Sales and Sales Management Blog

May 5, 2008

The Sale is About You, Not the Company


I acquired a new coaching client a couple of weeks ago.  Richard has been selling IT consulting services for over 10 years.  He has always been a top producer.  He works hard, makes sure that his clients are delighted with both the service and the results they get from him and the company he sells for, and he knows his industry inside out.

Richard makes well into the six figures—well, well into the six figures.  And he is miserable, depressed, and vaguely thinking about moving away from sales and into management even though he loves sales.  In fact, until six months ago, he had never considered management.  He liked the freedom, the income, and the activity of selling.  He wanted no part of the chains of management.

So, what would cause someone making that kind of money, who absolutely loves what he is doing to decide almost on the spur of the moment to make such a radical change?  Why would he be willing to take on a position he has purposely avoided for years?

Richard hired me to do what he thought he’d never need help doing—getting his career back on track.  As things are right now, his income in 2008 is going to drop almost 60% from last year.  He is in crisis mode—so much so he hired a coach, is contemplating moving into management, and is so depressed he doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.

How could this happen to a top producer?  What changed so dramatically in the past few months that could cause this?

It isn’t the economy.

It isn’t the company he sold for.

It isn’t the company he now sells for.

It’s worse than any of these.  Richard brought this upon himself.  He is the sole cause of his current problems, and he did it without even knowing he was doing it.

Richard changed employers about six months ago.  He had been with his previous employer for over seven years.  He had built one of the strongest sales businesses in the company.  His clients were top companies with tons of repeat business.  Sure, he brought in new clients, but the vast majority of his business was repeat business—business he could count on, business he knew was there and was going to be there.

But there had been some management and philosophy changes in the company that Richard didn’t think would serve him or his clients well.  As the changes and his dissatisfaction mounted, he eventually decided it was time to make a move.

He talked to a number of companies and finally found a new home with a much smaller company, but one whose philosophy, quality and responsiveness was very similar to his old company’s in earlier years.

He expected to hit the ground running, bringing in a ton of business as he moved his former clients over to the new company.

It didn’t happen.  To date, six months after joining his new firm, few of his former clients have made the move.  In fact, he has to resell all of them.  It is, in his words, “worse than starting over.”

Yes, he can get in the door to meet with them, that’s not a problem.  But he has to un-sell everything he sold previously, because what he had sold his clients on wasn’t him; instead he sold the company he had been selling for.

His former employer was a big, well-known name.  They had a reputation for excellence, integrity, and superior service and value.  Richard sold the devil out of those things.  He assured his prospects that they would get the service and attention they wanted and needed; their needs would addressed quickly and with a focus on saving them time and money; and should he ever leave the company or become unable to manage their account, the company had the personnel and resources to step in and take care of them as though nothing had happened.

He believed that since he had done such a great job of selling and maintaining the relationship, his clients would naturally go where he went.  His clients were his and would be loyal to him, and if he decided it would be better for them to follow him to another company, they would naturally follow.

Richard had done a great job of selling.  His clients are loyal.  They are believers.

Richard’s problem is he sold the wrong thing.  He sold the company he worked for, not himself.  He sold the image, prestige and reputation of the company he was selling for instead of selling his dedication, professionalism, and commitment to the client.  He convinced his clients that it was the company he sold for that was going to provide the service, making sure everything went smoothly, and that their problems and issues were taken care in short order.

Richard misunderstood in a very fundamental way what selling is—or rather, what is being sold.  Moreover, Richard isn’t alone.  Hundreds of thousands of salespeople are on the street everyday selling the wrong thing.

Selling at its core is about selling yourself.  The products you sell are probably indistinguishable from the products your competitor sells.  More than likely your company, like every other company, claims to have superior customer service.  It is highly doubtful you have the lowest prices or offer the most value in your industry everyday.

So, if the products you sell are virtually the same as your competitors, the claims the company makes are the same as your competitors, and the pricing and value are similar to your competitors, what distinguishes your sale from your competitor’s offer?  You.

Actually, you are the sale.
•    You are the one who is going to make sure the customer’s purchasing experience is satisfactory, not the company you’re selling for.
•    You’re the one who is going to make sure things get done as they are supposed to, not the company you’re selling for.
•    You’re the one who is going to negotiate the land mines that can blow up a sale, not the company you’re selling for.
•    You’re the one who must take responsibility for the customer’s purchase, not the company you’re selling for.

Further, a funny thing happens when you sell the company rather than yourself.  When you sell the company, the customer becomes loyal to the company.  When things go well, the company gets the credit.  But when things go poorly, you get the blame.

If you want to establish a long-term, successful sales business, you must understand the basic nature of sales.  You don’t work for anyone other than yourself.  You are your company; you’ve just contracted with a single supplier to sell for them for the time being.  The customers you bring to the company you’re currently selling for are your customers, not theirs.

But as Richard learned, if you’re selling the company instead of yourself, you’re giving your business and your future away for free, and when you decide it is time to sell for a different supplier, you’ll find yourself starting over scratch once more.

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2 Comments »

  1. This is an interesting perspective … if I’m a sales person, it makes perfect sense. If I own the company, I would have another perspective and would not want the book-of-business to leave when my sales rep leaves. It’s a classic dilemma of where you stand depends on where you sit. An investor might be happy that a company they own is downsizing (stock usually rises), while an employee of that same company would likely be upset, esp. if they are the one getting let go. I’m not sure there is simple solution except to try to find the “wins” for each party. Mutual interests.

    Comment by MP — May 6, 2008 @ 8:36 pm | Reply

  2. MP,

    Surprisingly, when I deliver this information at corporate sales training workshops seldom do I find a business owner or manager who disagrees or objects. Most understand the reality of sales. You are right, of course, that it is a dilemma for the company–they understand the reality of sales, yet don’t want the book of business to leave.

    From a salesperson’s perspective, if they want to grow to their business, they must be selling their trust and commitment, not the company’s. But from a company perspective, having their salespeople develop a deep relationship with the prospect is beneficial also. Yes, they risk losing the client if the salesperson leaves, but they also gain a very loyal client while the salesperson is with them. Their job is to retain the salesperson while the salesperson retains the client.

    Comment by Paul McCord — May 8, 2008 @ 7:16 am | Reply


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