Guest Post: Sales 101

This is a guest post from a fellow named Dan Bowman (@dan_bowman).  He is the the Business Development Manager at Acklands-Grainger and an all around great guy with an interesting mind on sales.  I asked four questions here are his answers…

What is the most important characteristic in a salesperson?

In my opinion, the most important characteristic in a sales person is the desire to add value for their customers or prospective customers.  There are a myriad of ways to do this, but ultimately the goal should be to identify opportunities to improve the circumstances of the customer in some way.  This is done through gaining a thorough understanding of the current circumstances and issues the customer is dealing with, an understanding of the context in which they’re working, and gaining insight into the customer’s priorities.  There is a quote by Jim Rohn that I really like here: “Showing a profit means touching something and leaving it better than you found it.”  A great sales person is driven to identify ways to help their customers or prospective customers profit.

What was the best ‘sale’ you’ve ever made?

The best sale I ever made was to an established customer of mine.  We were already an occasional supplier of various items, but I managed to clearly communicate the value of adopting our company as a single source supplier for essentially every consumable item in their shop.  In doing this, I needed to gain an understanding of what was and was not working well for them in their current supplier relationships.  Once I had that clear understanding, I was able to differentiate our value proposition in a meaningful way, clearly identifying to the customer how we could alleviate their supply challenges and improve their supply processes.  I increased our sales to that customer by over 5000% in the first year. Big win.

Over the past ten years how has sales changed?

Over the past ten years, I don’t believe that “sales” has changed much, per se.  What has changed immensely is communication, and the proliferation of information.  The knowledge of fundamental sales concepts and the skills that make sales people successful has been around for a long time.  With the ease of access to information via the internet and the ubiquity of connectivity, the world has become a lot smaller.  Learning is easier.  Best practices are simpler to share.  Customer contact is immediate.  Research is simple.  Identifying prospects can now be done from your desk as opposed to pounding the pavement.

All of this has had an impact on the customer as well.  More products have become commoditized, as you can buy just about anything from the desktop.  Access to suppliers has increased.  There are no more secrets.  All of this hasn’t really changed the mechanics of what makes sales happen, but it has highlighted the need to consistently deliver value rather than simply showing up to gather an order.  It has also all but eliminated the “exclusive distributor”.  Thus, in this more competitive environment, the need for well trained, disciplined, motivated sellers has grown.

Will the internet change how we sell?

I don’t necessarily see that the internet will change “how” we sell, but I do see that it provides us with new tools to be leveraged. For example, social media has provided an opportunity to become “known” to broader markets in a low risk, low cost kind of way.  As relationships have always been a key component of long term sales relationships and networking has always been a key component to prospecting for new customers, social media offers us the chance to make new connections, meet new people, and begin to know more about people before investing the time in getting to know them more personally. Supporting documents, videos, testimonials, and all the various evidence used to support sales deals can be accessed and shared quickly and easily.  I believe that in many circumstances, this has assisted in shortening the sales cycle.

Customers are quick to adapt to new realities.  The ease and speed of communication has resulted in a higher water mark for service quality and responsiveness.  Again, this isn’t a new factor, but the new immediacy imperative must be respected.  Customer expectations are high, but they always have been, within their proper context.  The only difference is that the context is shifting.  With all that said, there’s only so much money to go around.  Which sales people have the necessary skills to earn it?


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