03/05/2012 02:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Best Sales Lesson... Ever

I must have read over a hundred posts and articles on making sales... entitled how to generate leads, top selling tips, cold calling etc. I don't believe that there is any article I have read, which apart from telling you that it is going to help, does in fact help a great deal. They say...

  • 'It's all about sales for the clients -- 'not our features, your benefits'
  • 'Open with a question, it engages a natural human curiosity and allows you to start a conversation.'
  • 'The more you prospect, the luckier you get.'
  • 'If you have a good product, try letting customers sample it.'
  • 'Empathy in sales means putting yourself in [the customers] shoes and shaping your attitudes accordingly.'

But no one... no one can make what I would call a 'good' sale if the customer first isn't willing to buy. A bad sale is basically coercive and full of resentment. You don't want customers like that. A good sale means that the exchange of the good/service for money solves a specific pain point for the client and makes him happy. Bonus marks if the solution solves more than one pain point.

 So in three simple steps

  1. Identify the pain point(s)/problems
  2. Demonstrate how your solution solves it/them
  3. Close the sale (definitive next steps)

The difficulty with this is that pain points can be both personal and professional and often conflicting. And of course different for every customer. Let's say a head of department wants a consultancy solution involving a 'business case for hire'. His pain points may be:

1a) Need a seemingly objective business case but

1b) Want a business case to justify a decision secretly already taken

2a) Need a fully justified business case before planned time to market but 

2b) Fear of decision making power being taken away means that it is now too late for a proper business case...threat of exposure

3a) Need to present the business case to board with full explanation but

3b) Don't want to demonstrate any lack of understanding; forgotten basic investment appraisal skills

4a) Desire to avoid administrative overheads, huge cost and downtime of onsite consultant but

4b) Distrust of not having direct supervision of consultant

Of course we can solve all of them. But it's very difficult if you don't know them in the first place. Not knowing them, means you risk treading on them. And if you ever come across a head of department who will admit forgetting fundamental skills or a very human fear of losing control of decision making, I would be very surprised. Some pain points will forever remain secret, at least in public!

Luckily there are some clear universal pain points in business, and ones we have taken care to reduce to the minimum:

  • Expense 
  • Risk
  • Inconvenience

And once people are actually listening , our solutions - designed to alleviate all of these - are a pleasure to hear. Getting to that point is already a hard process though. Because despite everything that you know already - that the world's economies thrive on buying and selling, that we buy and sell almost every day, that our society exchanges goods and services to fulfill a need...selling still has the kind of reputation that wears a cheap shiny suit, sticks its foot in your door and thrusts some tinpot rip off watches in your face.

And it's getting past this reputation is ironically, the hardest and the most time consuming part. Thus, the best sales lesson I ever learned is  ...Don't Give Up. Simple, but difficult to implement.

I started an online consultancy. It made me want to drink copious quantities, smoke myself into oblivion and hit my head against a brick wall. Instead I wrote a blog.