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Can You Have Character…and Be in Sales?
Blog / For Sales Pros / Apr 11, 2018 / Posted by Jane Gentry / 6026

Can You Have Character…and Be in Sales?


As a young salesperson, my job included prospecting by pounding those phones, day after day. My colleagues and I spent hours on the phone hoping to get a meeting. On one particular day, I happened to walk into a colleague’s office and heard him saying on the phone, “I’m calling you regarding the XYZ event you’re attending. This is urgent. Please return my call as soon as possible.”

I said to him, “Why are you calling him about XYZ? We have nothing to do with that.”

He replied, “Yes, I know. But once I get him on the phone, I’ll shift the conversation to us.”

I wondered why that prospect would ever continue a conversation with our salesperson when the very first thing he did was lie to him. Even then, I instinctively knew that was poor salesmanship.

Since that time I’ve come to realize that there are only ever two reasons a client works with me:

  1. My character (showing that they can trust me), and
  2. My competence (with which I can make them successful).

There is a catch: I never display my competence until I’ve displayed my character. It’s that character—not what I know—that will build trust with the prospect or client. Which begs the question: what does trust-building character in sales look like?

  1. Be Curious
    Great salespeople have an insatiable curiosity. This translates into asking great questions and learning about the client. It is the stories we tell that create a bond of trust. Are your questions prompting your clients to tell you stories about themselves?
  2. Be Intentional
    Trust isn’t an accidental outcome. Be conscious and consistent in following up your promises with actions. It is a cliché (because it’s true) – Walk Your Talk.
  3. Be Open
    Be open to feedback from the client and strive to learn from it. Be a person who admits and owns your mistakes. If you hide one mistake, it will appear as though you hide them all.
  4. Be Committed
    Building trust isn’t a one and done event. Trust is built incrementally over time. You didn’t propose to your spouse on the first date (I hope) and you won’t win a client on your first meeting. Be consistent and committed to building the relationship.
  5. Be There
    Trust building is predominantly a face to face activity. When we are in person our brain chemistry literally changes to match the other person. And, time is the currency of relationships. When I spend time with you it shows that I’m invested in the relationship.

There are some valuable reasons to be a salesperson with character.

You can challenge your client’s thinking—you’ve earned the right

Part of your value is to bring insight and alternative thinking to your client, but you must earn the right. You must show that you are trustworthy before expecting someone to open up to you about what they think or feel or believe to be true.

First in Line for the Opportunity

When you’ve built trust, you gain the role of valued resource. Your clients will likely come to you first for any needs that they have. Then, not only are you in the game early, you may also be able to craft the problem statement and desired outcomes with the client.

Obtain Referrals

Referral business is the best. You can skip the step where you prove your value and start building the relationship right away. And, the clients with whom you’ve built trust will be your biggest advocates.

It is discouraging, but we are still fighting the stereotype of the slimy salesperson. I believe sales is a noble profession – that those at the highest level of the craft are not only ethical, they also have an inherent desire to help, to solve problems for their clients.

Having the commitment to do whatever it takes to make a sale is a desirable trait in sales; but, only if it is tempered by a willingness to be legally and morally ethical – to be a person of character.

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About Author

Jane Gentry leverages 25 years of experience with Fortune 500 clients to help mid-market companies grow revenue by solving key sales issues like: process, client engagement, leadership, relationship management and hiring. She speaks worldwide on topics about sales growth and leadership.


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