Making the sale

Understanding what motivates a good salesperson

The FABRICATOR October 2005
October 11, 2005
By: Phil Pratt

Many customers are brand-loyal. How you sell to these individuals, some of whom may have preconceived notions of what they want, will determine your sales success.

Why do some people purchase only Ford trucks while others believe in Dodge or Chevy products?

Similarly, why do some companies prefer Strippit precision punches, while others favor TRUMPF, Murata, Finn-Power, Whitney, or Amada America? Is it experience? Perception? Habit? Performance? Price?

Although this is a good question, it's one that likely won't be answered in this article. But what will be addressed is how you sell to these individuals, some of whom may have preconceived ideas of what they want, especially if you are trying to "get in the door" with a prospective client.

Customers may think they know what they want, but it may not always be what's best for them or their application. Your job as the salesperson is to help them through this process and to help them understand their needs better. According to Ron Willingham, founder of Integrity Systems® and an author of eight books on developing customer-focused organizations, "Selling isn't something you do to people; it is something you do for and with them."

To accomplish this, you must ask the right questions to help identify the customers' needs.

Yet in the real world, salespeople possess every kind of personality, and not everyone follows Willingham's suggestion. Some salespeople are storytellers or jokesters who rely on their rapport to close sales. Others are technocrats who think their knowledge of the features and benefits and internal workings of the product will make the difference. Then others use all kinds of closing techniques, hoping to get lucky and make a sale. But are any of these salespeople truly attempting to understand their customers' needs to serve them better? No one personality makes the best salesperson, but you can develop skills and traits that can increase your chances of making the sale.

Figure 1*
The AID,Inc® System

For example, one approach you can use to develop strong customer relations is called the AID,Inc.® system (see Figure 1), an acronym for Approach, Interview, Demonstrate, Val-I-date, Negotiate, and Close.

If you charted or graphed the sales process from the beginning to the end, ideally you would practice this approach. First, view the chart from the relative widths of each column to see how much time you should devote to each sales process segment:

  • The Approach is the time it takes to develop a rapport with the client.
  • The Interview should take the most time; this is when you should ask a lot of questions to understand the client's needs better.
  • Demonstrate, Validate, and Negotiate all typically take about the same amount of time. The Close follows.

Another major component of the system is the amount of time you talk relative to the time you listen to the customer. Too often salespeople do the majority of the talking during the approach and interview stages, so they don't learn about the customer's needs. It's critical to the success of the system that you follow every step and do not move to the next one until you complete the current one properly.

If you practice this system successfully, it's easier to validate your product's or service's performance. For example, you would say, "Earlier [during the Interview], Mr. Prospect, you mentioned that you have a need for faster cycle time and improved durability of the wear parts. I hope you noticed that as I demonstrated [during the Demonstrate] my product, it meets your needs with a cycle time of ... " Conversely, if you skip the interview process or don't ask enough questions — or, worse yet, don't listen to any answers — then validating becomes more difficult because you don't know what the customer needs.

Experts say that people forget 95 percent of what they hear or learn after 21 days if they don't use or reinforce the information on a regular basis. This may explain why people who attend training seminars — where they hear excellent speakers, are given many motivational ideas, come away with catchy slogans that apply to the moment, and feel really good about themselves — remember only 5 percent of what they learned a month later.

While the AID,Inc. system can be an important and valuable tool, just because you read about it and are aware of it doesn't mean you will start practicing it.

Learning something new must involve "real playing" instead of just "role playing" if you plan to incorporate the new knowledge in your daily life. Real playing is practicing new training methods in everyday experiences over a period of time to increase your confidence and reinforce the methodology. Real playing spans 21 days so that you can replace old habits with new ones. Effective training will change your behavior and become part of your life more so than catchy slogans or motivational posters.

