It’s a question I have often been asked in the context of working with teams to improve their business development processes. 10 years ago I would have said that you can probably train most people in the skills to sell, however, that doesn’t mean they will use them. Negative perceptions of sales, an unwillingness to step outside of their comfort zone and a feeling that ‘it just isn’t me’ would all have worked against putting traditional sales skills into practice.

So, what has changed? In recent years there has been a much greater recognition of the power of using individuals’ natural strengths rather than doggedly training every development area. (That’s not to say that you shouldn’t still train things that employees need to know just because it doesn’t come naturally. Health and safety would be a classic example.) However, there is more to it when it comes to sales. The way that we buy has changed. With ready access to a wealth of information about products and services that we are toying with buying we want different things from a salesperson. ‘Don’t hound us’, ‘Don’t trick us’, ‘Don’t threaten us’ – as buyers we plead! ‘Help us instead.’ With a mindset of helping salespeople start to be useful to buyers – and not only dedicated salespeople. From every point of contact with a prospect you influence their decision to buy. Easy access to product information, either physically in a shop or online, the determination of a receptionist to pin down the right person for you to speak to, the speed of response to a query or to samples being despatched, the helpfulness of a technical person in explaining how a product would work in your own world, the superior competitor knowledge of a customer service handler who can help you objectively compare and minimise the risk of a bad decision – all of these may not be traditional sales roles but they each influence the sale.

So, while not everyone can be trained to sell in the traditional sense I do believe that almost everyone can be trained to help people buy.

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