In my younger days I used to sell process equipment. It involved a fairly technical process that included combustion, material handling, air movement, computers, etc. My engineering background proved quite valuable and it was quite a strength as I made sales calls. Most of the time, sales went through manufacturer reps and dealers. I was always amazed how little they knew about the equipment and never could figure how they sold anything. As I got older, I recognized the value they provided was the relationships that they had developed and the support they have given their customers through the years. This actually was more important than the equipment I was “selling”.
As I matured, I began to respect those relationships more and more. However, I always retained the thought, why don’t these people get technically better? They would sell so much more. So, I put workshop on after workshop. They would all attend in body but I could see the spirit was not there. At the breaks and after the workshop was over, they were mingling and developing relationships even with what you may consider adversaries.
But as I watched those truly good salespeople, there was something else that separated them. I wanted to emulate them and it took me many years to see what it was. What did the best salespeople do? They left the customer become the teacher.
I am not just saying to be a good listener but they actually engaged and were learning from the customer. The customer was their Sensei (I am defining this as the Japanese word for “teacher” or “coach”). He would steer them down the path and they would accept what he said, even when being the expert that I was, knew it was wrong.
The really, really good salesperson even went deeper than knowing that the customer is always right. They went deeper than the words teacher or coach. It went to a higher level and the word I would use to describe it is “respect”. That is why, I used the term Sensei.
It was not that I did not respect the customer. I did, but not in the way that a great salesperson did. They took what customer said and let that empower them. Think about it for a moment, have you ever told a salesperson that just can’t be done. I am not being critical of the correct and logical answer. I want you to remember the reaction of the salesperson. It is typically one of complete disbelief and frustration.
I find the respect issue an interesting concept as we move forward in the sales and marketing process. As our organizations get flatter and the co-mingling of customers start occurring at different levels within the organization, there will become a greater issue of respect for customers. Organizations that have successfully applied Lean principles, which includes respect for people will be much better acclimated in the respect for customer world that we now live in. I am not sure you can teach it. It is something that you have to live to get it right.