Sales and selling is often a maligned profession. It’s as though the sales professional is out to “get” the buyer and brings no intrinsic value to the interaction other than a necessary evil. On the contrary, it is one of the most difficult professions and one that should be respected as more of a challenging job than a dirty job.
But, sales is necessary no matter what the perspective is. The top line to an income statement is “Sales,” the bottom line is “Income.” With no top line, there is no bottom line. It all starts with sales. As one of my mentors used to put it, “Nothing happens around here until someone goes out and sells something.”
A sale is a transaction where a buyer and seller agree to an exchange of goods or services for a value usually defined in monetary units. The sales professional must match the buyers’ expectations of what is included in the transaction to the value. In complex sales, everyone involved in the delivery of the goods or services is involved in matching the buyer’s expectation with the value delivered. Therefore, everyone is involved in selling, whether they realize it or not; and this is where successful companies differ from others.
If the culture of an organization centers on a passion for meeting and exceeding client expectations, then client expectations will be exceeded. When they are exceeded, the perceived value of the seller is raised in relation to their competitors and the barrier to entry into the seller’s clients is raised. However, as basic as this all seems, rare is the organization that achieves excellence in serving clients. In your own experiences, think about the ratio of times you have been disappointed in a service or product you’ve bought, compared to the times you have been “Wowed!”
The more complex the sale, the more complex the effort must be to Wow! the client. In a design-build project, each member of the project team has internal and external customers – customers who require what the team member provides. All these customers however, must ultimately focus on the end customer – the customer we sell to, work for and endeavor to satisfy and exceed expectations.
A classic Harvard Business Review article from the 1950s, “What makes a good salesman?” noted that the two traits of great sales professionals were Drive and Empathy. It is Empathy and Emotional Intelligence that are the building blocks of an organizational culture where exceeding expectations is the norm. Empathy is the capacity to share and understand another’s state of mind. Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to do something with the empathetic feelings by controlling your own emotions so that your actions are in response to other’s emotions.
Can an organization be taught to be more empathetic? Psychologists consider empathy to be a trait that can be learned. In fact, organizations that achieve growth in customer service quality have learned empathy. It is ingrained in the culture of the organization and if you work in that organization long enough, you learn certain standards of service that you are held to. Similarly, through practices and procedures, an organization can practice and learn Emotional Intelligence. If the organization is consistent in how it reacts to certain problems and issues, it is establishing its level of Emotional Intelligence.
Leaders who wish to grow their organization’s Empathy and Emotional Intelligence must lead the process for growth in these areas. Establish consistency in identifying a client’s issues, drivers and challenges, and customizing your response to them as much as you can. Look out for them and teach your team to do the same. Anticipate the challenges, the needs, and the things that are keeping them up at night, then empower your team to do something about it. Just make sure they understand “why we are doing this.”
In the end, every task we complete for a client is an act of selling. Everything we do on behalf of a client is an act of selling. We are always selling – each and every one of us. And we hope that what we deliver, at a minimum, meets the client’s perception of the value he or she is paying for. Basically, the sale is never over – we are always, ALWAYS selling.
Do you think about your client when you are completing the work product he is buying? Do you think about how she will use this information in her own organization and how we can improve her chances of success? If so, you are practicing empathy. When you adapt your work product to enhance their success, you are demonstrating emotional intelligence.
One last thought on empathy and emotional intelligence – it is never something you ultimately achieve. It is, however, a path – a cultural path – that an organization must find and manage daily. Without that culture, true excellence as an organization will never be realized.
Additional blog posts on Sales:
“We each sell a little piece of happiness. You are elevating someone's spirit in some way, and to do that you have to understand the source of their angst and then you have to frame your product as a solution.”
“Speaking from the heart is simple. Listening wholeheartedly, however, is much, much more difficult and most rare.”
Chris Murray, The Extremely Successful Salesman's Club
“I would like to express how I regard salespeople in general. I consider they embody a unified and diverse aggregate of the most able individuals in society and its workplace. In any economy, they are among the most valuable to its continued existence. They alone move the economy of a nation.”
Michael Delaware, The Art of Sales Management: Lessons Learned on the Fly