Some readers might recall the source of this infamous confusion. It came from the movie Wedding Crashers. In sales, we mimic this noxious craziness every day without batting an eye. We hire salespeople and drop a heavy quota on their shoulders. We pay them a base salary, and put a chunk of their compensation at risk. Sometimes, we offer bonuses for achieving milestones. Communication, delivered and reinforced through the comp plan. The message? Make your goals! But when sales reps tackle this challenge, we slap them around, and berate them. “Stop selling!” we shout. Yes, you read that right.
Managers, sales trainers, keynote speakers, mentors, coaches, and bloggers pound home the point. Customers pile on too. Here’s a sampling:
I’ll stop here because you get the idea. If the writers who crafted these titles wanted to express slightly more disdain, they’d only need to substitute stealing for selling. Unlike Wedding Crashers, there are no chuckles or riffs of laughter, only dissonance and self-doubt.
How did the once-honorable pursuit of selling become something to kick aside, like an old smelly towel? I don’t know, but it did. Those who advocate “stop selling” offer a rationale: “Customers don’t want to be sold.” A trendy expression, but one that’s illogical. The marketing equivalent of saying the angles in a triangle don’t total 180 degrees. I’ll get to the reasons in a moment.
To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with urging salespeople to engage, listen, innovate, help, and connect. But these activities are part of the fabric of selling, not a replacement for it. Effective selling consists of all the activities involved in acquiring and retaining customers. Yet, that doesn’t prevent sales managers from goading their reps to stop selling. No wonder salespeople are confused.
Stop selling! An innocent participle got hijacked, and stained with the image of the stereotypical aggressive salesperson with his nonstop, jargon-filled product prattle, bad breath, cheap suit, Timex watch, and over-the-top drive to make a buck. That’s unfair. The better message is stop selling the wrong way. Stop selling means quit, which is fine, if that’s what you want your reps to do.
I would be less irritated by Stop Selling if I didn’t see this message contribute to low morale and confusion. Agreed – great listening skills are fantastic to have. But Job #1 for salespeople is persuasion. That happens through a multitude of activities. Sure, trust building and qualifying make the top of any practitioner’s sales strategy list. But if there are no mechanisms to convince others, to close the sale, to get a signed order, to execute a contract, to eliminate friction from the buying process, or to capture a credit card number or purchase order, there’s no buying. And that means no selling, either.
If you’re reading this article on a mobile device such as an iPad or iPhone, it was likely one that you bought—and Apple sold—through a careful choreography of product development and support, distribution, retail know-how, staffing, supply chain logistics, application development, pricing strategy, point-of-sale technology, and social media. In other words, selling. Par excellence. If you liked the buying experience, chances are that the processes worked synchronously, simply, and securely. You appreciated the delighted feeling you had when you walked out of the Apple store, or when you opened the box.
Your joy didn’t happen by accident. For Apple, Selling is fine-tuned with more pride and meticulous orchestration than most customers will ever know. No bad breath. No self-aggrandizing prattle. Selling—embraced, not expunged. “Customers don’t want to be sold”? That’s surely not what you were thinking when you fired up your newest gizmo for the first time and began using it. Buying and selling are reciprocal. That’s the logical fallacy in stop selling. The notion that customers don’t want to be sold means they don’t want to buy.
Get off the “stop selling!” bandwagon. Instead, urge your reps to stop selling the wrong way. And describe what that means. Or better yet, use that as an opportunity to solicit opinions from your reps. They’ll tell you. Most of all, encourage your team to be proud about selling – not ashamed. I can’t name one company that has ever succeeded without being really, really good at it.
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