As a former sales representative, I have some insight into this week’s assignment: “Is the role of salespeople under appreciated by consumers and/or over abuse by companies? In your experience as either a salesperson or a buyer, what attributes of salespeople tend to be the most important or annoying?”. I submitted the below response for this Fundamentals of Marketing class at Umass-Amherst. Once this essay is graded, I will update the post with the score. Enjoy.
In today’s world, consumers have a nearly endless supply of information at their fingertips. With a few clicks, consumers can look up reviews of products, prices from multiple sources, and Better Business Bureau reports on companies. This constant barrage of information allows consumers to possess as much, if not more, information as the salespeople of a product. Further, our evolved technology allows anyone to record and distribute messages a salesperson tells a consumer. This ability for everyone to broadcast content to nearly the whole world, forces successful salespeople to move beyond the old motto of “Always Be Closing” [from Glengarry Glen Ross] and adopt a new edict, of Always Be Authentic, no matter who you think or know is listening or not listening.
Before delving further into this topic, let me address the connotations of several keywords I’ll be using. First, to be authentic, in my mind, means to be true to who you are. If a consumer asks a question you do not know the answer to, tell the consumer so. Help the consumer by leading them to someone who may know the answer but under no circumstances should you just answer the customer for the sake of answering. Historically, a salesperson who admits to not knowing something may appear un-knowledgeable and thus not worthy of a consumers’ trust. Personally, I appreciate when a salesperson tells me they do not have the answer, and some times expect a sales representative to be stumped by some of my questions. Authentic also means believing in the product or service you are selling, as well as truly believing the consumer will benefit from it. Sales people should not view consumers as potential sales, but rather as fellow human beings who may or may not benefit from their company’s goods. A successful sale not only generates revenue for the company and commission for the sales representative but also creates value for the consumer. Someone who buys an item, only to later realize they were coerced into the purchase and have no real need for the item will represent that company poorly to other potential customers. Belief, in my humble opinion, is the most important characteristic of a successful personal seller.
Many people today instinctively distrust salespeople because of prior trends to focus on the sale, rather than fulfilling consumers needs. In the past, making a sale was viewed as an accomplishment and lots of big sales were the mark of a good salesperson. In today’s world, connecting with customers and identifying and matching their needs with the correct product is, or at least should be, the most valued measure of a successful seller. The focus on maximizing a sale (up-selling) and sheer quantity of sales in the past, led many salespeople to make up numbers, facts and and other false information that would encourage the consumer to make the purchase. This practice left many consumers dissatisfied with a company’s goods and decreased, if not completely eliminated, the opportunity for future sales from previous buyers. Hence, many consumers now under value the importance of a good seller.
For instance, car dealerships were and still are notorious for shady and sometimes downright unethical selling practices. A few dealerships capitalize on the industry’s negative image and reinforce their commitment to “no hassles sales”; meaning consumers are free to browse a showroom, go on test drives and ask questions without being coerced into a sale. Many dealerships also offer online purchasing programs, which usually involve no negotiations and one single price for all consumers. The anonymity of the internet allows previously discriminated groups (minorities and women) to be treated equally.
Between my sophomore and junior years in college, I stayed in Chapel Hill for the summer and needed a job for the summer that was flexible enough to fit into my summer class schedule. At the end of the Spring semester, I began working as a Sales Representative for Vector Marketing, the marketing and sales portion of Cutco Cutlery, a manufacturer of high-end kitchen utensils and accessories. At that time, I had aspirations of becoming a stock broker or financial analyst and thought experience as a sales representative would be useful in the future. Even though I had little access to the target market for Cutco, as I mostly met only college students my age with little to no need for expensive cutlery products, I was successful, financially and from a benefits perspective (for the customer and myself). By utilizing my network and through cold calling and referrals, I built up a potential client list, and through honesty (I’m a poor college student, help!) I converted 88% of my calls into appointments, and 58% of my appointments into average weekly sales of $1500; as any sales person will tell you, those are good rates! Although I had little experience in high-end cutlery, from the demonstrations I saw and personal use of my sample set, I believed the product was of high-quality and worth the price for consumers looking for high-end cutlery.
My belief in the quality of the product and the value created for the consumer allowed me to provide enthusiastic product demonstrations; that enthusiasm transferred over to my clients. This belief in the product also encouraged me to work hard and to polish my presentation and learn as much about the products so I could answer as many of my clients’ questions as possible. However, if I came across a question I did not have the answer for, I plainly told my clients so and promised to work on getting them an answer. This authenticity, in my belief and delivery, caused my clients to trust me and my opinion; it also caused my clients to emphasize with me and I have no doubt that a few of my sales were due to my clients wanting to help me and themselves.
Unfortunately, after a few months of working for Vector Marketing, I discovered their products may not be the absolute best at that price level. From my research, I found Cutco knives and accessories are comparable to competitor’s offerings but once I found out that competitors beat out Cutco on price and quality for several sets, my belief in what I was selling was shaken. My disturbed belief had a negative impact on my ability to sell and at that point my sales figures dropped significantly. I shortly thereafter ceased my employment for Vector Marketing. I learned a great deal through being a sales representative and was good at it. I could have continued to work for them but would never have been able to be as successful as I initially was, at least while still being able to look at myself in the mirror. From speaking with my former clients, they are still satisfied with their purchases so I am glad I stopped when I did.
As a consumer, I often research products that are expensive or otherwise heavily affect me, thus I appreciate a salesperson who is honest and who genuinely believes in the company they work for and the product they sell. If a salesperson does not value a company’ s product, the product cannot be worth purchasing. As a former sales representative, I believe that being proud of the quality and value of the product you are selling goes a long way to creating satisfied customers. One of the greatest lessons I learned from my time as a sales representative is that a non-sale can be successful, especially if the customer had no need for the product. Although it may seem illogical, authenticity is the most important attribute a successful salesperson can possess; without it they are simply a living advertisement and cash collector for the company. However, if a salesperson truly believes the product they are selling is a beneficial and quality product or service, they will be successful, whether they make a sale or not.