One of the basic tenets in sales is never take anything for granted. I had this principle drilled into me by my bosses and I drill the same thing into my salespeople. I've always assumed that when I leave a customer's office a competitor is right behind me and will take the business I think I have out from under my nose. It's a tough way to live, but it's important to stay on top of where you stand with your customers; they are the people who keep us in business. From time to time we all forget this, whether dealing with clients, colleagues, family members or friends. We forget the basics of dealing with others. It doesn't take a genius to figure all this out. Everyone likes to be treated with respect and dignity and I believe most of us remember that when dealing with others, but too often we overlook what is really important in establishing relationships with people. A good friend of mine, who is the top executive of a major association, was in my office recently and told me that he enjoyed reading my columns.
He put it this way: "I read your columns and I enjoy the ones about selling because I realize that whether we admit it or not, we are all in the selling business. It's taken me a long time to understand that." That statement couldn't be any more accurate. We are all in the selling business. We always are trying to convince one another of something. I guess some individuals would call that process negotiation, but that's only one aspect of selling.
I started off by pointing out that sometimes those of us in sales forget the basics of selling. Salespeople from time to time will call on me and I'm seldom impressed with the type of presentation they make. As a matter of fact, oftentimes I am confused as to what they are selling because they go off on tangents that have nothing to do with their product or service. One of the most dramatic examples of what not to do frequently takes place when candidates are interviewing for a new job. It is important to remember that the most important person in your life is yourself and to succeed in life we all have to learn how to sell ourselves.
Too often when I interview candidates for a position they talk so much about their current or former employers that they forget to tell me what their attributes are and why they would be good at the job. I'm really not interested in where someone worked before or why they feel such ill will toward their former employer. That sends a signal that the person I'm interviewing probably would be unhappy and negative no matter where he or she worked. Remember, every one of us has to sell ourselves and emphasize the positive things about our personalities and work habits. That's what every employer is looking for: a positive outlook on life, a willingness to work with others and good work habits. That's the bottom line.
Here is an example of a salesperson who took too much for granted. A friend of mine told me his company was having trouble with one of their tried-and-true accounts. The client had been with his company for almost 17 years when orders started to decline and eventually stopped altogether. Management became increasingly concerned and asked the sales manager to find out what was going on. He consulted with the salesperson on the account and she told her boss she was mystified by why the orders had fallen off because she felt she had a good relationship with the buyer and had been making regular sales calls on the customer over the past few months.
Because the sales manager had known the buyer for years, he decided to call the customer himself. This is what he found out: "I talked to the buyer for some time. She told me our prices were out of line, especially with all that was going on in the economy. She was pleasant but was considering taking her business to a competitor. I was dumbfounded and embarrassed and didn't know what to do. As the telephone call was about to conclude, she said something that hit me like a ton of bricks. She said she didn't want to get anyone in trouble but that earlier in the year the salesperson on the account had made a golf date with her and showed up a half-hour late. `When I asked her why she was late, she said she had been meeting with a customer, and then I asked myself what I was. Wasn't I a customer?' It became evident that incident had stuck in her throat and that was probably the true reason she was so upset with my company. It sounds like a small thing but in reality how you treat people is critical in any relationship, whether you're selling or just dealing with people. Because of that small slight we lost the account and even though the incident occurred three years ago, we still haven't gotten that account back."
There are all kinds of customer stories whereupon a salesperson hasn't paid attention to details and loses a customer because of a slight or neglect. The account is lost and it will take anywhere from three to five years to get the account back, and that's being optimistic. Whether it's a customer, a friend, a colleague or a family member, taking anyone or anything for granted can lead to disaster. Too often we take things for granted and more often than not it backfires. Great salespeople know how to make people feel important. They focus on their customers and they give them exceptional service. My contention is whether in a marriage or dealing with a friend or colleague, there is some measure of convincing, negotiation and selling in every relationship. If there is too much casualness or things are taken for granted, any one of these relationships can fall off the track. It pays to be on the ball, focused and aware that for any relationship to be meaningful, both parties have to work at it.
It isn't easy, but it's well worth the effort,