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Professional Selling
Business Development, Networking, Marketing. It's Still SELLING!

By Barry Trailer

Part 1 of 2
We worked with a bank many years ago and the executive who brought us in to do sales training said, "This is great. We really need what you guys have. Only one thing: don't call it 'selling.'" Many professionals are uncomfortable with the term 'selling' and prefer to say they're doing business development or marketing or are simply networking with other associates. What's wrong with saying you're selling?

ox y mo ron (noun)
a phrase in which two words of contradictory meaning are used together for special effect, examples: 'wise fool' or 'legal murder' or 'jumbo shrimp'

Professional Selling: Oxymoron?

For many trained professionals the notion of selling can be uncomfortable or, worse, unattractive. There can be a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is a negative buying experience they may have had in the past with a pushy or annoying sales rep. These and other stored images can combine with a sort of righteous indignation that "Our work speaks for itself," and that self-promotion is a reflection of a personal or professional deficit.

This article attempts to surface associations that may be hindering your ability to sell your services—and feel good about doing so.

pro fes sion al (adjective)
engaged in an occupation as a paid job rather than as a hobby; very competent; showing a high degree of skill or competence

sell (verb)
make people want to buy something: to increase the sale of or the demand for a particular product

Let's start right there with this notion of 'making' people do or want to do anything. That doesn't seem right and, in my view, it isn't. In workshops when I've asked participants what images or words come to mind when they hear the term salesman or saleswoman they'll offer: pushy, assertive, money driven, glad hander, insincere, etc.

Who would want to be part of that club? And yet there is this countervailing truth in business that: Nothing happens until someone sells something. How to reconcile this important fact with a desire to be of service but not a pest?

Business in general and coaching in particular are grounded in relationships. Many abuses and sloppy behavior have gone down in the name of 'relationship selling.' A model we've presented over the years to help clarify and structure this discussion is the level of relationships graphic depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Level of Relationships
Figure 1: Level of Relationships

This model is useful for a couple reasons. First, identifying the various levels helps locate where one is in relationship. If, for example, you've heard yourself saying, "We're being used for a lot of free consulting here," this actually implies a mid-level relationship. The problem is not the consulting piece; the problem is you're doing it for free.

The pyramid also helps convey the notion that the mass is largely weighted toward the bottom of the pyramid; that is, there are many more vendor relationships than actual partner relationships, though people will often mouth the word 'partner' when they really have a vendor or supplier relationship.

There are business components that increase as you move up through levels of relationship. Among these are trust (which is synonymous with credibility), access to others (players, departments, projects, etc.), repeat or add-on business, references and referrals, to name a few.

And there are things that decrease as you move up through levels. Price sensitivity (though this may never go away entirely), numbers of competitors, the significance of a particular credential or certification, time to close a particular piece of business and more (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Business Components and Level of Relationships
Figure 2: Business Components and Level of Relationships

If you now consider these things that are increasing along with those that are decreasing, you'll find they are all very good for business—your business. And this model also forms the basis of our definition of selling: Establishing and elevating relationships over time.

We have found in working with groups in the past, that this definition is much more acceptable than the notion of making or convincing people to want something. So, how best to move up and enjoy the increase of these various elements? If we return to the levels of relationship pyramid once more and rotate it 90 degrees (see Figure 3), we see how we can add value, increase our contribution and, therefore, elevate both our discussions and our relationships.

Figure 3: Relationship Pyramid
Figure 3: Relationship Pyramid

Simply stated, the more you know about a company, its customers, its industry and competitors (and your own), the more you bring to the table. The better you are able to understand the pressures your prospective clients are facing and situations they're confronting. Your immediate reaction may be that you can't possibly know this much and that you needn't have to, because coaching is really about facilitating and drawing out what is going on with (and within) your client. It is my premise that in taking this stance you are limiting your ability to ask truly relevant questions or to understand the full meaning and implication of your clients' answers.

This does not mean that you need to become an expert at manufacturing and insurance and advertising if you have clients in each of these areas, but I do mean to suggest that the more conversant you are with the major pieces in motion in these industries, the better you can sell—and, by extension, coach.

In my next column, I'll discuss a second challenge to selling professional services, maintaining an ongoing sales initiative.

Barry Trailer is managing partner and co-founder of CSO Insights, a research firm specializing in benchmarking how companies leverage people, process, technology and knowledge to optimize the way they market and sell to customers. CSO Insights' survey of over 7,500 sales effectiveness initiatives has become the benchmark for tracking the evolution of how the role of sales is changing, the challenges that are impacting sales performance and how companies are addressing these issues. www.csoinsights.com

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