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What is ‘selling’?

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A DEFINITION of “selling” found on the internet reads, “Give or hand over (something) in exchange for money.” Is this really what it means? About the only people who might fit this definition are store clerks at a supermarket check-out counter. We don’t do much better with the synonyms — put up for sale, offer for sale, put on sale, dispose of, vend, auction, etc. This definition fares a little better: “the last step in the chain of commerce where a buyer exchanges cash for a seller’s good or service, or the activity of trying to bring this about.”

For the professional salesperson, it is the activity of trying to persuade a client to purchase that defines the selling process. Great salespeople exert all their efforts in making their customers see value in the purchase. They don’t just present a product and hope for the best. They explain, cajole, persuade, convince, induce, encourage, and motivate the customer to make the purchase. The better they are at this process, the more the customer wants to buy.

Consider for a moment; every day we make purchases, many of which we really don’t want to make. There is a world of difference between parting with money to buy a new dress, the latest cell phone, an expensive but thoroughly enjoyable meal, and buying a replacement motor for your washing machine, a new set of tires for your car, or paying an electrician to re-wire your house! The reason why the first three purchases are “pleasurable” is simply because you set your own need for the purchase. You can already imaging yourself impressing your boyfriend in your new frock, or showing off to your friends with the latest smart phone. By the time you make the purchase, you know what you will do with the item, how and when you will use it, and what pleasure or satisfaction it will give you. Do you need a salesperson to help you make this purchase? Well admittedly, you might need some product information or be willing to listen to opinions ideas and suggestions. But at the end of the day, the decision to buy is all yours and you would, in all likelihood, have made the purchase with or without the entreaties of a well-meaning salesperson (and sometimes in spite of it!).

New tires? Hardly sexy and somewhat difficult to get enthusiastic about. So the efforts of a salesperson are called upon to convince you to buy. To part with money for such a purchase, you must see some value. Perhaps improved fuel economy, a quieter ride, better road holding, and greater safety for you and your family. It is the salesperson’s job to focus your attention on these “benefits.”

This is done by engaging the customer in conversation, the purpose of which is to uncover important information which can be used to help match products or services against the client’s needs. A salesperson who sits in front of a client talking about his own products and services is missing the opportunity of finding out what the customer wants or what is important.

Now, I know many of you will be thinking that you will replace your tires on your car as and when they wear out. I would agree and think that most car owners drop into Bridgestone or Good Year and with a grimace, part company with a wallet full of notes to have the old tires replaced with exactly the same size, brand, and tread pattern. But here’s the deal! You have a choice and a salesperson is needed (unless you have “expert” status yourself) to help you make a choice which is appropriate for your needs, particularly when this means changing from what you usually buy.

When a purchase is for a cheap, simple item, a salesperson’s role is less important than for complex expensive purchases. I might be willing to purchase a cheap set of car-mats by plucking them off the shelf in Ace Hardware. Spending P40,000 to P50,000 to buy a set of off-road tires demands the help and assistance of a capable and competent salesperson who is able to furnish me with technical specifications and highlight the advantages of one brand over another.

In the company I work for, we sell geotechnical solutions to the construction industry. I am proud to be associated with products which are often new, innovative or groundbreaking and replace traditional construction methods. However, my sales team face an uphill struggle convincing clients to make choices they have not made before. For what it’s worth, I will quote a couple of responses to my sales teams’ statements. “You’ll save money” answered by, “It’s not my money. I’m just the installer.” Or, “These materials will last for over 50 years” responded to by, “Who cares? As long as they pass inspection this month, it’s good enough!”

As the value of a purchase increases, the customer will become increasingly concerned about wasting money, buying the wrong thing or committing to something that may have far reaching, and possibly negative consequences on his business. The job of the salesperson is to allow the client to reveal needs for a product or service. By asking appropriately worded questions, the salesperson can take the client through a process that makes him think about his actual situation and consider all of the problem issues and how these affect his business. The questions should help the client appreciate the value of addressing his problems.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.

hockenhull@gmail.com