I’m in sales and I’m really proud of it. I find that most full-time sellers, working for a great company or delivering a great product or service, usually are. However, when you move into the realm of seller-doers, it’s a whole different story.
But what is a seller-doer? Those who must win the work and deliver the work they win, i.e., engineers, architects, accountants, and consultants. This covers most professional services firms and small business owners—general managers and managing directors—who don't rely on a full-time sales team to secure business.
Zooming in on GMs and MDs of small and medium businesses, you’ll often find them extremely passionate about their area of expertise—technically brilliant at what they do—but that they came to the conclusion that corporate life wasn't for them. So they struck out on their own and built a neat little business through referrals and their existing network. Then one day came a moment of realization: “If I want to grow any more (income, profit, lifestyle, career), I’m going to have to sell—Arghhhhh!”
This reaction is more about a mindset than a skillset. When thinking about sales, the image that most often jumps to mind is the self-interested, high pressure, sleazy used-car salesman, but that is not what selling is or who sellers are. Selling, or business development as it has been renamed in most professional service firms, is about figuring out where and how you can add value to a prospective client so that they’re willing to pay for those goods or that service.
How to Sell with Ethics, Integrity and Posture
The way to ensure you always sell with ethics, integrity, and posture is to be customer-centric. Here are 4 things to keep in mind when selling:
1. Always ask yourself, “How can I help?”
As you prepare for a sales conversation (hint: preparation will help you be more valuable), the question “How can I help?” needs to be at the forefront of your mind. The prevailing mindset needs to be that you’re there to identify, discover, and explore ways in which you can be of value. That's the purpose of the conversation. Nothing more, nothing less. If this is your sole intention, if this is all you care about, then your actions will follow that path and your integrity will remain intact.
2. Focus on customer needs, not your solution.
An initial meeting with a prospective client should be entirely about their needs and not about you or your offering. The purpose of a needs discovery conversation is for you to uncover afflictions and aspirations where you can be of value. If you can help a potential client capture an opportunity, achieve a goal, or overcome a challenge, there's value to be offered (and revenue to be received).
I'm constantly surprised by how many seller-doers feel that, in the opening 15 mins (and often more like 45 minutes) of a first meeting with a potential client, they must “establish their credibility” with a long rambling explanation of who they are and what they do. The quality of your questions and the quality of the conversation will establish your credibility way more than a long list of the clients you have or the services you offer. In our Sales Winners research, it wasn't until #24 in a list of 42 factors that buyers mentioned “products and services offered were superior.” Remember: it’s not about you, it’s about them!
3. If you can’t help or be of value, exit with dignity.
The primary reservation most professionals have about selling is that they'll be seen as pushy, self-interested, and trying to sell something that the customer doesn’t need. To avoid this situation, my advice is simple and clear: don’t be! If it becomes apparent that you can't be of value, or that your fees will be more than the client will get in return, explain that in clear and simple terms and suggest you keep in touch (or not) until a further date when the situation changes. You don’t need to convert 100% of conversations to revenue.
4. If you can be of value, don’t be hesitant. Be proud, be excited, be passionate.
Having said that, when it’s evident that you can help and deliver a significant ROI, you must be much more comfortable in “asking for the order.” If you’ve identified how you can help someone, proposing the next logical step in engaging your services makes total sense. I find that this is the very moment when most professionals freeze, become hesitant, and can’t bring themselves to say, “I think we can really help here, how about we get started”.
If You Can Help, Offer Your Help
Imagine this: you're walking down the street and see someone who has fallen over. The person has obviously hurt themselves and needs some assistance getting up. You are an able-bodied person, more than capable of assisting them, but you don’t immediately rush over and help. You don’t even ask if they need help. You stand nearby, smiling in their direction, surreptitiously trying to show them how good you’d be at helping them up. Maybe you walk past a couple of times pretending not to mind whether you help or not. All of this in an effort to get them to ask you if you can help.
Sounds ridiculous right? But this is the scenario I see play out time and time again in the world of seller-doers. They so badly don’t want to be seen as a salesperson that they go to extraordinary lengths to never actually ask someone if they can help. That's when you need to be proud of the work you do, excited about the difference you can make, and passionate about the quality of offering you provide. Now it can be about you, as long as it’s connected to the value you can bring to the client.
Focusing on value by identifying how much you can help someone, and understanding the return they'll get for that assistance, will allow you to sell with your integrity 100% intact.