When it comes to sales, you may be affected by social consciousness in more ways than you realize. While it's easy to recognize that job pressures shape your performance—for example, the struggle to meet corporate expectations and uncompromising customer demands at the same time—what's not so apparent is that your behavior is also shaped by social pressures and often is reinforced by movies, literature, and television. In turn, these elements of popular culture reinforce archetypal images of sales-people.
Carl Jung, a preeminent psychologist of the early 20th century, popularized the term archetype. It defines a group of personal characteristics that create a singular image of a person. For example, the “warrior,” a popular worldwide archetype for centuries, conjures up images of a loyal fighter who perseveres through challenging times and emerges victorious: the knight in shining armor. Literature and movies continue to reinforce this image today, such as Luke Skywalker in the movie “Star Wars.” Some archetypes conjure up positive pictures, while others stir up negative emotions.
Unfortunately, many common “salesman” archetypes often bring to mind visions of an unscrupulous person preying on the vulnerability of others. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can overcome the negative archetypes of sales by analyzing your performance and taking defined steps to master the psychology of selling. There are two primary objectives of the sales profession—achieving results and communicating product knowledge—and if you put these two tasks on perpendicular axes it creates four quadrants that isolate the characteristics that define various sales archetypes (see Figure 1). I've dubbed them the “Hard Closer,” “Friend,” “Beggar,” and “Leader.” The first three can be classified as “accidental salespeople” because their behavior is the result of social and professional pressure; they succumb to the easiest path of sales behavior. Your goal should be to rise above these roles to become a Leader.
Accidental Salespeople Hard Closers are adept at creating positive results even if they are failing to communicate thorough product knowledge to customers. The typical Hard Closer is persistently trying to “close the deal” with manipulative questions: “What is it going to take to get your business today?” “If I could ..., would you do business tonight?” This person is seeking fast results and instant commitment from prospects, displaying little concern for the customer's needs, preferring instead to conduct business as a battle after which both sides emerge with whatever spoils they can muster. We can thank movies such as “The Music Man,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and “Tin Men” for promoting this unfavorable image.
Hard Closers typically believe that a sale will not be made unless it's closed on the first meeting. They typically defend inappropriate behavior even if they know it's wrong because it's easier than making a strenuous commitment to improve their skills. They are able to get away with these harsh tactics because they know that more victims always will cross their paths.
The prevalence of hard-closer tactics still exists in many retail environments. Automobile salespeople are the most notorious for their manipulative tactics. Home improvement salespeople continue to pressure customers for the “one-time close” at the kitchen table. A building materials salesperson will not likely survive long in the industry as a Hard Closer because a professional contractor typically will not succumb to these methods.
Friends are the salespeople who strive to build strong relationships, but unknowingly do so on a weak foundation. They fail to recognize that business is not personal. Business is business and a strong personal relationship is not usually strong enough to solidify long-term business relationships. The Friend discovers that a competing salesperson eventually will come along with a better joke or better tickets to a ball game plus the ability to create value within the business relationship. Willy Loman, the tragic character from the book “The Death of a Salesman,” epitomizes the Friend, ultimately exclaiming the words, “They owe me!”
Friends display almost no business purpose, commonly socializing with purchasing agents and sales managers to “solidify” relationships. At the same time, Friends bring very little business value to the table. They commonly rely on a very small number of accounts to generate a large volume of business. This is particularly prevalent in situations where the customers are re-sellers of a salesperson's products; the results pour in while his customer's salespeople do the job of selling. Working for a building materials dealer, you probably know a manufacturer representative that is an archetypal Friend.
The Beggar is the most common archetype found in our industry. Beggars might better be termed “victims,” not because they truly are victims, but because they perceive themselves to be victimized by price pressure, unfair employers, demanding customers, economic uncertainty, and numerous other challenges. Beggars also can be appropriately termed the “talkers” because they ramble on incessantly about product features and benefits in a desperate attempt to mask the fear of inevitable price negotiations. They possess strong product knowledge and happily spout the features and benefits of a product, later succumbing to the customer's assertion that all products are so similar that only price matters in the final decision. In the end, a Beggar is ill-equipped to handle the challenges of an adversarial purchasing agent.
Beggars are sympathetic to their customers' needs to a fault, persistently asking supervisors and suppliers for concessions on the customers' behalf. Beggars react to customer demands with irrational exuberance and frequently behave in a way that suggests that they work for the customer, negotiating with their own employer and suppliers on behalf of their customers. They hope to achieve whatever price and service demands their customers request, thus avoiding conflicts and challenges to their personal security. Beggars rarely pause to ask questions, naively supposing that talking about the product will create the credibility to generate a sale.