I have to be honest - At Butler Street, we hear this a lot from people who are in roles that require the ability to expand current accounts (generate new business), and who just don’t like the moniker of “salesperson.”
They think it’s the title that carries the negative perception of mistrust and a schmoozy persona. In fact, one of my first experiences with this aversion was early in my career with a national non-profit, when I was charged with revamping the department that was actually tasked with developing new business, and just didn't want to be called or known as a sales division.
And the trend continues today. Research by Butler Street (2022) and other sources indicate that only 13% of customers believe that a salesperson understands their needs. That’s it! And the negative perceptions persist for a variety of reasons:
High-pressure sales tactics and manipulative techniques to push customers into buying products or services they don't really want or need;
Lack of comprehensive knowledge about the products or services being offered, leading to misinformation or incomplete understanding when providing advice to customers;
Prioritizing short-term gains over building long-term relationships with customers, leading to a lack of trust and customer satisfaction; and
Exaggeration of product benefits and associated false claims related to a product or service.
What are the key ingredients to moving beyond the sales stigma?
It all comes down to relationships, authenticity, and trust.
Win the Relationship – Not the Deal: It doesn’t matter where you sit in an organization, you will only be successful if you can forge strong relationships with your internal and external contacts. You need to develop rapport and understanding, and you need to focus on how to best maneuver in a variety of situations by leaning into the relationships you have with key decision-makers. This is especially true for sales roles, as well as account management and recruiting roles – if you establish a solid relationship with someone that you work with regularly as a customer, you are on the right track!
Embrace Your Customer’s Operating Reality: If you want your customers to think that you understand their needs, you need to understand their needs, right? And for them to determine that it’s worth their time to talk with you, then you must put yourself in their shoes, take the time to really understand the issues they need help with, and earn the right to continue the conversation.
Become a Trusted Advisor: If you have a great relationship with a key decision maker, and they truly feel (and see) that you understand their perspective, you are likely in the realm of becoming a trusted advisor. When you put the relationship and the needs of your customer first, you then earn the right to engage with them as a trusted advisor, because you have taken the time to be just that – a trusted advisor! Your insight and recommendations are for their benefit first and foremost, and they will show in your interaction.
"If we solve our customers' problems...we'll solve our own."®
At the end of the day, when revamping our “sales” division, we settled on renaming it Business Development. Not exactly rocket science, right? But the process of getting there was far from simple, and it involved many internal conversations about how we could overcome the negative stigma that came with an attachment to “sales.”
Through a lot of transparent dialogue and sorting what we actually did on a day-to-day basis, we were able to highlight what we did indeed came down to relationships, authenticity, and trust – and that’s exactly what we teach every day at Butler Street.