technical director in a technology firm that I worked with took the brave decision to train his software specialists, as he put it, to better serve our customers. He faced some opposition from his colleagues - but he stood firm.  As we discussed how he would measure the impact of this training, bearing in mind these people are not ‘revenue generators' or quota carrying individuals (nor do they want to be).  He thought for a while and said:

‘It's not about revenue - although if they spot an opportunity then that can happen. It's about how we hook more fish. Imagine, Isobel, that you're down at the seaside and you walk along the pier and people are sitting out with their fishing rods. There's maybe five or six of them lined up, corks bobbing on the water. And suddenly one of them gets a bite and it looks like a big one. To try to land that on their own is too difficult. But if they shout out, we can all down tools and help bring it in. So that's how I'll measure it - through lots of fresh nibbles and opportunities with customers. My team will have hooked a few new fish and with support from me and the rest of the business, we can bring them in. Yes, that's how I'll measure it.'

That image stayed with me. The secret army in your organisation is out there, every day, their fishing lines trailing gently in the water. They're talking to customers, dealing with client problems and they may hook something. We don't expect them to handle that opportunity from start to finish, or manage the negotiations or bring in a signed letter of engagement or contract - we don't expect every nibble to turn into a 200 lb marlin - but what they can do is spot an opportunity, be curious and help take it to the next stage. And in doing so, serve your customers even better.

By Isobel Rimmer , founder of training and development consultancy Masterclass Training [1] and author of new book Natural Business Development: Unleash your people's potential to spot opportunities, develop new business and grow revenue [2]




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