Schlomowitz goes into sales

When working with clients who are hoping to see their sales teams break through to new levels of performance, I often haul out this role-playing exercise:

You are Frank Schlomowitz, third-shift turret lathe operator for XYZ Tool and Die Company, a 100-employee machine shop. XYZ’s management has determined that it’s time to find a full-time salesperson and wants to look internally for the best candidate. You decided to throw your hat in the ring for the job.

The next step will be to go before a selection team for your initial interview.

To organize your thoughts, you put together some crib notes: What are the traits and skills you would bring to the job?

Complete these sentences:

  • “I really understand the ___________.”
  • “I have very good ___________ skills.”
  • “I am a great ___________ builder.”
  • “I am very customer- ___________ .”
  • “I know I would be a good ________.”

Now, don’t answer these with traits that could apply to any job – “I’m a self-starter” or “I work hard.” You want to identify what Frank Schlomowitz — or anyone seeking a sales job — would say are the five most important skills and traits needed to succeed in sales.

Easy answers

So what are your answers? My bet is that the first time out they’ll be something like these, in order:

  • Product
  • Communication
  • Relationship
  • Focused
  • Closer

How could I predict your response?

The reality is, people in sales – those with tons of experience and those who’ve not sold a day in their life – are pre-wired to think in a certain way about what it takes to succeed in sales.

You could say it’s inherited; we’ve learned it over the generations just from watching salespeople in action.

Can you handle the truth? You will never, ever achieve greatness as a salesperson thinking that way.

In good times, perhaps with products that are so inherently popular and distinctive that they really don’t need someone to sell them, this traditional mindset will probably help you do OK. But even then, this approach doesn’t breed success. It limits our results.

A desire to be different

Traditional thinking becomes traditional talking, and traditional talking leads to traditional actions. All salespeople think the same way – so we talk the same way and we act the same way.

And in a world where when differentiation is king — sales — that’s deadly.

For example, if I “really know the product” and I have “great communication skills” where does that lead me? Straight into “tell mode.”

The five questions above — completed as Mr. Schlomowitz (and perhaps you) did —lead to what I refer to as Traditional Customer Interactions. Or, stated another way: customer meetings that come across like all other salespeople’s customer meetings.

A fly on the wall

Imagine yourself on the wall in your customer meetings… like a fly. What do you see and hear?

If you’ve inherited – and therefore, apply – the Traditional Sales Mindset, you will see five telltale signs that you come across like all other salespeople.

  • You steer and process the conversation driven by a desire to tell, inform, educate, or demonstrate knowledge.
    Perhaps you don’t do it in the most obvious way – what I call “show up and throw up.” But think about how you plan your customer meetings. Ninety percent of your focus is probably around what you’re going to tell the customer, right?
  • You respond to ‘openings’ created by the customer (needs, ‘gaps,’ priorities, objections, questions, etc.) by informing, educating or otherwise directly and immediately reacting to the opening as presented.
    This is the classic ‘rhythm’ of Traditional Sales Interactions.
  • You project a noticeable desire to be liked and accepted, or you try to use personal rapport as a selling tool.
    “Hey, nice fish on the wall; you a fisherman?” Rapport is not a tool! The more you make nice with customers the more you unwittingly fall into the ‘salesman’ stereotype…and we salespeople have inherited a horrible stereotype.
  • You project a subordinate “master/servant” position, or you display a strong fear of appearing unresponsive.
    Please, for the good of your company and your commissions, drop the cliché that “the customer is always right.” It leads you down the road to perdition as a salesperson.
  • You look at, or even seem to look at, the sales opportunity through a narrow, “transactional lens” — even when the discussion isn’t about an opportunity.
    Schlomowitz was sure he’d be a good closer. Maybe he’s even heard that as a salesperson you should ‘always be closing.’ This mindset creates transactional energy in your customer meetings. A good thing? Absolutely not: it shuts customers down.

You might, quite rightfully, ask, “What’s so wrong with operating that way?” There’s a long and short answer. The long one I’ll provide in the coming months. The short one is: you come across like all other salespeople.

And that is no path to success.

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