A few days ago, I got a message from a salesperson who used to work for me many years ago, when I was a sales manager. It said, “Troy, you’re not going to believe this, but I have found a sales job that I am not good at!” From most salespeople, even those who have worked with me, this wouldn’t raise much of an alarm. But this message was from one of the best salespeople I’ve ever worked with, who has had a long track record of success across multiple industries. I immediately perked up. I asked her what she was talking about.
“My problem,” she said, “is that I’m trying to save customers from quitting their service – but when they tell me why, I actually see it from their point of view, and I feel like I’d probably do the same thing!” It’s not a big surprise that she sees things from the customer’s point of view. One thing that makes her great (and can make you great, too) is her empathy and ability to see situations from the customer’s point of view – and if seeing things from the customer’s perspective is a hindrance to success, that’s a signal that bigger changes are needed than a simple sales approach.
To make a long story short (I know I don’t do that often – don’t get used to it), the real problem is that the company’s business model is obsolete now, given the wider range of choices available to the consumer. Those choices tend to not only be priced lower, they also provide better service and better meet the customer’s needs and expectations. Essentially, her company is selling high-priced buggy whips in a world that is adopting the automobile.
The larger problem, for her, is that it hurts her conscience when she “succeeds” in getting a customer to stay, even when she knows it’s not in their best interest to do so. I understand that – I had a job like that in my sales career, and I stayed for less than a year. When you make promises to customers that aren’t being met, and you know they won’t be, it’s a stain on your personal integrity.
Worse, she has caught her management in enough lies that she no longer believes in the integrity of her company. She will leave this job, I’m sure, and the company will lose a quality salesperson.
But believe it or not, this article isn’t about her. It’s about you and your company, and the need that we all have to take a quick self-check from time to time about what we do. If you aren’t having the kind of success and results that you feel you should have, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
- Does what I’m selling still have value in the marketplace? Sure, everything has SOME value – but is your product or service worth what you charge for it? If time has passed you by, it’s time to update and evolve.
- Is my customer making a good decision by buying my stuff? This is the crux of selling. My definition of selling is this: Selling is the act of helping customers make positive buying decisions. If you’re winning when you make a sale, but your customers aren’t winning, it’s time for a re-evaluation.
- Am I asking my salespeople to make promises that I know I won’t fulfill? Yeah, it sounds awful, but it happens every day. I once left an industry when the service manager at my company said, “Troy, your department’s job is to sell fantasy – my department’s job is to re-sell them on reality.” If there is a significant difference between the sale and the service, you are being unethical. Stop it.
It can be tough to know when to evolve or change. And not all evolution is good – many businesses have evolved themselves right out of business, when staying the course would have kept them viable. But if the answers to the first two questions are “no,” and the third is “yes,” you have a problem. And there’s no better time to fix it than the present.
My former salesperson will be fine (and frankly, I’m a bit honored that after nearly 20 years, she still comes to me for advice and counsel). She’ll end up leaving this company and find another position where her skills are more appropriate. Her company, however, won’t be fine. They might be okay this year and next year, but soon, the obsolescence of their business model and the nature of their sales process will catch up to them.