Beware ‘arms race’ of handy tips that make sales look easy

March 6, 2018.

Sales is crucial for any business and must not undervalue itself, writes Andrew Hough CEO of the Association of Professional Sales.

I have just been talking to a sales leader who is becoming more involved with the Association of Professional Sales (APS). He was observing that sales seems to keep cheapening itself.

There is nothing wrong with good advice and handy tips to do a better job, but beware of the ‘arms race’ of free content on the web right now:

Five tips for success
Four behaviours of a winner
Three top attributes of the world’s best negotiators
Two strategies for hitting your number
And a partridge in a pear tree.

It doesn’t take a forensic search of the web before you find bitesize tips for most professions: to be better accountants or more successful HR managers or even, the top ten characteristics of a good fighter pilot. Yes, this one does exist, but no one seriously thinks I’ll be given the keys to an F-22  stealth, fighter aircraft just because I’ve read a couple of self-help books.

My APS colleague, sales leader Mike Hurley, and I started our discussion partly because he was the first person to do a masters in sales. In fact, he was so keen to study something that would help professionals like him stand out from the crowd that he built a masters course with Middlesex University, as one didn’t exist. Middlesex are specialists in workplace learning which allows post graduates to integrate their working life into their academic studies.

Against this background of learning and continuous professional development, Mike has encouraged his son, who works for a large IT company, to go into sales. This has given both father and son an opportunity to share their perspectives about the fast-changing nature of selling in a new digital age. Today, thanks to the power of internet search engines, customers have done their research and, on the whole, know what they are buying. As a result, sellers need different skills because the web has changed the market dynamic.

Sales people are no longer walking, talking brochures. Now the sales person who calls in for a chat and a coffee needs more than an engaging personality. Business insight, understanding the challenges your customer faces and the ability to help them deal with the situation are essential – and only the start.

At the APS, we make it our business to understand how the world of sales is changing and to offer advice and support through our events, thought-leadership and network of senior, sales leaders. However, the ability to survive and prosper because you can adapt to change isn’t always helped by the quality of some of the debate on social media. Very few of the many bloggers and authors who talk about sales want to discuss the true concept of professionalism and show comparisons. It’s tempting to think I can make the jump from sales novice to sales superstar by reading a couple of self-help columns, but who are we kidding?

There is no magic formula for sustained success. It takes study, hard work, practice, research, constant evaluation of skill and personal redevelopment. There are no quick fixes because five words – immersion in your chosen profession – can take years to master.

To do that, you have to build on a good foundation. You need to understand the basics, consume best practice – not lists, look at examples, read reports, observe trends and then, work at it. Get feedback and coaching and improve by making the best habits your habits. This is a cycle. Keep going around it and each lap will take you higher.

That is, of course, if you want a career in sales. You may just want to be ‘good against the number’ but it is the self-developers, the ones that strive for excellence, those with coaches and qualifications, and those learning the hard way, that rise to the top.

A gold medallist cannot win in three easy steps, so let’s stop feeding the perception that sales is easy.

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