By Grant Leboff, CEO of Sticky Marketing Club

The Oxford English Dictionary defines selling in two ways.

Definition # 1 “To hand over for a price”

Definition # 2 “To persuade someone of the merits of”

Many of the problems encountered by people when they are selling are inherent in these tired definitions.

Definition # 1 “To hand over for a price” is not selling; it is the sale. It is the transaction. It is merely one possible outcome at the end of the sales process.

Imagine if we applied this model to another professional; a doctor. One possible outcome is that the doctor gives out big yellow tablets. But what if the doctor defined their job as giving out big yellow tablets? Whatever symptoms you had would then be irrelevant. The doctor would always prescribe the same big yellow tablets. Now imagine you knew the doctor was receiving commission on those tablets. Would you trust the doctor?

It seems ridiculous and yet this is what happens when people sell. They see their customer as having only one or two solutions, for which they receive commission. They define their job as the transaction, and still expect the customer to trust them.

Definition # 2 is introduced at this juncture. If I am seeing a customer and all that matters is the sale, then I have to persuade my customer of the merits of my product or service. Of course, it does not matter whether it is definitely the right solution for them or not. My job, when selling, is to persuade them that it is right; right?

In the new economy, with the increase in choice and access to information that customers have, we need to redefine what selling is. I suggest two alternative definitions.

Alternative Definition # 1:- Selling is about problem solving.

Every purchase solves a problem. I buy milk so I can have a cup of tea in the morning. I fill my car with petrol; otherwise I can’t drive to work. These are logical purchases.

However, many sales solve emotional, rather than logical, problems. For example, someone who buys clothing on impulse, that they don’t appear to require, can be solving a number of problems. It can be one of self esteem; they feel good about themselves when they buy something or it can be status or aspirational. They may define their success by owning a large wardrobe of clothes or always having the latest fashions.

Alternative Definition # 2:- Selling is about conveying possibility.

When selling, people need to be experts in their field. In many ways they are consultants and educators. Life has become increasingly complicated, and even relatively simple purchases are more difficult than ever before. So, when selling, a person’s job is to show people what possibilities they have, and explore if there is a better way.

A doctor doesn’t define their job as giving out yellow tablets. A doctor is someone who cures and prevents disease. If a doctor can’t help cure and prevent the disease you have, they are happy to refer you to a specialist who can.

Similarly, when selling, if a person defines their job as solving problems and conveying possibility, if they can’t help, they should be willing to walk away from that situation, and refer the customer on to someone who may be able to be of assistance.

This is selling with integrity.

Focusing solely on the transaction can only lead to bad selling and mis-selling. This is because the focus of the process is on the seller getting the deal, instead of addressing the customer’s problems. Focusing on solving problems and conveying possibility, makes the process totally customer focused and, in the new economy, is an approach that will be more successful.

Grant Leboff is Author of Sales Therapy (Wiley) and Sticky Marketing (Kogan Page). He is CEO of Sticky Marketing Club www.stickymarketing.com

Watch the video below featuring Gill Le Fevre, IW Online Services Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft UK, explaining how Office 365 addresses the challenges that small businesses face.


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