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Death of a Salesman:

 

In 1949, Arthur Miller wrote the stage play “Death of a Salesman”. The play is about the Loman family whose father, Willy, is an unsuccessful salesman. The play chronicles the events of the Loman family, to the point where Willy, the salesman, commits suicide. A very sad and disturbing play indeed.

 

In sales, I am seeing a strong parallel to this play. It’s not anyone’s death that I am talking about, but rather the Death of the Craft of Selling! I am appalled at the lack of selling skills in so-called salespeople. It seems as if the tried and tested basics of selling have been forgotten, and we now have a sales force unskilled in the art of selling and in a number of cases, is bone idle.

 

A few months ago I bought a new car. In order for me to receive the maximum financial benefit from this vehicle, the deal needed to be structured very carefully. Nothing illegal or even faintly grey. Just a little bit of brain power needed to be applied to understand the principles of the deal, and then construct it accordingly. I had to visit five dealerships of the same vehicle brand, before I found someone that was prepared to do a little more work to sell me a car. All the others lost interest when they discovered that selling me a car was going to take a little more than just a short test drive!

 

A few months ago, I received a call from a salesman that represents a well-known short term insurer. He wanted to come and see me about switching my insurance from my current insurer. I asked him why I should switch. Without knowing which company I am insured with, he stated that his company is a premium brand. I made a note of that and asked him what other reasons he has to give for me to move my insurance. This time it was the price. He had no idea how much I am paying but he assured me that they would be cheaper. So I set a challenge to him. I sent him my insurance policy with the promise that if he could do better on the benefits and premium, I would consider moving my insurance. I sent the document and never heard from him again. But that’s not the end. A week or so later I received a call from another chap at the same company! He wanted to come and see me too! So we had the same conversation. I sent him the documents and again never heard from him. Last week the same thing happened and we danced the same dance. I am still waiting to hear back from him. I wonder what basic salary those chaps are earning? And if we divide the salary into “cost per bum in seat” or even “cost per phone call”, how much of their employer’s money was thrown down the drain by these three chaps?

 

I can go on and on bemoaning the plight of the sales profession and belittling those that bring it into such disrepute. But what’s the point. Look at your own sales people and tell me how many of them you would buy from.

 

So what has gone wrong? What has caused the profession of selling to become so “devil may care”? I believe that there are a number of things that we as employers of salespeople should be doing that we are not doing.

 

1. We’re not recruiting the right people. When recruiting salespeople, we firstly need to look at the qualities of that person. Does the person have high energy? Are they money hungry? Are they able to get people to like and trust them easily and quickly? Are they self-disciplined? If a candidate salesperson does not have those qualities, no amount of sales training is going to help. They will fail and in the end cost you money!

 

2. We are not managing our salespeople correctly. Sales management is not about filling in reports and doing performance appraisals. It’s about managing each salesperson’s sales pipeline to ensure that deals are flowing. That is the number one priority of a sales manager. And that cannot be done from behind a desk. It needs to be done in the field together with the sales person.

 

3. We pay a comfortable basic salary. A true professional salesperson will rather forego a basic salary in favour of a high commission percentage. Why, if the salesperson is earning a good living wage, should they stretch?

 

4. We’re not making sure that the building blocks of a sale are being used (sales managers, this is your job). What happened to selling benefits and not features? What happened to establishing rapport? What happened to establishing the client’s Dominant Buying Motive? What happened to establishing the client’s pain point and using that to close the sale? What happened to being able to deal with objections constructively so that they become stepping stones toward the close? Why are sales people not using the basic building blocks of a sale? Instead they use shortcuts which end in failed sales presentations.

 

So what happened to professional sales? I have a few theories that are informed by a few very interesting articles that I have read and by my 30 odd years of experience in training and managing salespeople:

 

1. Sales seems to be seen as a job and not as a career. So very little, if any, self-development takes place. The job is seen as 8 to 5 with little or no commitment to “after hours” development. Real sales people are passionate about selling and simply cannot imagine doing anything else. They eat sleep and breathe sales. These are the people that create revenue!

 

2. A client asked me to interview an applicant for them for a sales job. Looking at his CV, I noticed that he had never sold before. So I asked him why he wanted to be a salesperson. His reply was that he wanted a company car, a petrol card and an expense account. Nuff said!!!

 

3. Sales managers are managing compliance and reporting and are not managing sales. The more technologically savvy business is becoming, the more weighed down by micro reporting managers are becoming. So much so that they have a title of manager, but are really just automatons spewing out report after report and redoing budget after budget. A sales manager’s job is to be out in the field working with the sales team.

 

4. The internal systems and processes that are supposed to drive sales are inadequate or non-existent. This is the quickest way to 1) demotivate a good salesperson, and 2) provide an environment in which salespeople can work the system so that they justify their existence by “being busy” with no results forthcoming. And you can do nothing about it because your report shows that the salespersons call rate meets the company requirements or KPI!

 

5. And of course we are recruiting people into sales that really and truly should not be in sales.

 

So “The Death of the Salesman” is real. Or rather the death of sales-craft is real. But it can be resurrected! The formula? Smaller well trained sales teams populated with professional and committed salespeople that are well remunerated, and lead by involved and competent sales managers. As in life, there are no shortcuts to sales success.

 

COPYRIGHT:

This article is protected by copyright and may not be duplicated or republished in full or in part, without the express written permission of Mark Deavall.  Mark is contactable on markd@markdeavall.com or +27 82 465 5481.