A link to our identity

Sales with a megaphoneYesterday, I was going through my backlog of LinkedIn invitations, and I had a feeling of fatigue.


Overachieving, Highly Successful, Proven, Results driven, Strategic, Consultative, Solutions-Oriented, Problem-Solver, Goal-Oriented, with expertise in new customer acquisition, profitability enhancement, pipeline development and process improvement.

Brings me to a conference I spoke at. The topic was “The Customer Experience”.  It was a panel discussion, but I was the odd man out.  Typically, I participate in events like this with others like me: Sales Executives or Trainers, but this one was different: I was with CIOs and other executive B2B buyers.

And the discussion starts with the moderator, “Could you tell us what the ideal Customer experience means to you?”

I go first by sharing a story about a recent flight. It was the end of a long day; I was wiped out, and the woman next to me asked what I did for a living.  Because I was tired, I gave her a short answer: “I train salespeople” (thinking that would scare her away).   In return, she gave me what felt like a disgusted look. Her expression was like, ‘Ew.

So I asked her what she did.

She told me she owned a small jewelry manufacturer.   And right away, she made a distinction between the two us, because she said, “The way we sell in our business is different than what you train salespeople to do.”

I asked her what she meant.

She told me she’s been though <you name it> sales trainings, hated them all and said, “I’m not a typical salesperson.”

Now, I became interested, so I asked her, “If you were shopping for your own jewelry, what would you want in a salesperson?”

She says, “I wouldn’t want a know-it-all salespeople, who asked me a ton of questions and who talked about how great their jewelry was. I would want someone who actually listened and who seemed to care.”  She paused and said again, “Yeah, someone who cared.”

I end this short story with, “When I think about the Customer Experience, I think about that.”  And then I looked at the people on the panel next to me and asked, “Is it any different across any industry?”

The VP Information Technology at Barnes & Noble is next to me; he lifts his microphone, stands up from his stool and says, “Salespeople come in all the time with their questions and all the answers.  The exercise is annoying and a total waste of time. What they don’t know is that I always know more than they do. That’s why I take very few calls from salespeople.”

I chimed in and asked, “What % of sales calls are like that?”

He says, “95%.”

The next guy goes and says virtually the same thing, but has a different spin on it, “Everyone thinks they’re a problem-solver; I don’t need a problem solver, I can solve my own problems.  We just want people we can trust. Someone who has your back.”  He then shares a story about who he recently bought from, and why.

This goes on for 45 minutes.  The whole time, I’m thinking, “Who do we – those of us in the sales profession – think we are?   And what is our collective self worth if this is how the world views us?”

It then made sense to me why the woman on the flight gave me that nasty look: the only people with more negatively perceived stereotypes than salespeople, are the people training them.  Her facial expression was not just an observation of my industry, it was an indictment.

For me, it was Solution Selling® that shaped my early sales career. “No Pain/No Prospect.” “Diagnose/Prescribe.” “9 boxes of Questions” “Sales Cycle Control.”  And I was excited getting into the sales profession, because all these things gave me a roadmap.  I had something to follow.  I thought I had to adhere to all the processes because that’s what you do in Sales. I even preached it for years when I moved into Sales Training.  But looking back, it was all, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

I still have the Solution Selling® book on my shelf.  In the introduction of his book in 1993, Mike Bosworth writes,

“Superior sellers (I call them Eagles) have intuitive relationship building skills; they empathically listen, they establish sincerity early in the sales call, and they establish a high level of confidence with their buyer.”

The irony is that these skills (empathy, listening, sincerity), the very heart of connections, were not addressed any further in the book (nor in the trainings).  The training industry said to us, “these things are essential”, but then went on to focus on everything else: how to ask questions, how to then position your offering, how to problem solve and how to adhere to a bunch of process steps.

Maybe the world doesn’t need:

Overachieving, Highly Successful, Proven, Results driven, Strategic, Consultative, Solutions-Oriented, Problem-Solver, Goal-Oriented, with expertise in new customer acquisition, profitability enhancement, pipeline development and process improvement.

I guess my fatigue is not with LinkedIn.  Its with our profession’s identity.

To change our identity, change the training.


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Categories: Selling

Author:Ben Zoldan

Demystifying what the most inspiring people do to influence change, Co-founder, Story Leaders and Co-author, What Great Salespeople Do: The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and the Power of Story

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  1. Do You Give Your Customers What They Ask For, Or What They Need? | Keegan DivantKeegan Divant - May 28, 2013

    […] A link to our identity […]

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