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The Essence Of Selling

by David Brock on August 6th, 2013

A thoughtful commenter recently started a comment with, “The essence of selling………..”

I didn’t completely agree with the comment, but it got me to thinking about the “essence of selling.”  I’m not sure I have a great answer, but let me think out loud.

  • Is it building relationships?  Relationships are important in selling, but is that the essence of it–is that why we sell?  I have relationships with lots of people who I never want to sell anything to.
  • Is it helping the customer?  We want to be helpful, we want customers to like us, but we aren’t a charity or a social service organization (Even charities sell —though they call it something different).
  • Is it solving a problem, providing solutions for our customers?  Our customers engage us because they have a problem they want to solve, something they want to do.  They think we can help them do it.
  • Is it creating value for the customer?  To be successful for the customer and with the customer, we have to create value.  Without great value, the customer has no reason to change or no reason to select us.
  • Is it providing insight for customers?  We want to educate the customers, present them new ideas, help identify new opportunities, show them how they can improve.  But most of all, we want to focus our insight on things in which we can specifically help the customer.  All the rest is pleasant conversation.
  • Is it demonstrating our knowledge, expertise?  Is it demonstrating the superiority of our solution?   We do have to demonstrate our knowledge, expertise, and capabilities to build confidence that we can, in fact solve the customers’ problems and help them achieve their goals.  Without connecting these to what we can do for the customer it is either bragging or peddling—both of which are fairly useless.
  • Is it becoming the trusted partner of our customers?  Certainly, we want customers to trust us–they won’t work with us, they won’t see us if they don’t.
  • Is it about helping our customers buy, facilitating their buying process, helping the reach a decision–hopefully selecting us?  Our customers don’t know how to buy, we can help them in this process, we often underestimate the value we create by doing so.  The toughest part about buying is not the vendor selection, but in aligning everyone on the buying team and figuring out what it is you want to do, why you are doing it, and what outcomes you want to create.
  • Is it about engaging our customers in thoughtful discussions about their business?  We wouldn’t think about anything else.  Customers don’t want to hear our pitches, they want to talk about their businesses, their goals, their problems, and what they can do about it.

There are  probably a lot more things.  These things are all critical to being successful in selling.

But it seems to me the essence of selling is producing revenue for the companies/organizations we work for.

Somehow it seems crass to be that direct, but that is the essence.  It’s something we can never lose sight of.  It’s something we shouldn’t be ashamed of, or afraid to declare to our customers.

Doing all the things I’ve listed above are meaningless if they aren’t oriented to producing revenue  (money) for our companies.

Don’t get me wrong–building relationships is great–just for the value of the relationship itself.  Solving problems is challenging and fun.  Providing insight is ego gratifying and helpful.  Each are useful and valuable things.  There are lots of people who do these things who do not sell.  As sales people we have to do all these thing in order to sell–to get people to decide to spend their money on us.

Sometimes, I think many of us lose sight of this.  We build and maintain the relationship in hopes that someday, maybe, the customer might want to buy something.  We want to keep engaging the customers in discussions–as long as they keep seeing us, maybe someday they will give us an order.  We’re continually providing ideas, the freshest insight, hoping that one day, the customer will whip out a PO. 

But the essence of selling is producing revenue for our companies.  We have to do all these things, but we do them purposefully.  We do them for the goal of getting the customer to buy, to generate revenue for our company.  Anything else is just a waste of our time, our company resources, and the customers’ time.  They don’t want necessarily want relationships, they don’t want to have pleasant conversation.  They want to achieve their goals, solve their problems, improve their businesses (so they produce money).

It seems obvious, but sometimes, I think we need to remind ourselves.  We confuse what we must do to be successful with the essence of selling.

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20 Comments
  1. Dave,
    This is easily the Best Sales Blog of 2013.

    If the truth hurts,
    then you will have caused a lot of people, a lot of pain!
    “But the essence of selling is producing revenue for our companies.” Everything else flows from that!

    The values we construct and deliver to Customers,
    the security we provide for ourselves and our families, everything!

    The purpose of Selling, its essence, captured wonderfully, thanks again, Dave.

    • Brian, I’m stunned, thank you. While a little off topic, I really want to write more. I think we need to distill and simplify our collective thinking in this profession. We tend to overlay complexity with more complexity and lose clarity. Whether it’s back to basics, whether it’s finding the essence, we need to focus on basic principles and remove the clutter. You are always so articulate in helping remind us of this. Thanks so much for the far too generous complement.

  2. Dave, why has making money, bringing home the bacon, become socially unacceptable? We who enjoy the life capitalist nations offer are dependent upon someone to sell the stuff we produce. From my side of the table, I expect the sales team to be treated like heroes and shocked when salespeople are treated like villains.

    The definition of sales: “The exchange of a commodity (or service) for money; the action of selling something.

    Unless one is independently wealthy, they need to earn a living. The primary reason the majority of people work is to earn money. I love sales, you might go so far as to call my passion an addiction. But, if I did not have to work, I would not have entered the sales world. Instead, I would have written, painted and travelled. Sadly, I had to work. Please don’t get out your violin. Sales provided the ability to spoil my wife and children with a wonderful life. I trained a lot of salespeople to do the same. I was never ashamed that I worked for money. Frank Zappa wrote, “We’re Only In It For the Money.”

