THE BLOG
10/29/2012 09:50 am ET | Updated Dec 29, 2012

Selling Isn't About You

The most successful salesperson I know is also one of the most considerate and giving people I know. Do you think that's a coincidence?

Selling has a bad reputation. Gallup surveys continually rank sales-related professions as among the least trusted. The stereotype is an aggressive, slightly slimy but attractive and well dressed, say anything to close the deal, hustler. And yet one in nine Americans is a salesperson. That's over 15,000,000 people. They can't all be like that.

Thankfully, they aren't. But Dave Kerpen's post reminded me that too many sellers get lost in the pursuit of the contracts and quota and forget their real goal is a long term relationship. Perhaps that is why, on average, over 40% of sellers fail to meet their quotas.

Recently I dusted off interviews I conducted with ~1000 sales people over the last 10 years to try figure out why the success rate is so low. The findings were fascinating. The best-of-the-best sell in ways that are fundamentally different from average performers. The conventional wisdom that says the best sellers just do more of the same things than average sellers is wrong. They do different things. But before I go on, it is important to know these sellers aren't farmers, working the base. They are hunters creating the vast majority of their sales in new customers and markets.

One of the most different things they do is go out of their way to help their prospects, customers, peers and professional network. In their professional network they proactively connect people, they don't wait for a LinkedIn introduction request. When they hear about possible sales opportunities that aren't the right fit for them, they pass them on. With their prospects and customers they share emerging best practices that have nothing to do with what they sell but could help their customer gain competitive advantage. They introduce prospects and customers to subject matter experts who can build their expertise. They share information and market intelligence with prospects and customers even if there isn't a sales opportunity on the horizon. With their peers they are happy to brainstorm and mentor even when they are extraordinarily busy.

In other words, they recognize sales isn't all about them. The best-of-the-best view themselves as members of an ecosystem that only flourishes with attention and care. They don't just form relationships, they nurture them.

I believe most salespeople and their managers understand the importance of nurturing relationships. But most only give it lip service. Perhaps it is the economic climate. Or maybe it is the quarter to quarter focus of most businesses these days. But, I also fear it is becoming cultural. Not generational, mind you, cultural. As technology takes center stage in relationships we don't seem to invest in them like we used to, whether we are 16 or 60.

Thank you notes would be great start. What do you think?