What My Father Taught Me About Sales
“Hang out with people who are great with customers, and watch them,” my ex-boss once told me.
I suck at sales so I like to observe people who are good at it.
It’s something I’ve taken to doing at work.
But another weakness of mine is I like to compartmentalise my life — work is work; fun is fun; and relationships are relationships.
The other night I followed my dad to visit someone, and was reminded that he’s actually the top seller in this country for some of his products. Here I am, trying to learn sales from everyone else, forgetting that flesh and blood could actually teach me a thing or two.
1. Sales is about belief
Here’s one of my biggest struggles with Sales: do I talk more or listen more? Because everything I read tells me that listening to people is more important than trying to persuade them. This HubSpot article suggests the ideal talk-to-listen ratio for sales calls is 43% talk, 57% listen.
And yet, most of the great sales people I know are great talkers (and I’d go as far to say that some of them aren’t very good listeners). How to reconcile?
But maybe my problem isn’t that I don’t listen enough. Maybe it’s because I’m not enthusiastic enough when I talk.
When I observe my dad, he’s generally talking products within a few minutes of meeting someone who might need it. I know this sounds terribly pushy-salesman-ish, but the way people respond suggests (after some initial surprise) they’re okay with it. That they actually find value in what he’s telling them.
Why would new acquaintances listen to a 70+ year old man talk about health, when they’re already bombarded with messages and products all the time? The only thing I can think of is belief.
Dad has unshakable belief that those products will really bring value to people’s lives. He’s seen enough lives changed over the years to know that.
Belief comes from having enough faith to give something a try, then seeing it work. Then seeing it again.
And if you believe in something strongly enough when you tell me, I might just believe in you too.
2. Sales is about your stories
No one buys from you because you show a PowerPoint slide comparing advantages and disadvantages of two products. (Yes, maybe stat geeks like me love spending hours researching things online — but if I’m meeting someone, even I don’t like looking at too much data.)
Adam buys from you because you share stories about how others have gone through pain; the same pain he’s going through himself. And how they managed to find relief.
Sara buys because you tell your story of why Maya doubted at first, but still decided to give it a try. And you even show the hard-copy photograph of Maya smiling gratefully with you.
Angela buys because you tell the story of how Sam once had the same objections as her; and how you convinced her by mailing her an article. And have been keeping that hand-written Thank You note signed “Sam” for 20 years now.
They buy from you because of the happy endings. But also because of the smile on your face when you tell that story.
3. Sales is about trust
This isn’t to say Dad doesn’t have solid research backing him up. He complements his sharing with books and articles written by experts from all over the world. “Professor Morgentaler from Harvard Medical School says this…” he says, as he pulls out his holy book and turns to page 311. “And a study done in 2012 shows this…”
But after a while, our hosts said this: “I don’t have the time or interest to read so much — I’ll take it from the horse’s mouth and trust you.”
Actually, in this world of post-truth and alternative facts — you can find evidence for just about anything online.
Here’s an example (something my dad would kill me for): I don’t eat breakfast every single day. Sometimes I skip it just because I want to. But that’s horrible — because breakfast is the most important meal of the day right?
What if this New York Times article shows that skipping breakfast has no negative side effects? And if Googling “Breakfast is not the most important meal” comes up with 4.56 million results?
“Ah, but that article is bullshit, and those websites aren’t credible,” you say. “I’m not changing the beliefs my parents taught me so easily.”
Well, how do you know if that website is credible or not?
It’s about trust.
If I trust you, I’ll buy from you.
4. Sales is about helping your customer
My father didn’t sell anything during the other night’s visit.
He’s actually a doctor, and he was recommending a health product to my relative. He gave her two boxes for free, and asked her to try it for herself first.
“If you feel good after trying it, then you can continue.”
“I’m flying back to Alor Star tomorrow, but let me know if you like it. The shops here sell it expensive, but if you want — I can get you a good discount, and courier the products to your home.”
I spent the evening observing him and making mental notes. And as we drove home, we got distracted talking about his other stories over the years; the way a parent needs to reminisce, and a son needs to listen.
So I didn’t directly ask him what his secret to sales was. I know what he’d say though, if I asked:
“What secret? I was just trying to help.”
Someday I want to be like him.