“American business has just forgotten the importance of selling.” Barry Goldwater (1909-1998)
Barry Goldwater, a long-serving senator from Arizona and the GOP candidate for President in 1964, uttered this phrase about 50 years ago.
I am not certain whether American business had forgotten the importance of selling. But there is a danger of that happening now.
Thanks to the Internet and ongoing innovations in a variety of technologies, we are awash with brand new sales tools that promise to painlessly remedy one sales shortcoming or another. Or to provide shortcuts, or hacks, that promise an easier path to success in certain sales activities or sales processes. In other words, selling would be a lot easier if we could just automate everything and remove the people as much as possible from the equation.
Like so many things in our American lives, we are attracted to the easy fix. Sales is no different.
Why the Easy Fix Isn’t
Compare the state of selling today with the sad state of our health care system. In America we believe that technology can cure any ill and fix any problem. However, despite the $3.8 trillion that are spent year on health care in the US, a large portion of which is spent on the latest tests, medications and treatments, our measured outcomes, in terms of the improved health of the US population in return for the dollars spent, lag behind other developed nations. Yes, we may have the best doctors and best medical technologies but we trail in life expectancy and outcomes related to chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Why? In part because we are drawn to the easy fix. Do you have Type 2 diabetes? There’s a pill for that. And if I take the pill, then I don’t really have to worry so much about altering my diet and exercise regimen to lose weight. Have heart disease? Just give me my statins and I can eat that 1,200 calorie cheeseburger for lunch.
I see the same happening in sales. Don’t know how to prospect? There’s an app for that. We have social selling, sales automation, sales enablement, sales engagement and many others that promise to facilitate the entire process of selling. Which they all do to some degree. But they all have as their primary focus the salesperson. Not the customer. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I am as immersed in these technologies as anyone. But, I never forget that the object of everything I do is to help the customer make a good decision quickly.
I have listened to salespeople rave about a sales hack that they claimed got them past the gatekeepers and let them talk to the decision-maker. The problem came when they actually had to talk to the customer. They were unprepared. They didn’t fully understand their products. They lacked knowledge about the customer’s business and how they would use their product. They didn’t have insightful questions to ask. In short, they lacked the fundamentals.
Master the Basics First
Health care providers are learning that a focus on the fundamentals is the best way to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes. Pairing a patient with a home health care provider who regularly visits them in their home (or online) to make sure that they are taking their medication, getting regular exercise and following a prescribed diet has been found to be very effective in improving the health of diabetics as well as reducing the number of emergency room visits and hospitalizations associated with this chronic condition. Through this personal contact the home health provider builds a trusted relationship with the patient in which more information is revealed than might normally be disclosed to a physician during a normal 5-minute exam.
So, too, the fundamentals are indispensable in selling. While we have come to depend on technology in so many ways, sellers can’t forget that selling requires that they actually engage in a real conversation with a customer, carefully listen to what they say and learn what is important to them. Here are four sales fundamentals that are not going out of fashion, and are actually increasing in importance as busy customers wish to devote less time to their buying process.
1. Know your product, and its uses, better than your customers.
2. Have the business acumen to understand your customers’ business.
3. Be completely responsive to all customer requests and questions.
4. Maximize the value you deliver to make every sales touch count.
Go ahead. Take your medicine. But don’t forget to eat right, exercise regularly and get a good night’s sleep.