I once worked for a mid-sized flooring company with about 13 stores. We had a new store that was producing a low sales volume. We thought maybe the location and other things might be the problem. Then we hired a new salesman who at once started out-selling everyone around him. I drove to the store to see what his secret was. He was an outgoing fellow, but it soon became clear to me that he knew very little about the flooring industry. Still, I pressed him for his secret and finally he said, “Wait till you see how I treat these folks.” That was it!  Simply put, he knew that customers buy relationships, friendliness, and trust as much as they buy product. 

How many people out there like salespeople? Not that many, I have observed. Seriously, how often do you hear friends and acquaintances grumble, “I hate salesmen.” (Apparently ladies do not fall into this ‘hate’ category as much.) Salespeople are often regarded as uncaring and only after as much of the customer’s money as we can make. Customers often believe we are patronizing and too aggressive. We exaggerate our products. Customers seem to feel we turn into certified liars every time our lips move, and no is never an answer. 

Are we all evil? Well, one thing is for sure: we can quickly get an inferiority complex in all of this, and there are certainly enough salesman jokes out there to back our reputation. I guess it is safe to say that we have an image problem. 

Of course, these haters are salespeople too. Everybody sells. As individuals we must sell others on our ideas to get what we want. Even as a newborn infant, and wanted our diapers changed, we were selling—loudly. Selling is a fundamental path to success.  Whenever somebody tells me that they cannot or do not sell, I ask, “How did you get your last job?”  

Of course, there is no doubt that our wellbeing as salespeople is important to the livelihoods of these haters. Without selling, the Gross Domestic Product would be horrendous. Goods and services do not just transfer themselves. And, there would not be a lot of those ‘other’ jobs without us. For example, how could a construction worker have a job if somebody had not sold a contract to a buyer? Would a truck driver have a job if there was nothing sold to deliver? What would become of accountants and bookkeepers? If you have an enterprising business, everything starts with a sale. So, in retrospect, those of us who can sell effectively are worth our weight in gold. 

How did this necessary function go so far astray to the point that so many folks have come to hate and dread us? 

Regrettably, one of the older and more traditional selling paradigms is based on our history and conditioning of the win-lose culture in which many of us grew up with. In this traditional paradigm, selling has always been interpreted as more control meant more power by choosing the right gimmick or knowing which correct button to push, and thus more success in selling. 

For some reason, automobile salesmen are considered by most consumers to be the epitome of this slam-dunk style of selling. However, what may have made salespeople successful in the past won’t work effectively today. A paradigm shift to a more synergistic win-win selling relationship has definitely occurred and the interesting paradox is that not changing is the real risk. Win-lose has become lose-lose!

Today, pressure selling creates resistance and the greater the pressure, the greater the resistance to buy. Rather than “closing” skills, salespeople need to acquire “relationship” skills. No matter how much a seller wants to sell, the process will not work if the customer does not feel the faith and trust to buy. 

This new selling-buying relationship is synergistic. Both parties must collaborate to effectively close the transaction in partnership. A partnership is an interdependent relationship with a commitment to produce a result bigger than the individuals and becomes something you become and not something you do. As salespeople, we need to have the ability to experience empathy for our customer.  

Demonstrating empathy toward your customers is a thoughtful approach to selling. It means creating the time to understand who they really are, what they stand for and where they are going in life. Every time you get up to help a prospective buyer, take a moment and reflect on what it must feel like to walk into your store and meet you! Would you buy from you? Find a desire or a motive to help others. Unless you can do this, you may never become truly effective in your selling career because you are simply too self-regarding to effectively help others. 

Do you want to know something important? When you can truly develop empathy for the person you are speaking to; it is nearly impossible to be impolite, discourteous or display a poor attitude.  

There is a proven model of selling out there which encompasses a series of hypothetical selling steps—greeting, qualifying, presenting, handling objections, closing or some similar variation. This sequencing provides important building blocks for the salesperson to manage the call. Unfortunately, this process does not take into consideration that the buyers have their own needs and agenda. 

Consequently, as salespeople, we often tend to focus on what we want revealed first in order to control the conversation or to prepare our rebuttal to what the buyer is saying. Our minds literally become a “thinking chess game.” In these cases, we are not concentrating on our customer’s needs attentively; we are listening with an itinerary. We hear only what we listen for. 

Instead, ask yourself,  “What is the customer’s perspective on the situation?” When you do, you will communicate more clearly and build trust. Remember, the question you must keep asking yourself is not just “What can I sell?” but rather, “How can I help?”  

Listening makes the customer feel important. It shows you are interested in her and that you care. You may have heard the same customer worries a million times, but if you come off as bored or impatient when that same old concern comes up, she will think you do not care. 

The benchmark of selling today is not just how to sell, but how well you understand the psychology of the customer from the customer’s point of view. Customers are smarter and savvier than they used to be. The market has changed and the old manipulative type of selling just isn’t hitting the mark, is it?  

Ultimately, the customer makes the decision to buy as we carefully facilitate their natural process of reaching a decision. Each customer has her own buying requirements based as much on relationships as product, and it all must unfold naturally.