Sales is the art of equalizing the information asymmetry between a problem and a solution.
For most problems in your life, there is a solution out there somewhere that someone could provide for you. Cost isn’t the major barrier here – in many cases, a great product or service saves you money. That’s often the point; a huge percentage of your problems are that you’re paying too much for something, or paying for a bundle when you could be getting the components you want cheaper, etc. And even products you pay for, you generally did so because you valued their benefit more than their cost. In an indirect way my $2 cup of coffee might make me more than $2 more efficient at work, but even if it didn’t, I enjoy the act of drinking it more than anything else I’d spend that $2 on in as convenient a way.
So if cost isn’t the major barrier, what are the barriers that separate people from the products and services that would make their lives better? Why doesn’t everyone just buy the best stuff for them?
There are two primary barriers: awareness and skepticism.
Awareness is relatively easy to understand – no matter how good a product is, information doesn’t spread instantly to everyone on Earth. And even if it did, new people are being born all the time, so you have to always be doing some maintenance. You have to not only tell people about your product or service, but you also have to learn about your market. Your market knows a lot of stuff you don’t, and you know a lot of stuff they don’t. If all information were perfectly shared, you wouldn’t have to get out there and sell anything. But it isn’t, so you do.
Skepticism is the other piece. For every dollar I have, there is a huge myriad of things I could spend it on. I want to get the most value out of each dollar, but I don’t know what that necessarily is. I need information – and there are plenty of people willing to give me information, but they all have their own agendas. Even if we assume perfect honesty from all parties, no one bidder for my dollar has all the information available about every other bidder. You might honestly believe that the product you want to sell me in exchange for my $1 creates the best possible value for me, but you might be unaware that someone else is selling a service that would do even more for me. In the face of this much information, a healthy dose of skepticism is the barrier most people choose to put up.
I’ve trained a lot of salespeople in my time, and a very early frustration I see often is the “Honest Salesperson’s Lament.” That’s where an honest sales professional with a product or service that would be fantastic for a particular customer gets shut down and can’t figure out why. From their perspective, the product is perfect for the customer – it would cost negative dollars because it would immediately save them 2X the purchase price, it requires no contract, etc. But the customer gives a stern “no thanks” and walks off. Meanwhile the salesperson’s head is spinning.
What happened? Maybe the salesperson didn’t gather enough information, and there actually was a reason that the product wasn’t a good fit. But more often than not, the salesperson was actually correct and the product would have been perfect; the customer legitimately made a bad choice by not buying. But that’s not the customer’s fault – it’s the salesperson’s. The customer’s job is to protect themselves from bad buys, and that’s not a bad thing to be doing. The salesperson’s job is to overcome that skepticism and allow the customer to see the product with clear eyes, unclouded by fear.
A good salesperson undoes the bad influence of prior bad actors. Maybe a customer has been burned before by an unscrupulous person, and now you’re paying the price for it. That sucks, but it’s exactly what you should expect.
So sales isn’t really about convincing someone that they need your product. First, it’s about identifying what people do need, and figuring out how to get it to them. Then, it’s about letting people know that you’ve done that, and doing it in a way that promotes trust.
Just talking about your day is selling, if what you did during your day was valuable to other people.