Back to basics in selling: discovering the neuro-economics behind the successful salesperson

By Professor Willem Verbeke
Some time ago I was invited at the Sales Educators’Academy (SEA) at Aston University (England) to deliver a keynote diner speech about selling. During that conference it was very interesting for me to listen to the other speakers, both from Europe and the USA, who were doing very innovative research about personal selling. For me it was striking how thoughtful the speakers were when discussing issues in the field of selling. So what is being thoughtful here?

The “it is going all to change gurus”

Many managers or professors who like to impress other people frequently start a conversation or speech using the following words: “it is all going to change.” As one speaker at the conference proposed this might sound like a contagious expression and after a while all speakers are also obliged to say: “it is all going to change.” That is why I call these people “it is all going to change gurus” and in doing so I hope that people who read this incident will have a certain smile on them. In many cases when a person at these gatherings does not speak about change that person is being stigmatized as a conservative person. The question however in these cases is: “If you say it is going to change, then what actually is going to change?”

The fundamentals remain, but the context changes 

Of course almost all industries these days change, but some basic wisdoms or basic values remain in place. One example is sales. While many gurus proposed that we will witness the end of sales and that Internet will make place for sales, we see that sales is and remains a very attractive business function in many organizations. How could it be then that so many “it is going to change gurus” had it so wrong? 

When thinking about sales it is important to separate the sales function from the context. Sales always will remain a business function essentially performed by people: salespeople or account managers always will be evaluated based on customer satisfaction, they will need to propose their services to customers, they will frequently be rejected by customers and need to keep their promises made. These processes or aspects of the business always remain unaffected. What changes is the context in which these sales processes occur. Indeed several contextual changes have occurred recently: think about changes in using CRM applications, customers using the Internet before talking to salespeople, or the usage of business intelligence such as AI or machine learning. The better salespeople of course adopt to these changes and integrate them into their business undertakings.

The big mistake that the “it is all going to change gurus make” is that they think that technology will make the sales job obsolete. The problem however is that people are creative and they adopt quite frequently new technologies and they integrate them into their profession and from there try to succeed. Just to give one example: while I write this text it is based upon my own experience doing years of research. When I was younger I was typing this text on a typewriter but now I am using a computer. “The it is going to change gurus” were thinking that the computer would replace my writing. Writing an intelligent text, however, requires thinking but the computer does not write my text. The computer however allows me to write sentences, save them, and correct them. A computer cannot think for me. It is just a tool and does not have brains.

In short, sales always will remain a job where human contact (customer and salesperson) plays a key role and salespeople need to adapt their communication strategies which are needed to co-create a contract. Salespeople who stay with their two feet on the ground always keep this essential aspect of selling in their mind and this allows them to study their customers. As always, I expect that in selling we will keep talking about people, emotions, customer orientation, etc. The future looks bright indeed for the field of sales. 

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