Reinventing the Salesperson

As a kid, Shari Levitin loved playing games at the dinner table with her family. Risk. Monopoly. It didn’t matter; the opportunity to beat everyone else was the real appeal.

“I’d come in the room with a game and my mother would ask what the object of the game was, and I’d say, ‘The object is to win,’ she recalls. “My mom would look at me, and say, ‘I know, but what are the rules? What can we do and what can’t we do?’ I said, ‘No, the object is to win.’ That’s all I cared about.”

Levitin, author of “Heart and Sell: 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs to Know,” says too many salespeople and sales organizations today employ the same “focus-on-the-win” viewpoint. They prioritize “winning the account,” while ignoring developing a scalable sales process that can ensure long-term success when selling to customers who are more educated than ever before, in an environment that continues to evolve.

To identify strategies for successful selling in today’s markets and economy requires first identifying the trends and challenges that are changing the landscape. Sales and relationship-selling expert Stu Schlackman, author of “Don’t Just Stand There, Sell Something,” says selling has become more challenging than ever before because of the plethora of information available to customers.

Schlackman cites author Daniel Pink’s “To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others” when asserting that the internet and social media are contributing factors to the overflow of knowledge supply, compared to lagging demand.

“Customers are smarter than ever before because of the information they can access on the internet,” Schlackman says. “Because of social media, we are seeing salespeople try to utilize LinkedIn to access prospects. This is very helpful but salespeople still need to pick up the phone and contact prospects.”

Levitin agrees that the abundance of information has led to knowledge being – in a very real sense – nearly ubiquitous. Her grandmother walked the proverbial five miles to school everyday because that’s where the knowledge was.

To identify strategies for successful selling in today’s markets and economy requires first identifying the trends and challenges that are changing the landscape.

“My father, in the ‘60s or ‘70s, spent $1,000 on [a volume of] Encyclopedia Brittanica because that’s where the knowledge was,” says Levitin, who also is founder and CEO of Shari Levitin Group, a global consulting firm whose mission is to “humanize” the sales process. “Where do we have to get our knowledge from today? Everywhere – it now comes to us, we don’t have to go to it. We don’t have to spend money for it.”

Given the challenge that a never-ending supply of information presents, it’s necessary that salespeople adjust not only their techniques, but also their perspectives and approaches to become more effective.

Connecting with the customer

It may seem obvious, but it’s a truth of which some salespeople may need reminding: People still buy from people they like and trust. This hardly groundbreaking reality makes the wellbeing of the salesperson-buyer relationship paramount, and Schlackman says nurturing it requires a customer-first approach.

“Salespeople typically sell from their perspective or personality style,” he says. “It’s no longer a sales cycle, but a buyer’s cycle. What is important is how the customer buys, not how you sell. You need to adjust your sales style to that of the buyer.”

Schlackman, again citing the author Pink, mentions three distinct personalities, each of which buys and communicates differently, has different values and is motivated to action differently. Extraverts, Pink asserts, sell slightly more than introverts, but the “ambivert,” the personality type that has the balance of the two, sells 40 percent more than both – likely because ambiverts can adjust their styles to the consumer.

“What is important is how the customer buys, not how you sell. You need to adjust your sales style to that of the buyer.”
– Stu Schlackman, author of “Don’t Just Stand There, Sell Something”

“Sales is an art and a science, but art trumps process and science,” Schlackman says. “[Salespeople] need to connect with [their] customer emotionally. Emotional intelligence is critical to success.”

Levitin goes deeper and says success with customers today, especially Millennials, depends on how well salespeople develop “soft skills” like empathy, reliability and integrity, all of which constitute the foundation of trust. “If all we’re doing is showing our competency, but not our empathy and our reliability, it’s hard to build the relationship you need to get a larger sale,” she says.

Willingness to change

Schlackman says reinvention isn’t a difficult process, but its degree of success depends on the salesperson’s willingness to change. “As the world of technology changes, [salespeople] need to adjust accordingly and use the tools now available,” he says, citing and Sales Navigator as examples of tools that aren’t embraced as widely as they should be.

And as we know, change can be difficult because success in sales requires emotional focus, which cuts to the essence of the salesperson. “We can’t have different versions of ourselves,” Levitin says. “I can’t be a really nice person to a customer, and [be] patient and listening, but yell at my kids.”

She says this is at the heart of the reason that many companies fall short when trying to emphasize correct selling techniques. “For me to teach soft skills – listening skills, and skills in [using] tools and optimism – I’ve got to live that myself, and that’s harder,” she says. “Successful reinvention is about who you are.”

As such, Levitin advocates hiring the correct salesperson in the first place by asking the correct questions during the interview process – ones that cut to the core of who they are – to assure they not only are qualified but that they fit into the company’s culture.

“Let’s say having a growth mindset is a very important attribute [to your company],” she says. “You need to hire people that are constantly growing and learning. You’re not going to change people. You have to hire people according to that value. What questions are you asking? What profiling tools are you using to make sure they have that mindset?”

Tools, training and development

Once the correct, qualified salesperson – one whose values align with your organization – is in place, Levitin says it’s important to have a system of long-term training and development. “There shouldn’t be just a focus on product knowledge, but on the soft skills they need as well.”

Mentorship is another crucial element in the process. This helps salespeople grow and carve out a career path for themselves. Finally, this comprehensive type of humanized training shouldn’t only be reserved for salespeople. Everyone needs to join the fold, Levitin says. “Train your trainers and leaders so that they can continue to grow and scale your organization.”

Levitin cites a recent Harvard Business Review article that asserts 46 percent of all college graduates, regardless of field of study, will end up in sales. “What’s going to make the difference for this new breed of salespeople,” she says, “is that they’re going to have to give the customer what the internet, or automation, can’t.”