Human Behavior and Selling Success

Some say that equal qualifications do not equal identical results. Salespeople may have equivalent education and knowledge and offer identical products and services, yet some significantly outperform others. It's also safe to say that intelligence and talent do not equal success. Why is it that some individuals who appear to have more intelligence and talent do not achieve as much as those who have less? Also, why is it that for many companies, 20 percent to 30 percent of their sales force is responsible for 75 percent to 80 percent of their sales?

Figure 2*
Three Dimensions of Human Behavior

To understand this, you must look to other factors that make up a person's behavior to determine his or her abilities and drive. What beliefs and values motivate successful salespeople? Three dimensions of human behavior will determine success: intellectual, emotional, and creative/unconscious (seeFigure 2).
You learn selling skills, product features and benefits, facts and figures, and competitive product features, for example, with your intellectual side, or the "I think." This is the logical, rational, thinking part of your behavior. While this know-how is important, it affects only a small portion of your behavior.

Even with your intellectual side filled to the brim with good information, you probably have noticed that you feel different from day to day. Sometimes you are on a roll, but the next day you are down in the dumps. Yet your emotions can swing back to the positive side with a simple compliment from someone. Why is this? What causes this? It's important to look first at the third dimension of human behavior, the "I am."

The creative/unconscious, or the "I am," is an area of human behavior that sales training seminars seldom address. This is the area in which you maintain your self-image, the results of years and years of life programming. If parents, teachers, coaches, and friends label you as lazy or unmotivated, or as intelligent and a high achiever, you start to see yourself that way and perform to that level of expectation.

It's in the creative/unconscious area of human behavior that you store all kinds of perceptions, attitudes, habits, and self-beliefs, such as your views of possibilities and selling. If in your earlier years you were exposed to many opportunities, you likely will perceive life the same way. Similarly, if you view selling in a negative light — such as the stereotype of an unethical used-car salesman — you likely jeopardize your chances of success as a salesperson. Instead, if you view selling as a process in which you work with and for customers, your chance for success will be greater.

So how do these dimensions of human behavior work together? Your "I think" constantly interacts with your "I am," triggering emotions in your "I feel" that affect your behavior. Because emotions can be so strong, about 85 percent of the time they will win over logic. Successful behaviors evolve from healthy, positive emotions, while fear-driven, negative emotions cause avoidance behaviors.

This helps explain why, as mentioned previously, equal qualifications — such as education, knowledge, and products or services — don't always generate equal results. Because the "I am" has such a strong impact on behavior and harbors your attitudes, habits, and beliefs, it can influence your emotions and motivation. To affect your selling abilities positively, it's important to perform activities that are consistent with your beliefs. While you are working with and for customers by seeking out their needs and helping them, typically you will interact with your internal values positively. You then will have more energy, confidence, and self-motivation. By focusing on what value you create for customers, healthy emotions of hope, optimism, and positive anticipation release high energy and results-producing behavior.

Remember the customer who prefers a certain truck or precision punch brand? Some people will never change their minds, but if you take the time to develop a rapport first, when it comes time to do the "interviewing," your genuine interest in the customer should be evident, and the customer will appreciate the value you are creating. Then, by asking several questions about the customer's experience with the preferred product, you may discover your customer's needs. It might come down to performance, warranty, support services, cycle time, operator comfort, or durability, and eventually you may identify some doubt or concern that will give you an opening to demonstrate and validate the advantages of your product or service.

When you help others, you feel good about yourself. It motivates you to do it again and again. Wouldn't it be nice to be a part of a sales force that sees selling in this light?

Remember Ron Willingham's advice: "Selling isn't something you do to people; it is something you do for and with them."
Good luck, and good selling!

Phil Pratt is owner of SilverHawk Associates, 6 Hunters Ridge Drive, Asheville, NC 28803, 828-299-1201,

* Portions of this article, including the figures, are copyrighted content owned by Integrity Systems®. AID,Inc.® and Three Dimensions of Human Behavior are registered trademarks of Integrity Systems. Used with permission.

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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