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What Selling Skills Would You Wish for If You Could Rub the Lamp?

What if you had a lamp – THE lamp – that contained a genie? Rubbing that lamp would cause the genie to appear and grant you three wishes. Let’s pretend that your three wishes had to be related to changing something about the way you sell… What would you wish for?

Over the past five years, I’ve been asking sales reps this question (minus the genie lamp scenario) in pre-training surveys. Hundreds have responded, coming from different parts backgrounds and different companies. But the answers are so consistent that I can safely guess what your three wishes might be.

In the survey, the question is phrased this way: “If you could easily change just ONE thing about the way you sell, what would it be?

The number one response, by far, is “I wish I could do a better job of closing sales.” Variations on this response include wishing for faster closes, wishing for a way to know when to close, and wishing that closing sales was easier.

The number two response is “I wish I could overcome objections better.” The phrasing of this wish is generally straightforward, but it sometimes includes nuances like “I wish I knew what to say to handle objections” or “I wish I didn’t freeze when an objection was raised.”

The third most common response is “I wish I had more confidence in selling.” Some attach this wish to wanting more experience, more confidence in the product they are selling, or more knowledge about how to handle tough customers. But over and over again, the word confidence comes through.

In familiar stories about genies and lamps, there’s a plot point where it looks like the genie master may not get all three wishes. Usually, that’s directly attributable to making a foolish wish at the beginning and/or to wrong intentions. For example, in Disney’s Aladdin, the lamp gets stolen because Aladdin doesn’t make good on his third wish to free the genie immediately. This leads to the nullification of his first two wishes as he and his princess are placed in dangerous situations.

The same is true with sellers’ wishes. The first and foremost wish should be for that elusive confidence. With confidence, closing sales and overcoming objections would be easier. What I see, though, from a lot of selling professionals is that there is an over-reliance on a prescribed formula or on others who are brought in to the sales process at these turning points.

Now that’s not to say that there’s no need for good, solid processes and for back-up on some sales calls. Both have their time and place. But how is a sales rep to gain confidence in his or her own abilities if a sales manager jumps in to handle every close? And what sales rep could ever feel truly confident if objections were pre-scripted and automated?

Here’s the rub. Building confidence requires practice. When practicing, mistakes will be made. People who are still learning won’t get it right the first time… maybe not the first ten times. Those very mistakes are where learning and growing happen. Learning and growing build confidence and competence. Well-meaning managers sometimes stymie confidence-building by over-reaching to avoid any mistakes being made. Pretty soon, though, a sales rep will begin to feel that they are not capable and that they must turn to the sales manager in every challenging situation. When sales managers also buy into this fallacy, they enable an unhealthy dependence.

So Wish #1 ought to be for confidence. And in a world without magic genie lamps, we need alternate ways to bestow confidence on sellers. Here are some specific ways that sales managers can build confidence in their reps:

  •  Allow learning by trial and error. Debrief what has worked and what has not worked. Teach from those experiences. Instead of doing things for the rep, get the rep to discover what they can do differently and what will be most effective.
  • Provide training and coaching and role play. Yes, these are all time consuming. These activities do take time away from selling. But time spent learning, time that is invested in building confidence and competence, will pay off in faster sales and more revenue.
  •  Acknowledge that you do not have all the answers. Hold back when you do know the answer. Set an expectation that reps will figure it out on their own. Let them know that you believe in their ability to do so. Be available as a guide on the side, but think of yourself as a last resort.
  • On sales calls, hold back. Don’t jump in to solve the problem or to do the selling work. Observe and give feedback after the call. Go into the call with the understanding that you are not there to do the job but to observe the job being done by the rep.
  •  Make it okay for reps to fail forward. When they are not successful in closing the sale, overcoming the objection or demonstrating another skill you had hoped to see, don’t criticize or shame them. Instead, create a learning opportunity. Coach for improved performance.

As confidence grows, the ability to close sales will also grow. Ultimately, the reps who close the  most sales are the ones who firmly believe in the solutions they’ve offered (that’s confidence!).

As confidence levels improve, the ability to respond to objections will also improve. Reps who believe in their product and in the solutions they’ve offered find it easier to bring the conversation back to value and overcome the objection. It’s their confidence, not some slick patter or rehearsed response, that turns the objection into a non-issue.

We may not get to rub the lamp and automatically acquire these skills. But managers can work magic for sellers who are wishing for these skills.

There’s also good news for those sellers who wish to independently work on gaining confidence so they can close more sales and overcome objections more smoothly. You don’t need a magic genie lamp. You can learn and improve in these skills. All it takes is your openness and willingness to do so.

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