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The Helpful Sales Person

by David Brock on July 30th, 2013

We want to establish relationships with our customers.  We want to be helpful.  But sometimes being helpful isn’t helpful–to us in achieving our objectives and to the customer in achieving theirs.

Our customers are very busy.  They have too much on their plates, they get diverted.  So we try to be helpful, in order to move things along.  We start doing things for the customer.

Sometimes being helpful is helpful.  We may be able to get some things done faster or more effectively than the customer.  We may take some of the tedious stuff they have to do in their buying process off their plates, enabling them to focus on the critical areas.

But sometimes being helpful is dangerous.  Pretty soon we remove the pain–or at least mask it.  It’s no longer a problem for the customer, because we have taken the problem on for them.  All of a sudden things slow down, the customer’s urgency disappears.  The problem still exists because they haven’t made a decision and implemented a solution.  But in being helpful, the customer can feel as though they are making progress in solving the problem, but they never actually solve it.

So being helpful sometimes isn’t helpful.

As sales people we can provide tremendous leadership in facilitating the customer’s buying process.  Very often, they don’t know how to buy.  We can help guide them through the process.  We can help them organize themselves to buy, helping them align the different interests and priorities, helping them establish a project plan for buying.  But we are most helpful doing things with the customer rather than for the customer.  We are most helpful when we help the customer maintain an urgency about solving the problem, achieving the outcomes they want to achieve.  We are most helpful when we are working with them on a solution, not masking the problem.

We want to help our customers, but being helpful can be dangerous.  Are you being too helpful?

  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    “doing things WITH the customer
    rather than for [or to] the customer.”

    Dave, the essence of good selling in just a few words!

    Great Blog!

  2. Elliot DeBear permalink

    The essence of sales is relationship building. I agree that helping the client should be the core strategy. How that help is viewed, accepted and employed is critical. For this reason, help should be defined, from the sales perspective, as an educational process. The salesperson in this way is not selling, but rather conveying him/herself as an expert, a specialist and/or a catalyst for value creation working to “help” the client navigate through a process to achieve its goal. The sales process becomes a more collaborative process that moves the salesperson away from being a vendor and towards being a partner.

    • Elliot: Thanks for the great comment. You actually provoked me to write a post on the “Essence of Selling.” I think I may be guilty of wordsmithing or playing semantic games, but I tend to think relationship building is one of those critical things we do to be successful in selling, as are value creation and the other things you mention. But the essence of selling, in my opinion, is creating revenue for our companies.

      I may be a little sensitive on this issue. I see too many sales people who actually lose sight of what they are paid to do, thinking it is just about the relationships, or just about having the meetings, etc. In reality–as you will see in the comments on the post– what we do to sell and what the essence of selling are, are inseparable.

      Thanks for the great comment and stimulating me to think further on the issue.

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