I have a few guilty pleasures. One of them is (or at least was) professional wrestling. I stopped watching several years back for reasons that we might get into in a future article, but up until then, I was a fan. I’m particularly a fan of the wrestlers of my youth, and so when videoed retrospective interviews of them became popular, I watched quite a few. One of the best is called Kayfabe Confessions, done by a guy named Sean Oliver (“Kayfabe” is wrestling lingo for pretending that everything you see is real). Oliver’s interviews were a cut above the rest in terms of production values and questions asked. And, not surprisingly, Oliver has his own retrospective book now, which inspired this article.
In it, Oliver notes that at the time he started, most such interviews were done by a guy wearing a T-shirt like the wrestler being interviewed. He, however, always wore a suit and tie because “that signifies that something important is happening.” I thought about my own sales career, and I had to agree – even when I was in an industrial sales territory, I’d leave the office with a jacket and tie. I might remove them if the situation demanded, but I’d start out with them. Why? Because I wanted my customers to know something important was happening. I see many ways that salespeople diminish their own importance every day, and the visual presentation is only one of them.
So, how do salespeople diminish their importance? Here are my thoughts – I’d like to hear yours.
- Here’s where a lot of people are going to get mad at me. When I started in sales, the philosophy was, “dress one notch better than your customers.” So, I always had a jacket and tie available to me. Sure, I took it off for some calls but I left it on for others. As an example, if I were going to a manufacturing plant, I might take off the jacket and tie to meet with the maintenance man – but I’d have them on to meet with the plant manager. As time goes on, I have seen average sales dress go from “casual” to downright sloppy. When I bring this up, salespeople squeal that “my customers wouldn’t like it if I dressed better.” Why not? You are selling yourself as a resource – if you look like an unmade bed, you undermine that sale. My advice is as it always has been. Dress professionally. For men, a well pressed shirt and slacks are the minimum standard.
- Going in empty handed. I have always carried a briefcase – at a minimum, a zipped up padfolio with literature and other supplies in it. Some salespeople say, “I don’t want to carry a briefcase because I might intimidate my customer.” That’s just silly. Guess what? Your customer knows that you’re a salesperson, and that your objective is to transact business. Going in with a briefcase gives you more carrying capacity for items that make that transaction easier. So why leave it in the car? Walking in empty handed is just dumb – yes, even with the tech we have available to us today.
- “Just.” One of the worst words I see salespeople using is “just.” As in, “I was just stopping by to…” or “I was just calling to….” When you say “just,” you disempower every word that comes after “just.” Why? Be assertive and let your customers know that you are using their time wisely. Again – you’re a salesperson. Be proud of it.
- The stop by. Since I mentioned “just stopping by,” let’s talk about that. Stopping by is a poor substitute for an appointment. An appointment is a commitment to meet at a specific time and place to discuss a specific topic. That topic is usually on the pathway to transacting business. Having appointments connotes respect for your time and your customer’s, and it is the core of professional selling. Stop-bys help you fill out a call report or make a CRM entry, but they seldom yield more than a quick “hello.” And while we’re at it…
- Agenda free sales calls. Every sales call should have a reason for being and an objective to be reached. To not do so is to waste time. I see entirely too many salespeople doing what they call “P.R. calls,” which is “hey, just seeing how you were doing.” Your customers are busy, and a “P.R. call” denotes nothing important. It will not generate anything important, either.
There are, unfortunately, many more ways that salespeople kill their own importance. All of them have their root in a feeling of shame about being a salesperson. There’s no reason to be ashamed – selling is a profession that is both proud and incredibly important. Ask yourself what ways you employ to make your sales calls important to your customer – and what ways diminish them. Then think about why.
My closing thought is this: Sean Oliver was by far the most successful of the “behind the scenes” interview producers. Maybe that’s because his interviews were important.