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If It’s Common Sense, Why Isn’t It Common Practice?

by David Brock on July 9th, 2012

I was having coffee with a close friend, @francineallaire, this morning.  She’s an outstanding sales professional.  As we often do, our conversation drifted to the challenges of professional selling. 

We talked about how sales people have a tendency to make things overly complicated.  So much time is spent on techniques to catch the customer’s attention.  In the worst case, some resort to trickery and manipulation.  More often, we fail to connect with customers because we talk about what we want to talk about, not what they want to talk about.  Other times, we simply are wasting our customer’s time.

As we spoke, I made the comment, “At it’s core, all of what we need to do is just applied common sense.”  Francine immediately agreed, but posed the very insightful question, “If it’s common sense, why can’t we make it common practice?”

It’s really one of the best questions I’ve heard in a long time.

Selling is really about common sense.

  • We know how customers want to be engaged.
  • We know customers don’t want a pitch, but want to be engaged in a conversation.
  • We know that customers want insight and ideas about how to improve and grow their businesses.
  • We know that customers hate to have their time wasted.
  • We know we have to create differentiated value to win.
  • We know we have to be focused and disciplined in executing our sales process.
  • We know we have to create and maintain healthy funnels.
  • We know that we have to keep feeding our funnels with new qualified opportunities.

The secret to sales success isn’t that secret–it’s just common sense.  Not long ago, I interviewed my friend, Chris Locke.  Chris is a Senior Buyer with a large company in the Automotive Industry.  I asked Chris, “What do you expect of sales people, how can we connect more effectively?”

Chris responded, with simple and obvious advice.  Some of it was:

  • “Before a meeting, send me an agenda.  Let’s make sure we are both prepared to use our time well.”
  • “When you meet with me, talk about what I want to talk about.  What I need as a buyer is different from what our engineers need, but sales people constantly pull out their standard presentation.  It doesn’t cover the things that are important to me.”
  • “I want to get the greatest value for my company.  But if you can’t differentiate your products from the alternatives, then the only point of differentiation becomes price.  Make sure you differentiate what you have to sell and present things that we value.  Give me an excuse to buy on something other than price.”
  • “I don’t want to be a gatekeeper, I want you to work with our engineers and manufacturing people.  You can understand what they need better than I can–at least at a technical level.  But if you waste my time in your sales calls, why should I introduce you to others? You’re likely to waste their time as well.”

Chris’s comments should not come as a surprise.  This is how we are trained, this is what we expect of people selling to us.  It is nothing but common sense.  In my conversation with Chris, I asked, “Well isn’t that what sales people do anyway?”  Chris sighed, “I wish they would.  I tell them this all the time.  It really helps me if they would do these things, but of the hundreds of sales people I meet every year, fewer than a handful actually do this.  They usually end up getting a lot of business.”

Professional selling is not that complicated.  We hear what our customers want, how they want us to engage them.  We are trained about what we should do.  It’s not complicated, it’s simply applied common sense.  But why isn’t it common practice?

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3 Comments
  1. Dave, I ask myself this “common sense vs. common practice” question weekly. Not just about sales behaviors, either, but often about sales management or organization leadership decisions and behaviors. The big gaps that I observe are a real puzzle to me, and often a source of frustration in my sales effectiveness work.

    I recently made a comment in a LinkedIn group in reply to a question about “best sales tips.” Tips concern me, generally, because I think they are often way out of context, and worse, distract sales people and their leaders from creating a sensible strategy, replicable process, supportive systems, and other aligned performance support that everyone seems to know are “the right thing to do” or “common sense.” As I read your post today, and Chris’ thoughts, it reminded me of what I wrote, so I’ve pasted an excerpt here:

    ———-Begin Excerpt
    If I were to offer some open and general advice to sales people today, without knowing their industry, product set, type of sale, type of client, and all the things needed to offer truly pertinent advice, it’d be this:
    * Learn your industry.
    * Become an expert at your company’s products.
    * Develop a strong business acumen.
    * Become a great diagnostician. (Practice!)
    * Focus on your clients’ buying and decision-making processes and identifying the decision-makers and their roles.
    * Understand their issues/challenges and their desires/goals.
    * Determine quickly whether you can support them, and if so, educate them about how you can avoid or reduce their challenges and/or achieve important goals, within budget and a time frame required (assuming you *can* do so).
    * Be able to talk about your products sensibly and clearly in a compelling way, but always in context of each client issue or goal.
    * Focus on (mutually) determining and establishing appropriate next steps (assuming there *are* appropriate next steps) during every interaction.
    ———-End Excerpt

    Like Chris, these are the people I will give the time of day and listen to. People with questions, who want to understand and see if there is a valuable connection worth pursuing (and certainly *not* product pushers). Although, either way, I am a difficult buyer to work with and rarely work outside of an organized RFP with pre-defined needs and expectations. I’ve gravitated toward this model because of all of the inept and time-wasting sales people who approach me. What a sad indictment of the very profession I’ve chosen to serve.

    Why do these “common sense vs. common practice” gaps exist? How do we close them? Where does the solution start?

    These are the questions that plague me, because I think we could radically change the course of business performance in our companies (if not our country), if there were good answers to these questions.

    I’m *not* a guy inclined to suggest legislation to solve problems, but shamefully, I’ve often wondered whether “management” should require certification – if not before promotion – certainly within a time-period afterward, where leaders were taught the known and researched (and practical, not just academic) principles of management science, organization behavior, large-scale change management, culture, and effective performance improvement practices. Of course, if not working within an environment that is actively using what is taught, it’d just be another ineffective training/education exercise, so they’d have to be held accountable for using what they learned.

    I’ll stop here because I’m just rambling (ranting?) now, but you hit on a big one for me today and I’d love to be a part of solving this puzzle.

    Mike

    http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikekunkle
    http://twitter.com/mike_kunkle

    • Mike: You’ve covered a huge amount here. It’s impossible to address them here, but I’ll address some of them in future blog posts. Also, I’d love to see you write some blogs on the issue.

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