It’s our responsibility to change the negative connotations buyers attach to sellers. Without integrity, our profession is doomed.
I love selling because I love helping people.
I come from a family of entrepreneurs who always started businesses with a single question in mind: will this product or solution make life better for the people who buy it? Because if it does, there is no reason we shouldn’t succeed.
The most successful entrepreneur in my family is my mom’s oldest brother. He has been a land developer for years. Growing up in Nepal, I would often go on business trips with him to visit plots of land he had just bought for development.
“So, you see Abin, we are going to build a road here. Then, we will divide the land up into five sections and make sure we have roads going to each section. Oh, and over there. You see those workers? They’re digging a well, so all the houses built later will have running water.” He would explain to me as I half-listened, too preoccupied with the bubble blower he bought me earlier that day.
I would also sit in on my uncle’s negotiations with housing developers as he sold the individual sections. I was too young to understand everything, but I always remembered people looking to him as an advisor. They listened to him with undivided attention and trusted what he said.
A few months ago, I visited Nepal again and I had the chance to travel to a plot of land he was developing. We went to dinner with some of his potential customers, and I was excited to see him in negotiations. I had some sales experience under my belt at this point, and I was excited to see what made him so great. Why did buyers look to him as counselor, not just another seller?
My uncle listened to his customers. Intently. He didn’t just sit there silently. He asked clarifying questions, so he could understand what was important to them.
“It’s a lot of money, Raj, so I understand your hesitation to buy right now, especially considering the market. What else are you concerned about?” he asked his potential customer.
“Well, I’m not so worried about the market. I feel pretty confident that I will be able to sell the house I build on that land pretty quickly and turn a profit. It’s the interest rates. They’re pretty high so if I can’t sell within a month, it could be trouble for me.”
“Then don’t buy it right now.” My uncle told him. “I thought you were getting a good rate on the loan but if you’re having trouble getting a good rate, let’s hold off.”
The buyer, Raj, then tried to talk my uncle into selling him the land. My uncle refused the deal, stating it would be too risky for Raj. The land isn’t going anywhere, the value will keep rising, but interest rates on loans will drop eventually. Raj, and my uncle decided that it would better to wait.
“He seemed to be aware of the risk, uncle. Why did you walk away from that deal?” I asked him after the dinner was over.
“Well, there was still a good chance that he was only going to break even on his investment. I could have sold it, but he’s not coming back to me next time if he only breaks even on the deal.” His response spoke volumes to me. I finally understood why people considered my uncle a trusted advisor.
We, as sales professionals, can succeed in the short term even if our customers don’t succeed. However, we will never have continued success unless the vast majority of our customers get a compelling return on investment.
“We succeed when our customers succeed.” How many times have you seen this plastered on a website, or a salesperson’s Linkedin page?
Sadly, too often, this is nothing more than a platitude. If every sales person truly internalized this motto, sellers would not have a reputation of being "slick," “pushy,” “too talkative,” “money focused,” or “self-serving”. To a certain segment of the population, there is no separation between a con artist and a salesperson.
If you’re a seller and think I’m being too harsh, consider this: when someone asks you what you do, do you proudly proclaim you’re a salesperson? Or do you use a fancy title, like Solutions Expert? Director of Business Development? There is a reason you don’t proudly proclaim yourself as a sales professional in the same way that doctors, lawyers or professors proclaim their titles.
People have a negative connotation to sellers, and it is our job to change that. Here are some questions to ask yourself to assess your level of integrity in your selling activities:
- Do I believe in my product? Is it truly making life better for my customers, and their business? If you are working for a company that is selling an ineffective or outdated solution, it is impossible to act with integrity. If your product actually helps someone, rest assured that there is a market out there. As long as you act with integrity, people will buy from you.
- Am I listening to my customers, or am I pretending to listen? Do they really need what I’m selling?
- What’s the last deal I walked away from?
- Do I forget about my customer once I hand them off to customer success? Or am I checking in every once in a while to make sure they are getting good ROI with no ulterior motives?
- Are my questions during sales calls self-serving? Are my questions helping my customer make better decisions?
It not only behooves us to approach our profession with integrity, it is necessary. The sales profession is facing an existential crisis. The first thing we should do about it is to take ownership of being salespeople, and wear the title with pride.
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