Are you a memorable sales person?

Earlier this week I published a post that was centered on ensuring your survival in these dramatically changing times for the sales profession. Make no mistake there is a big cull coming and the survivors will be the highly specialized, highly valuable and highly memorable in the eyes of their customers.

So, let’s start with some basics:  how self-aware are you? Self-reflection and self-awareness are all too often overlooked in today’s hyper-busy world. According to Daniel Goleman (Best-selling author of ‘Emotional Intelligence 1995’), “self-awareness is the key cornerstone of emotional intelligence (EQ)”. When it comes to being a successful sales person, regardless of industry, your ability to relate with authenticity to vast arrays of personality types has always been undeniably crucial to your success. Putting your EQ aside for now, are you aware of the perception that you create with your customers?

What do customers say about sales people?

During the research phase of writing my book, I spent a lot of time speaking with customers of about their experiences in dealing with vendor sales people. It was a sincere wake up call for me in so many ways, because the more customers I interviewed, the more I kept hearing the same overarching theme – Sameness! Uniformity! Similarity!

Customer #1 – “We actually sit around laughing after a vendors sales meetings – they all wear the same clothes, they all try to convince us that their company and product is the best, and they all try using the same  tired old techniques like SPIN Selling, Solution Selling….we can almost predict exactly what they will say next” (Australian Airline).

Customer #2 – “They (sales people) are like robots…so predictable and yet despite telling us about how amazing and different their company is, they all sound and act exactly the same” (Australian Bank).

Customer #3 – “Whenever we run a “bake-off” with multiple vendors it’s very difficult to remember which one was which…they are all so similar. They walk in with their white shirts and blue ties (ladies in their suits), exactly the same suit….the way they talk, the same predictable slide decks….it’s cringe worthy how alike they all are” (Multinational Financial Institution).

As I sat and listened to this direct customer feedback I began to feel a flood of guilt washing over me, due to the fact I have spent the majority of my career committing the crime of “sameness”….over and over again. I have blindly conformed to almost every one of the expected norms and arbitrary protocols in terms of appearance, sales process, method, manner, style, behavior – even rolling out all of the same pathetic business buzz words that happen to be in vogue at any given point in time……all in the misguided hope that I will look and sound impressive. I was totally oblivious to the fact that my target customer was sitting there thinking “oh god, here we go again…another sheep jumping the same invisible log”. Ouch!

Figure 1.0 – The Sales Profession

(minus the ladies – sorry ladies…couldn’t find an appropriate pic). 

So, what are you doing today that makes you memorable? Memorable in the eyes of your customers? You might think that you are different to all the other sales people that have walked in before you, that delivered the same tired old presentations and proposals using the same old methodologies – but are you really? Remembering that enterprise buyers are engaging with sometime thousands of vendors each with at least 1 sales person. How do you cut through and distinguish yourself in amongst a herd of that size?

In one of my very first sales roles (circa 1990) I was told by my then manager to go out and buy this type of suit, this type of shirt and spend up big on an expensive pair of black wing tipped brogues (boring shoes that were the fashion of that time)”. When I asked “why black”, my manager replied “you must never give a customer a single reason to take a disliking to you…..what happens when you come across a customer that hates brown shoes?” I was stunned, but I accepted the logic that sales people should be as neutral and innocuous as possible to increase our chances of being liked, and respected. Thankfully, those days are now giving way open neck shirts, jeans and some comfortable shoes for the ladies. Customers are now also enjoying the freedom from the old fashioned buttoned-up restraint. With 50% of the global workforce being made up of Millennials by 2020, these long outdated protocols surrounding dress code, demeanor and the way we talk will soon be replaced by “how can we now ensure that we do not use exactly the same style and manner as the next guy”? Millennials don’t care for conformity, and hooray for that. I’m personally tired of looking and sounding like everyone else, and I’m bored senseless by all the robots in the sales world. We can all do so much better, and I now believe that in some cases our survival in sales will depend on it.

So, start having a long hard think about what you do, say and wear. How are you different? Is it your specialist knowledge, your domain expertise, your creative thinking, your business acumen, your understanding of your customer’s challenges and your willingness to go above and beyond to help you customers? If all of that is fairly similar to the next guy (that is, you are a ‘generalist’ sales person), then you better find something else that will make you memorable. To some extent, your survival in the sales profession now depends on your being able to uncover your unique promise of value. Something that makes you different in the eyes of your customers. Your personal brand, your motif, your specialist skills….the perception and memory that you leave behind when you walk out the door.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy an outrageous suit, get a neck tattoo and start swearing at your customers in meetings – just please be yourself and be memorable, and in an authentic way that is congruent with who you are as a person. Break with convention and try something different. Take a risk, and see what happens…challenge yourself to be creative and think outside the limiting confines of your current role. Think about how your target audience is going to remember (or forget) you.

Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic of “sameness”…..?

More posts to follow on the topic of ‘not being a generalist’ clone. In the interim. please follow my LinkedIn post page for all my articles.

By Graham Hawkins