Monday, June 04, 2007

Good Salesmanship at a Glance

Frank Luger headshot by Frank Luger

Transforming initially vague or perhaps nonexistent client interests into definite (signed) commitments, a.k.a. contracts, is the task of each and every salesman. In other words, the salesman mediates between client and business, fitting client needs to business profiles, and conversely, making sure that those needs are adequately filled by the business. How well this is done by the salesman is the matter of good salesmanship.

Good salesmanship? What’s that? The moment we hear the word “salesmanship”, most of us will bristle, shudder, and start chasing away uncomfortable mental images like fast-talking used-car salesmen, dishonest life-insurance agents, fly-by-night operations, pyramidal sales, door-to-door solicitors, and various ‘merchants’ cheating us left, right, and center, one way or another. Anyone who has ever been sold a ‘lemon’ and / or has been treated with deceptive sales practices will be rather wary in any situation involving ‘salesmanship’, fearing bad salesmanship, such as the above.

The hallmarks of good salesmanship are marketing flair and personal integrity, selling true quality goods and services with reliability and validity. Both are two-way streets, i.e. they help the business as well as the customer. They help the business by maintaining the cash-flow and increasing the reputation while they help the customer by adequate need fulfillment and appropriate anxiety reduction.

Salesmanship, whether bad or good, takes place within the framework of sales mentality. Generally speaking, there are but two kinds of sales mentality; those of the shopkeeper and the entrepreneur. The shopkeeper puts something attractive in the window and then waits for the walk-in. If there is no walk-in, the shopkeeper does not eat tonight. Small wonder, then, that what has evolved with the shopkeeper mentality is client-grabbing and price-haggling. While they may yield immediate business and bring in some cash, they do not contribute to good marketing and long-term development. By contrast, the entrepreneur mentality involves steady client-handling and price-fixing. The entrepreneur creates markets and builds trust where none existed. He does so by activity as opposed to the passivity of the vendor in the shop. Primarily, he handles transactions as investment opportunities of the business as well as himself. Also, he takes every occasion to promote his company, but does so with reliability and validity. All the time he thus displays marketing flair and personal integrity- in short, good salesmanship.

Client-grabbing and price-haggling are typical of the oriental world, in fact, they are still a way of life all over Asia and the Middle-East, though by no means limited to these regions. However, in the West, that is, primarily in Europe and North-America, steady client-handling and price-fixing have gradually become the prevailing practices. The first kind is the older, rural or merchant one, reflecting on various historical eras, whereas the second is much more associated with the modern industrial world and urban lifestyles. Of course, one cannot go into an oriental bazaar and expect fixed prices any more than start haggling over the price tags of big-city department stores. However, the second trend is slowly gaining ascendancy as modernization proliferates worldwide.

Let’s take just one example: room sales in a small hotel of a big city. The setting is highly competitive, so the little-known small hotel cannot well afford to lose sales, especially in low season. Under such circumstances, surely, there is a strong temptation for client-grabbing and price-haggling. However, the market share of a little-known small hotel ought to be based on excellent reputation, maintained with true quality products and services as well as modest and steady pricing. If the quality of the products and / or the services is poor or questionable, then the customer will not return. If the price is too high, he will go elsewhere. If the price is too low, he will lose respect and refer to the hotel as ‘cheap dump’ both in public and private. If the price is inconsistent, he will lose confidence. If he bargains successfully, he will sneer and snicker in the back and spread bad reputation. If he arrives in the early morning hours and gets a substantial discount, pretty soon the customer influx will shift to dawn. If he needs the room for only a short time and gets away with half the price, the market will be surely damaged. If he aggressively complains and intimidates the clerk enough to obtain a big rebate, others will follow suit. In short, nothing but modest and steady prices backed by quality products and services, sold by firm and consistent yet polite and cheerful salesmanship will build enough client trust and yield enough client satisfaction to result in repeat business and good referrals and steady hotel promotion toward stable market share. Thus, even in the case of a little-known small hotel good salesmanship consists of marketing flair and personal integrity, regardless of specific situations and general competition.

In sum, good salesmanship is neither the art of selling fridges to Eskimos nor the greed of squeezing of every penny out of a customer. Rather, it is the proper selling of true quality goods and services with reliability and validity, both personal and business-wise; i.e., marketing flair and personal integrity. Surely, this is the only way to acquire the kind of reputation and dignity which is the gateway to steady market share and future prosperity, now or ever.


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BasD said...

Thanks Frank, liked your article. I'm sharing it with my sales staff & management who happen to be in a sales training today.