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Selling is fundamental to business - so why are salespeople so under-valued?

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29th May 2013
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Is it time to reappraise the way that businesses and the world at large view salespeople? Nicholas Watkis makes a case for the defence. 

Businesses exist only for the purpose of making money. Whatever a business makes or type of service it provides, money is only produced when the goods or services are actually sold to a customer. It is only from the act of selling that income is derived for the business in question, thus the ability to “sell” is fundamental to the success of every business.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “selling” as, “making over or disposing of in exchange for money.” However, in some ways, this definition is limited. In its broader sense,

“Selling” can also be seen as a process of influencing thought, action and attitude, to produce a desired action.

While selling is fundamental to business success, it would seem that somehow businesses want to disassociate themselves with the act of selling. Businesses frequently refer to “marketing” goods and services rather than selling them, as though there were something wrong with the action of selling. Selling and marketing are different. Marketing as defined by the Chartered Institute of Marketing is “the management process that identifies anticipates and satisfies customer requirements profitably”. Thus marketing is a management process, in which selling is the executive function. Selling is a skilled and serious occupation which produces the income for every business, but the attitude that some businesses appear to have would suggest that they view it differently.

The media often seems to vilify or demean sales people with stories of “pressure selling” to vulnerable people or the “miss-selling” of financial services. While not defending either of these practices, it is important to realise that sales people work under the direction of managers. If sales methods or procedures result in pressure selling or miss-selling, it is the fault of managers who either give false direction and leadership, or fail to control wayward sales employees.

With the growth of e-selling is the art of selling now redundant? Some might think so, but that would be to misunderstand the nature of on-line sales. The answer is emphatically, No.

While internet online sales are growing, the nature of the transactions are really only an electronic form of catalogue selling, with all the same advantages and disadvantages.

E-selling works best when customer already know what they are seeking and only require to find a suitable price and source of supply.

However, in most cases customers seek solutions to their problems, needs, requirements and aspirations, and it is the task of the salesperson to try to find a satisfactory solution for them.

In consumer selling, when customers come to a shop, it is clear that they have a particular interest in the type of product on offer to resolve a specific need. In business to business selling the vendor usually goes to the customer, so with the exception of responding to a customer’s enquiry, a sales person cannot assume the particular interest of the potential customer.

Invest or fail

Effective selling requires the ability to identify potential customers, their possible needs,  requirements and aspirations, and to be able to present the benefits of the specific product or services in a way that the customer perceives them to be as the best solution to their demand. One of the most important attributes of effective selling is to be able to distinguish between a potential customer whose interest is genuine but whose requirement is not immediate  and one who has an immediate interest in a potential purchase, and can therefore be actively engaged in the process of selling. In this regard, sales people need to be trained in the art of effective selling in order to know how to make this differentiation before engaging in presenting the product or closing the sale. All too frequently, sales training for many businesses is a misnomer for product training. While product training is necessary, without the ability to engage successfully with a customer, the sale will not be achieved, and the income not produced.

Commercial selling is an occupation that can be immensely rewarding, in terms of finance and  job satisfaction. While some people appear to despise and look-down on salesmen and women, because they have no understanding of the job, selling is immensely important and fundamental to all commercial activity.

Businesses only survive on good selling. Commercial selling depends on finding potential customers with a need and proving to them that the supplier has the solution. Many good business ideas fail as commercial ventures purely because entrepreneurs or business staff do not have sufficient sales skills or abilities. While some people may appear to have a natural sales ability, all staff engaged in customer selling should receive proper training in order to conduct a selling engagement to a successful conclusion. Nobody ever bought anything which they did not think at the time that they wanted. Good sales people identify genuine need and seek to fulfil it.

Successful sales people should be well rewarded, because the job is difficult, often conducted in some isolation which requires a lot of self discipline and self motivation. While the Commercial manager is ultimately responsible for producing the profitable income for the business, it is the sales person who has to find and successfully engage with the customer to affect the sale and produce the money.

Businesses are there to make money. They survive and thrive by providing goods and services of a quality and at a price that satisfies customer requirements. However, it does not matter how good a product or service may be, if the business does not invest in the skills to sell its products successfully to produce the income, it is doomed to failure.

Nicholas Watkis is the founder of Contract Marketing Service, established in 1981. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a certified management consultant of the Institute of Business Consultancy. For more articles from Nicholasclick here.

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