    I love helping clients achieve their goals and objectives, and solve problems. I enjoy the relationships. Many of my clients are lifelong friends. But if it were not for money, none of this would have happened. My job on the front line, as a manger and executive: drive revenue. Your list above covers the how-tos, but the why, the “essence” is unequivocally getting the money. Getting the money is not a bad thing in-itself, how we go about doing business, whether we do so with or without integrity, determines “good” or “bad.”

    I would not hire a salesperson who did not understand, or lacked the desire, to achieve the primary objective of driving revenue. And every sales organization should embrace their revenue creators and celebrate their achievements every time a check is received and every time an employee and officer are paid, because without someone exchanging commodities and services for money, companies shutter and jobs are lost.

    • Thanks so much for stirring up this discussion and adding to it with your own post Gary. I think we are all in violent, if not semantic agreement 😉

  3. Yeah, I see I was beat to the punch by two of my respected compadres, but I’ll add an Amen anyway. I’m glad somebody said it. Selling and producing revenue is still the end-game. I’ll add that the goal is to GROW the company.

    Now, having said that, HOW we go about it matters. Context is the new black (I’m trademarking that, damn it). It’s the ultimate paradox that if you focus on the end-game, you probably won’t succeed. We have the best chance of accomplishing the goal, in my opinion, by doing many of the things you list. But that doesn’t change the fact that as sales professionals, we are paid by our employers and our role exists to keep the company alive and grow it.

    [hat tip]

    P.S. I could probably debate that this is “the essence of selling,” but that’s just semantics. And who wants to have THAT debate? Not me.

    • Thanks Mike, I’ll fess up, I am probably playing a bit of a semantic game. I couldn’t agree more about the how–it’s a major element that causes us to succeed or fail. Focusing on just the end game is insufficient, focusing on just the how is insufficient. It’s the combination of the two that produces the outcomes our customers need and that we need. Always love your comments, thanks for joining this discussion.

  4. John Sterrett permalink

    I have to differ.

    The OBJECT of selling is to produce revenue and grow our companies.

    The ESSENCE of selling, if we take three steps back and get to the real basics, is matchmaking. Selling 101, as it were, is fitting a product or solution to a need.

    All other things listed are either tools to accomplish this, or results of having accomplished it. Of course you have to discover a need. Of course you need to be an expert in what you are selling. Of course you have to have techniques to exploit it. Of course you have a budget, or a commission plan, or a yacht as your motivation. But none of these are the essence.

    Call it semantics, but I know a lot of skilled businessmen with more degrees than me and making more money than me who cannot sell, because they do not have basic matchmaking skills.

    Call me a Business Yenta.

    • That’s fair John. We are both wordsmithing a little, but I think we are agreed whether we call it the object of essence, we sell to produce revenue for our companies. In selling we have to engage the right customer with the right problem at the right time and present a compelling solution to that.

  5. Can I go the other way, Dave? Just a little? I won’t wander too far off (and I might be following the trail being left by Mike “context is the new black” Kunkle.

    I feel like the revenue is the result of creating value. I agree that we get in trouble in many of the ways you described, especially believing relationships alone are enough. But I also see salespeople get in trouble by trying to put revenue before all else.

    I can’t help but think of Drucker’s quote that a business exists to create a customer. And I can’t help but picture that old cartoon of the man standing in front of the wood burning stove saying “Give me more heat and I’ll give you more wood,” with the stove replying “Give me more wood and I’ll give you more heat.”

    I believe intentions matter. I wonder if it matters if we put our revenue before creating value.

    Anthony

    • Great point Anthony. I think Mike nailed it. Either by themselves is insufficient. It’s when we harness them together–purposefully that we have an impact and achieve our goal.

      • What was that again? I nailed it? You feeling okay, Dave?

        Mike “context is the new black” Kunkle

        • Mike: Bookmark the comment in your browser so you can revisit it. Viewing Haley’s comment will look like a daily event compared to the frequency those words from me directed to you ever come from my keyboard or lips;-)

          (In truth and for those who don’t understand my or Mike’s humor, they should come with every comment Mike makes on this blog)

  6. What an excellent discussion!

    I’m pretty close to Anthony’s comment, to consider revenue as a result of value creation – revenue is a lagging indicator.

    The question is, what’s our mission, what are we doing and what are the results we want to achieve?

    The essence of selling for me is to create customers, to communicate and to create value for a customers in a way that they consider us as the preferred partner to help them to drive their desired business outcomes. That makes them to buy from us. That generates revenue for us and profitability, but not the other way around.

    I want to share an exercise we are using in our sales manager enablement program: We provide a bunch of KPI’s, and ask the teams to put them into these categories: business objectives, sales objectives and activities.
    Then, we ask them: what category can you manage, influence and measure directly? What’s the category you can influence directly and what’s the category you can measure only?
    It turns out, that way too many sales managers are focused on lagging indicators, sales and business objectives while they don’t put enough focus on the activities that lead to these sales and business objectives.

    So, it depends on the positon you have in your sales organization, what your perspective actually is.
    The sales leader is of course focused on the busines objectives, first of all on revenue. But the first and second line sales managers should have a different focus. They should be focused on the activities that lead to revenue, e.g. sales coaching, account reviews, opportunity assessments, role plays and so on…

  7. Awesome points! You nailed down what selling is actually about 😀 Loved it!

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