Home Truths: Hard sell, or is selling hard?


Lesson #10: Hard sell, or is selling hard?

For the umpteenth time I sat in on a session recently where a highly-paid and wellrespected sales trainer stated firmly that selling was “an exchange of goods or services for money”. There is a good chance that they truly believed this to be true as in fact more than one dictionary source uses that definition; but it is patently wrong.

There are many other examples of unproven and unhelpful statements regurgitated by salespeople, sales manager, sales directors and sales trainers of all levels of experience – for instance, ‘All Buyers are Liars’ (I guess the rhyming couplet helps it stick in the mind, so we have a misleading statement that you can’t forget… brilliant).

The real shame of this is when these statements are made by individuals in positions of real or apparent authority and are then accepted unquestioned by a significant number of the audience as true (see X Factor).

Another famous example is the ‘Yale Goal Study’. You know the one. In 1953 a team of researchers interviewed final year students and when they followed them up 20 years later they discovered that the three per cent who had written down goals had accumulated more wealth than the 97 per cent who hadn’t.

Unfortunately an investigation in 2007 discovered absolutely no evidence that this had ever taken place. It is an urban myth. Repeated as ‘gospel’ by many since.

Stop and think for a minute. If a man walks into a shop and asks for a packet of cigarettes and the shop assistant takes them off the shelf (or nowadays out of the triple-locked leadlined security cellar), states they are £5 and the man gives him £5 before leaving the shop with his cigarettes… has there been an exchange of goods or services for money? Of course there has. But no selling. The man bought the cigarettes.

Please do not assume that I am recommending ‘hard’ selling as the truer definition – a process that leads to slightly higher conversion rates, but significantly higher customer and missed-opportunity dissatisfaction afterwards, which simply brings different problems.

Professional selling is a skill, and the only reason for its proximity to the word ‘hard’ should be to illustrate that it is a skill that is hard to learn. Especially so now that there appears to be so few truly exceptional teachers around.

The recent announcements of expensive ‘unified comms’ store refits will have an impact. But not so significant as having better trained, motivated and controlled salespeople with an abundance of self belief in the stores too. It may well pay to seek out one of those gurus at the same time as the shop fitter.

In fact, better still, make them part of the project team who design the store too.