Do we really need salespeople?

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Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

“Sir! Would you mind spending 5 minutes with me, participating in a survey?”

“What for?!” I responded.

After a couple of minutes trying to persuade me that she was collecting data to determine buying preferences of mall shoppers, she reluctantly admitted that the “survey” was simply a way for a marketing company to collect customer information, which telemarketers would use to pitch products over the phone.


I receive at least 30 text messages per week asking me to pick up free health care cards, attend life-changing seminars, buy promotional items, take exotic vacations, etc. Then, there are the unsolicited phone calls and e-mails.

Indeed, those of you who have been reading this column for some time may have noticed that my e-mail has changed. Reluctant as I was to lose the old e-mail account, 300-400 spam messages a day made it untenable. And before some bright spark suggests that I install a great spam filter (which works up to a point), I tried this only to find I was losing a very significant amount of genuine mail in the filtering process.

Search up and down your cable channels, and you will find at least half a dozen home shopping programs. I am sure we have all watched in amazement as some bloke with a fake Italian accent shaved super thin tomato slices with his ceramic knife set, or some burly workman chose to drive his backhoe excavator over an air bed.

Now, I would be pretty dumb to suggest that these products don’t sell; indeed, I know that these companies move massive amounts of inventory from people who impulse shop. Even I have to admit to buying a watch from Lazada, because it popped up on my screen while I was booking a flight online!

However, consider for a moment that none of these sales channels are appropriate for the high-value professional sale. For any of these avenues to work, the price of the item has to be relatively low — certainly low enough for the customer to feel confident that, if the item turns out to be a lemon, no lasting financial damage will be done.

Interestingly, I have a very good friend whose business has piggy-backed on cable and terrestrial TV channel selling. In many cases, his outlets carry very similar products, and his sales clerks demonstrate the products in front of the customer. I have no doubt that many of his customers have already seen the products pitched on television, but having the same demonstration (not the backhoe and air bed, of course!) conducted in front of them takes away some of the fear that sleight of hand or camera tricks are the reason for such stellar product performance.

Last week, I finally took delivery of my new car, and I am delighted in every respect. It is everything I expected it to be (and more), and even though I exceeded my original budget by a considerable margin, I feel I made the right decision.

Now, look at the first sentence of that paragraph: “I finally took delivery of my new car.” This was not a decision resulting from a text message, an unsolicited phone call, or an “As Seen on TV” pitch. This decision took me more than six months to make. I examined every vehicle of a similar style, type, and utility. I read numerous articles on the Internet to see what the pundits (both here in the Philippines and overseas) were recommending. I spoke with friends who have similar models. I even drew on my experience with my last three cars. Certainly an “informed and sensible decision.”

Now to the crux of the matter. Was I actually helped by a salesperson? Bouquets to my sales executive at Ford, who did a fantastic job getting the vehicle ready for me (on very short notice) and handling all of the administration relating to the sale. But no, she did no selling per se. As I say, I had researched this purchase extensively, and I knew exactly what I wanted. So, it was a case of my placing and her receiving the order.

But, it does occur to me that, over the last six months, I have met numerous salespeople who — had they tried a little bit harder — could have influenced my decision.

One particular car comes to mind. It was slightly over budget but met all my needs and requirements. It came with the highest recommendations from friends and people in the auto industry alike. It offered higher levels of comfort than the car I bought.

I teetered on the edge of choosing this vehicle; the sale was lost because of a bad experience with the brand some 15 years ago (really of no consequence now) and a small amount of brand loyalty for the car I ultimately bought. I’m inclined to believe a savvy salesperson could have influenced my decision and won the sale!

The reality is this: we, as customers, have access to huge amounts of information. For professional, corporate, or big-ticket sales, we can refine our search for the right product. Nonetheless, it is my belief that the professional salesperson who involves himself in this process, not as an order-taker but as someone who has the power to influence a customer’s decision, still has an essential role to play.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.