The Truth About the Gift of Gab
A friend last week was telling me over coffee that he feared he could never be a good sales person. After 20 years in sales, this caught my attention. He continued that many of his family members had the “gift of gab.” For them, making sales was as easy as just talking to a prospect. I thought back on my career in sales and sales management long after our meeting was over. Was it true? Did some people just naturally have the knack for sales while others could never master the skill no matter what? I have seen hungry tech companies pay top dollar to attract the right sales person; as if the sales person would be the difference between the product’s ultimate success or failure in the market.
But the more I ruminated, the more I felt sure that natural sales talent was not enough for a lifetime of success. I became more convinced as I thought about the changes in the selling process brought on by the Age of Information. To explain my reasons I will need to introduce you to two of the most successful sales people I have ever met.
Fresh out of college in my first sales job, I met Joe (not his real name, of course). I had always considered myself good with people, but Joe’s skills far surpassed mine. He could get anyone to talk and instantly made deep personal relationships with all his clients. While I learned how to listen and negotiate, Joe just seemed to have the skills needed to sell. While I was successful, Joe was wildly successful and was consistently the top dog. I met a lot of Joes over the next twenty years. In my first sales management job, I had one who worked for me. However, this Joe was struggling. He was assigned a group of accounts and many of them had long term relationships with our company. Technology was changing and Joe’s clients were confused how our company could help them keep up and how they could remain competitive using our products and services. I watched in horror as this Joe flamed out and finally quit to work elsewhere.
Meanwhile, a woman named Sally (also not her real name) was flourishing. She had a similar module to Joe’s. She was quiet and demure and kept her private life private. Her expense report revealed she entertained her clients infrequently. But she was in high demand with her clients and was always bringing our specialists out to see her customers. Sally was a lifetime sales student. Her education had taught her that the better she understood her clients needs, the more they would rely on her. By focusing on needs and not on outward appearances or a box of chocolates at the end of each December, she put Joe to shame in weathering the tough economic times.
The below chart outlines the sales careers of Joes versus Sallys. While a Joe’s innate abilities allow him to find success faster, a Sally has better long term prospects for growth in sales. Clients are just people. And people need emotional and practical help. The trouble is that if you only supply one, practical help far outweighs emotional support in the long term. Additionally, with buyers feeling pressed for time and researching solutions in advance of calling in sales teams, practical help becomes the only way to influence decisions. While anyone would rather have lunch with a amiable sales person, anyone with a budget will look to a thought leader to buy from.
So, how do you become a thought leader, especially in a world where buyers make decisions based on their own research? The answer is content. First, content needs to answer the important questions on the buyer’s mind. Second, the content needs to find its way into the ecosystem where buyers form their opinions. This is a delicate science and looks a little different for each industry and situation. Sales forces can choose to ignore the hard work of figuring this out or stick with the ‘gift of gabbers’. But as I have noted over my long career in sales, putting in the time and energy to better understand customers and aid them in a practical manner, will create long term success.
Have you noticed this trend in your career? How do you think the Age of Information is changing selling? Will the ‘gift of gab’ ever become entirely obsolete?