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The World’s Greatest Salesperson – A Culture Of Pitchmen?

by David Brock on April 3rd, 2010

There has been such a great discussion going on at my last post on this topic.  If you’ve missed it, you should look at it, The World’s Greatest Salesperson.  The discussion in the comments is better than the post itself.

As I read the stream of comments, there has been a lot of indignation over the concept of “How Important Is the Pitch” to professional selling.  OgilvyOne has been singled out for their lack of understanding of professional selling and reducing professional sales to crafty presentations an pitches.  But I wonder if pointing the finger at Ogilvy is just too easy an excuse?

I mean if you step back from the drama surrounding the contest and the controversy sparked in the last blog post, and you reflect on what we see every day in sales, don’t we have a sales culture that is more biased to pitching and presenting, than we do of discovery, questioning, probing and understanding? 

Take all the hype around Ogilvy out of it, and consider:

  • When I talk to buyers about sales people, I hear:  “They don’t understand me, they don’t listen to me, all they do is present their products and try to get me to buy.”
  • Go to any bookstores (real or virtual) and the number of books on presentations far outnumber the books on questioning.  They far outnumber the books on understanding and delivering value.  They far out number the books on the importance of business acumen in selling.
  • I speak at a lot of sales conferences for organizations.  I always look at the agenda, inevitably there is some sort of contest.  But those contests are seldom about effective qualification, managing and executing the sales process.  They usually focus around a presentation or pitch of some sort.  It could be the participants learned about a new product, so the way we test what they learned is to create a killer presentation.
  • We all talk about our “elevator pitch,”  trying to refine it to have maximum impact, whether it’s at a networking meeting to get a job, or on a phone call to get a customer to see us, we are always creating some sort of pitch or presentation.
  • When I talk to sales people about meetings they are going to have, more often they describe the meeting a “pitching” something to the customer.  Those responses far out number the ones that say, “I’m going to wander around their factory to try to understand how they work and their problems,”  or “I’m going to go talk to their customers to come up with ideas about how they can better serve their customers.”
  • I see blog after blog, sales training courses, new social media tools, all sorts of things oriented at presenting ourselves, our companies, and our products more effectively.
  • Finally, I think in every sales training, leadership, or marketing seminar or training class I’ve attended (and many that I’ve presented), there’s always someone up front saying, “Remember God gave us two ears, two eyes and one mouth, use the in that proportion.”  One wonders why we have to constantly be reminded  to stop talking, presenting, pitching and start listening and observing.

I’m not excusing Ogilvy at all, one would hope they could exercise much better thought leadership, but it does strike me as too easy to be pointing fingers at them, saying they don’t get it, when we really should examine the evidence all around us.  We have created and live in a business culture where talking, pitching, presenting is more prevalent than other behaviors.  As goal directed sales people, we tend to take that to an extreme.

No one would disagree, there is a place for the pitch or presentation.  Further no one would disagree, there are a lot of other aspects to sales professionalism.  All the comments in the last post make that perfectly clear.  Let’s start focusing the discussion on how we change our profession and improve the professional practice of selling.  To my mind, that’s the most significant discussion.

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  1. Dave,

    you are right to point out the salespeople’s own responsibility for being perceived as pitchmen. As much as it might hurt – and apparently it did hurt, judging from the comments on your last post – we should not point the finger at Ogilvy if their contest were meant to put a mirror in front of salespeople. The general opinion of the comments seems though to be that their contest reinforces this outmoded picture. thus the outcry.

    Another point struck me while browsing through the threat of comments to your previous post. Those expressing themselves were not salespeople, but mostly from thought leaders who want to help to elevate the skills of mainly B2B salespeople to what is required now and in the future for being successful.

    If the salespeople themselves are not bothered, then we cannot expect them to change. It will thus be interesting to see how many salespeople will actually participate in the contest. The bigger the number of participants, the higher the challenge for sales thought leaders to make their voice heard.

    There is however no doubt in my mind that the voice of these thought leaders must be heard, because times have changed.Not listening will make the awakening all that harder if the light of the new normal finally strikes the sales profession at large.

    • Thanks for the comments and the insight Christian. As you suggest, these are issues many of the thought leaders have been discussing for some time. The great thing about the Ogilvy contest is that they have provided a platform for the conversation and perhaps getting broader visibility to the real issues impacting buying and selling.

  2. Dave, you provide some valuable insights with regards the sales process. Unfortunatley I have to disagree with you about this campaign – it is merely a creative idea and definitely not a thought leadership campaign.

    Now if they took all that they learn about sales from the various entrants, convert that into a really useful sales hints and tips document and provide that free for all, that would start resembling some sort of thought leadership campaign. We should be wary of calling clever, creative or innovative ideas thought leadership campaigns.

    • Craig, thanks for your comments. I’m not sure ever said the campaign was a thought leadership campaign, but rather that Ogilvy had an opportunity to provide real thought leadership — at an important moment in the worlds of buying and selling. As a firm, they like to be known as a thought leader in various areas, it would seem they had the opportunity here, but chose not to take it.

      The campaign itself, reducing the selection of the best sales person in the world to the one who gives the best pitch on selling a brick is, possibly a missed opportunity. It seems that a firm as creative and with the potential for thought leadership as Ogilvy could have created a campaign that was both clever, fun, and advanced the discussion of professional selling.

      I certainly hope Ogilvy takes this opportunity to continue and extend the discussion, though I’m not sure a document of hints and tips does this—there are far too many of those on the market right now, and many just reinforce the worst about the profession. They have created, wittingly or unwittingly the opportunity for a very meaningful discussion on professional selling. It would be great for them, their clients, and professional sales to seize that opportunity and to provide real thought leadership.

      Thanks for joining the discussion.

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