Society is seemingly conditioned to view art and science as diametric opposites, and never the two shall mix. But when it comes to how to sell effectively, this couldn't be farther from the truth: In order to successfully sell, you must master the art and science of selling.
The science of selling includes understanding how people make purchase decisions, and as a salesperson, what steps you must guide the prospect through in order to solve their problem and produce a sale.
The art of selling includes the creativity you use to make this process happen.
For example, take the process of establishing a relationship with a prospect. Any sales person worth their salt respects this indispensable part of the sales process – part of the science of selling – and wouldn't dream of moving the process too quickly until they believe they've built a sufficient level of understanding and trust.
But how to establish trust? There are many ways to do so – and this is part of the art of selling. It is the most empathetic and creative of salespeople, the ones that learn how to truly understand a prospect and communicate this understanding who will be of the most value to a prospect, and accordingly, the most successful.
Another example comes further into the science of the sales process: communicating facts, features, benefits and value. Anyone can simply rattle off a list of facts from a spec sheet, but features don't sell on their own until the prospect pictures them in context. So the best salespeople employ the art of selling by again using empathy and creativity to communicate logical advantages and psychological value that are relevant to the prospect.
Can you exist in sales without combining the art and science of selling? Maybe, but to be a truly effective sales person, to stand out at the top, you'll learn how to employ the two together.
There can be debates in sales circles about who owns the customer: the business or the salesperson?
While we may not get consensus on the topic, it's an indisputable fact that your salespeople, at the very least, own the immediate relationship with the customer, and thus can make or break any sale.
Imagine two scenarios:
You've invested millions of dollars into marketing. Your brand has a strong reputation, and you're considered an industry leader. So when prospects think of buying a product in your category, you're the first vendor they call. So far so good.
From this point forward, however, the control is removed from your hands and placed in those of your sales people (including your distributors). And if they don't know how to sell, if they don't know how to establish a relationship, communicate value and effect closure, then all your marketing effort is for naught.
You've invested hardly any money in marketing. Your brand reputation is actually poor. But somehow you get leads and your salespeople get with prospects. If the salespeople are good, if they can do the things described in Scenario 1 above, then you're likely to get a sale.
The point is this: While your marketing dollars can put in some of the initial hard yards, it will take the ability of your people on the ground to get you across the goal line. This is why your people are your brand.
And as we covered in Why the sales process never stops, "your people" are not limited to your sales team... it's all your people: customer service, technical support, accounts payable and especially customer-facing employees. So before sending your salespeople into the field, before customer service reps take calls, before technical support goes on service calls, be sure they undergo a sales training program so that they know how to communicate, aka sell, thus ensuring the customer account is properly looked after and the health of your relationship is sustained.
The other week I read about the plight of an entrepreneur who, despite being successful, was desperately seeking advice on how to improve his miserable hiring track record. The advisor he wrote to was sympathetic and encouraged him to keep at it:
"Try again. Use a recruiter to forward you CVs. Ask a business associate who is good at managing staff to sit in on the interview. Take your time looking for the right person. Have a good description of responsibilities."
While these suggestions have their merit, I couldn't help but get the feeling that something larger was missing from this advice, something that could have got to the core of this entrepreneur's problems. And it has nothing to do with his faults – or maybe lack thereof! – during the hiring process.
Instead of the problem being in the hiring process, it isn't surprising to find the problem originating during the induction process. Yes you read it right, induction process. Because whilst it's so often neglected, how you induct a new employee immediately following their hire is just as important (if not more so) to their success with your business than how you go about hiring them in the first place.
Too many businesses hire new employees and assume they'll know how to handle their new role, often because too much weight is put on their previous experience. An article in March's Harvard Business Review cites statistics that about a quarter of new hires in the US receive no workplace training of any kind in their first two years of employment. And ironically enough, this assumption becomes more pronounced if the new employee has greater experience or seniority, a potentially fatal flaw of judgment!
Because no matter how qualified, professional or competent a new employee may be the day they join, they are incompetent in relation to your processes, your products, your systems, your procedures and so on. And unless your induction training develops them appropriately, you leave the door open for chaos in all its forms, as the new employee will operate as they see fit (while perhaps naively thinking all is well).
So I'd ask the entrepreneur about their induction process, and how it works: On your employees' very first day, are you meeting with them and outlining specific tasks for them to complete? And are those tasks 'doing' tasks, not 'thinking' tasks, so they understand how your processes work? Are you following up with them for the full duration of their induction period so they understand how you think? Are you providing constructive feedback so they understand what you expect from them and that you care about their success? And are you doing this for at least four to six weeks?
If you can't answer yes to all of these questions, then you need better balance across both the hiring process and the induction process.
The Leadership Development Carnival for April is now up. The monthly collection of blog posts from experts in the leadership industry never disappoints, always providing great material on management development. And after starting to make my way through the several dozen posts in this edition, I can definitely say that it's no exception.
Sharlyn Lauby at HR Bartender, the host this month, has organised the posts by how long each contributor has been blogging, and this really accentuates the diversity of the group. That means that there should be something in there for everyone, for leaders at any level. A big kudos to Sharlyn for putting it together!
So head over to this month's Leadership Development Carnival and have a read!
In our blog entry Why the sales process never stops, we argued that the sales process extends far beyond the placement of a sales order, all the way to the various touch-points any of your employees have with fulfilling that order for a customer. Customer fulfillment of any kind will influence future sales, so you need to place almost as much emphasis on providing sales training to employees as you would your salespeople.
This approach is not without its potential pitfalls – one being the fragmentation of communications within an organization. Unless communications from every area is coordinated, you run the risk of confusing or frustrating a customer and having them get lost in a supplier maze! And you certainly don't want to create a negative view of the business with your customers.
To avoid the supplier maze, effective sales management and coordination is clearly required to ensure people understand how to sell to and serve customers. So there's a balance somewhere between free-for-all contact and a workforce that's afraid to reach out to customers.
Who better to take on the responsibility of achieving this equilibrium than your salespeople? They own the initial relationship, and just as we argued in Why the sales process never stops that they're accountable for delivering on their promises, so they should be in charge of managing the ongoing one.