What’s Your Definition of Selling?

By Gerhard Gschwandtner

Please take a moment to answer that question. If you could write your own, personal dictionary, what would you write under “selling?” Here is what some top sales executives at Selling Power’s recent Sales Leadership Conference offered:

• to persuade a person to take action
• a process of asking directive questions to help customers visualize how they could satisfy a need
• a process where a salesperson and a customer walk the road of agreement together
• the exchange of goods for a negotiated sum of money
• finding a need and filling that need
• selling is an art and a science. The science is the ability to diagnose a problem and find the best solution. The art is the ability to create the relationship and to co-create the solution with the customer.

Every sales leader in the room had a slightly different definition of selling.

Why is your definition of selling so important? Because everything a manager does will flow from that definition. For example, a manager who believes that selling is a process of persuasion will hire salespeople who can demonstrate great persuasive abilities. The hiring questions are likely to focus on the candidate’s experience with persuading customers. The sales training program will emphasize closing the sale and the incentive and compensation system is likely to put a premium on new sales rather than retaining existing customers. A sales manager who believes that selling is all about building relationships will follow a different hiring process, design a different sales process and come up with a different compensation model. In a sense, the sales manager’s definition of selling will determine the sales culture of the team.

What’s wrong with that picture? Plenty. The average tenure of a VP of Sales is less than two years. Each time a new sales leader arrives, a slight culture shift takes place. New players import new ideas that have worked well in their previous jobs, a new belief system takes over, a new definition of selling emerges and soon a new sales process begins. The old way of selling quickly fades and a new way of selling emerges. The trouble is that the new manager’s way of selling is really another company’s old way of selling – not proven in the new company, and not easily accepted by its salespeople.

A company’s sales culture should be a reflection of the company’s mission and vision statement. Ideally, the “C” level of the organization should create a “sales culture statement” that defines what selling means in the organization. A sales culture statement should describe the customer experience and it should outline the values that govern customer relationships. It could contain such guidelines as the prohibition of hiring salespeople from a competitor and outline the basic sales process. A sales culture statement creates continuity for the sales organization, encourages new sales managers to stay on the proven path of success and gives salespeople the opportunity to execute better instead of having to change for change’s sake.