Every piece of “sales advice” I read makes me want to smash my head with a brick

Let’s start here: I’ve never worked in sales. I’ve sold stuff, yes — I had a lemonade stand when I was eight, for example — and I’ve worked in roles that are essentially “sales” but don’t have the title of sales. So, for example, back in the day at ESPN, I used to be “a headline guy” for ESPN Insider. I’d take Insider content (which is gated) and I’d write headlines on the free pages (sport pages, front page, etc.) that encouraged people to click on, and ultimately buy, the gated content (the Insider subscription). I did some stupid shit while in that job — put a headline on Page 1 of ESPN about Andrew Bynum dating Rihanna, which has nothing to do with anything and got me about 49 e-mail reprimands — but I also did some cool headlines/content matches with Mel Kiper’s stuff that would often drive 550 subscriptions in a day. A subscription was about $24 at the time. In a very roundabout way, then, you can say I helped bring in about $13,200 some days. For ESPN that’s the equivalent of a penny stuck in some fat guy’s asshole under the couch, but still. I felt good about it.

Point being: I’ve never been “a sales guy,” but I’m smart enough to realize that everything in the world is ultimately a fucking sale, so I read a lot about it. 

Here’s one I came across just now. This is from a VP at Gartner. You would assume she is a lot (a) smarter and (b) more successful than I am. You’d probably be right. Here’s a choice paragraph:

The sales force of the future will need to intimately understand the customers’ environment, industry and business pain points with a greater sense of the decision levers across both IT and the business units. Salespeople will need to be able to translate technology into industry solutions and value propositions and guide customers to use cases they may not have even considered possible previously.

** Shoves rifle in mouth **

WTF does this even mean? It’s all buzzwords. “Business pain points?” “Decision levers?” “IT and the business units?” (Wait, IT isn’t a business unit?) “Translate technology into industry solutions?” “Value propositions?” “Guide customers to use cases?”

** Smashes head repeatedly on desk **

That’s literally just a series of things someone would throw around in a meeting to make sure they spoke at that meeting. It says nothing about the actual experience of using a product/solution, about the story behind it, about the experience of others using it (same vertical/industry/whatever), or really anything about pricing. Basically, the major things a potential buyer of a product/solution would ever think about are completely absent from this description of what the “sales force of the future” will involve. That’s disheartening.

Look, sales is crucial for organizations. Sales drive revenue. Without revenue, you don’t exist. So sales needs to be a priority.

But every goddamn thought leadership article you run into around sales is all buzzwords. It’s all about “alignment” and “levers” and “pain points.” This means literally nothing. If your sales team is sitting there not hitting targets and your ass is on the line, do you want to read another article about “pain points” and “guiding customers to use cases?”

No. You want to know what the hell you’re supposed to do now.

Sales is complicated because at the core of sales is a web of human relationships; whenever you’re dealing with human relationships and bring money into it, it’s a cluster-fuck. For another example of that, consider “your family.”

Here’s what I’d offer, humbly:

  • Think about “The Stranger’s Dilemma:” We all start as strangers. At some point in your life, your mother and father are strangers to you. (They might be even as an adult.) If you’re selling something, you’re probably starting from a point where you, as the seller, are a stranger to the potential buyer. This is true even if you have some amazing “lead generation” or “funnel” program (which you likely don’t). So, how do you make the stranger feel comfortable? That’s the core of the issue. That’s about relationships. The problem is, “sales” isn’t taught on a relationship level. If it was, we wouldn’t use the word “closing” to describe a sale, because “closing” = an end, whereas “a sale” = a beginning of a new relationship between your company and the buyer. See what I mean? So focus on the relationship, not the deliverable. The deliverable will come if you do the relationship right.
  • Ignore Buzzwords And Focus On Needs: Don’t sit around and talk about fucking “pain points.” All that means is, “This guy I need to connect with is getting his ass chewed up at work, and he needs a solution that will get his boss off his junk.” So avoid the bland, thoughtless cold call/e-mail and just get on the horn with the potential buyer and say, “Listen, what’s the biggest thing that’s killing you at work right now?” Talk it out. Then explain how your solution could help. Again, relationships that aren’t friendships or love/sex things tend to be driven by need (and even friendships and sex are often driven by need). So, what does that buyer need? OK. You’ve got that. Now, what do you need? (Probably involves the point at which you can sell the product.) Anyway, I don’t care about “translating technology into industry solutions” at this point. I care about figuring out how I can help you and you can help me. Right?


Ted Bauer

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