The First Step
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”― Lao Tzo
What a daunting task it is to begin writing. Finding the right words to lead with has always been the hardest part of the process for me since my days of writing short stories in my room as a child. I would sit in anguish at the keys of the typewriter that my grandparents passed down to me while other kids ran joyfully through the neighborhood on imaginary adventures without a single care in the world. The profound words of the great Maya Angelou sunk deep into my heart the first time I read “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” How true, Ms. Angelou.
So, after countless untold stories burning away internally for decades, I have decided to start a blog and after years of successes (and a few failures) I am right back to where I began, staring at a keyboard in anguish trying to figure out how the hell to start this story.
After an infinite amount of brainstorm sessions, voice notes, diagrams, blueprints, treasure maps, and algorithms, I have decided to start at the only point of reference that makes any sense – the beginning.
What exactly is The Philosophy of Sales?
Well, there are as many definitions for the word ‘Philosophy” as there are for the word “Sales” but for the sake of argument let’s use the following definition from Webster’s dictionary:
Philosophy (noun) – the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.
Sales (noun) – the transaction of transferring goods or services in exchange for money.
So, in the most simplistic terms, The Philosophy of Sales is the rational investigation of the truths and principles behind the transactions of transferring goods and services for money. Not a very stimulating tag line. Let’s go deeper into, for me, what are the three foundational pillars for The Philosophy of Sales.
“What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.”― Bertrand Russell
The importance of discovery in sales is not a new idea. In fact, it’s the first step (after lead qualification of course) in most successful sales processes from corporate acquisitions to buying a t-shirt. But let’s look deeper into the idea of “Discovery” in regard to sales. Some sales reps may stop at simply identifying the needs of the customer. Although identification of what the customer needs is essential in providing a solution there is so much more to discover. I find using the Five W strategy helpful when asking discovery questions:
- Understand WHAT the customer wishes to ultimately achieve.
- Understand WHY the customer is deciding to make a change .
- Understand not only WHO the customer is but also WHO ELSE the customer has been consulting with in regard to this decision (business partners, family, friends, and competitors).
- Understand WHEN the customer would like to implement the change and what it would look like if the change does not occur within that timeframe (or ever).
- Understand HOW they are going to make a decision – who’s involved, what their roles are, etc as well as HOW they are going to make the purchase – where will they get funding, etc.
Discovering not only what the customer wants but WHO the customer is and WHAT motivates the customer to make decisions is essential in determining IF your product or service will be the right solution. This leads us to the next foundational pillar in The Philosophy Of Sales.
“Collaboration has no hierarchy. The Sun collaborates with soil to bring flowers on the earth.”― Amit Ray
There is something profound and extremely powerful by leading with the phrase “This solution might not be the right one for you but let me ask you a few questions to see if it makes sense for both of us to continue the conversation.” It not only places value on the customer’s time but it also places the salesperson and the customer into a collaborative relationship with just a bit of crafty language. By saying that the solution may not be the right one for the customer at this time takes the pressure off of the customer by making it less about what you can do for them and more about what their problem is and offering to collaborate with them to find a solution, which may not necessarily be YOUR solution. It’s comforting and begins to build trust between the salesperson and the customer. No one wants to be “pitched to” or manipulated into buying your product. That may have worked in the heyday of the stereotypical, slimy “salesman” where it was about commodity selling but in today’s world that focuses on connectivity and collaborative networking, the roles of the seller and buyer are no longer static. They are fluid and impermanent.
As Nancy Bleeke stated in her article about collaborative selling, “buyers are much more informed than they ever were with so much information accessible in a moment. They have some sort of background, experience, or information to contribute to the discussion on most topics. And when we can collaborate WITH them and jointly discover needs, wants, challenges and solutions to help them, we build a deeper relationship and a more loyal customer.” After discovering the needs and culture of the customer and agreeing to collaborate to find the best solution, we have know come to the final foundational pillar of The Philosophy of Sales.
For further reading on the power of Collaborative Selling:
“When watching after yourself, you watch after others. When watching after others, you watch after yourself.”― Siddhartha Guatama (Buddha)
True, the idea of being compassionate may not be something discussed in your Monday morning sales meetings. Although the idea of compassionate selling has been gaining more attention over the last few years, it’s still not a natural approach, especially for those of us that have been in sales for a decade plus. Let’s start with agreeing on what compassion means before moving into why it’s essential to the process of sales in the modern era.
Compassion is simply the concern and/or feeling of sympathy for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
As it regards to sales, I view it as sympathy and/or concern for the limitations and obstacles that the buyer may face either before implementation of a solution or during the sales process itself. True compassion, not just a fake smile and false empathetic buzz words (“I’m on your side” “I’m in your corner”), is essential in a collaborative partnership. Remember, it is no longer about you and how your product will fill the needs of the customer, it is about teaming together to minimize short-term risk, maximize long-term gain, and to create value by partnering with each other. As Robert Harris states in the article cited above “creating value is recognizing the natural synergies that already exist and jointly seeking new ways to be innovative and proactive in adding to each partner’s business success.” It is impossible to truly work as a team if neither of you is compassionate about the needs and obstacles that each other face.
The Final Step (for now)
“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.”― Warsan Shire
After years of internally labeling myself as a writer without externally producing much written work I have finally followed Ray Bradbury’s advice to “just write everyday of your life (and) read intensely” and now find myself at the conclusion of my first post for The Philosophy of Sales. This blog will not only document my journey through writing about my career in sales but will also, hopefully, provide readers a guide towards using discovery, collaboration, and compassion in the various transactions that we face every day. From deciding on where to eat for lunch to selling a 40,000 dollar piece of digital dental equipment, in order to build trust and sustain a culture of community and corporation we must find solace in our own Philosophy of Sales.
The journey is ours so be good to each other.
Until next time!