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Sales Representatives: Please Be Courteous!
By Dave Stein, CEO, ES Research Group

In many industries there is a gap between the level of trust customers need from those of us who sell to them and what they perceive they are receiving.

On my first visit to the hospital the day after my grandson was born, while waiting outside my daughter's room, I saw a sign above three pay phones that caught my attention: "Sales Representatives: These phones are for visitors and patients.  Please Be Courteous."  Ouch!

What did we do to deserve that?  I thought about it for a long time.  Here is my conclusion:  Commandeering a pay phone (which is rare unless there is no cell service) is just one of a multitude of sins of which many of us in sales are perceived as guilty. And one of the penalties we have to pay for those sins is the a long uphill battle for credibility in the eyes of our customers.

Let's assess the situation.  Sales is generally not seen as a noble vocation.  So much so that "sales representative" is rarely seen on a business card anymore. And in the U.S. it's better than many other countries where sales people are even less regarded than here.  Those true professionals who happen to sell used cars, aluminum siding, or refrigerators in Alaska have even a harder time.  You see where I'm headed.  It's a matter of trust.

Do your customers trust you to do what is right for them?  Do they generally believe that what you are saying is true?  Are your customers willing to risk their jobs on whether what we sell them delivers as promised?  

VPs of sales are telling me that along with the elevation of corporate governance and regulatory compliance as board-level issues among their customers, comes a new level of focus, and in some cases, the demand for honesty and transparency from suppliers.  This is apparent in situations where members of evaluation committees are prohibited from meeting with a vendor off site, or in some cases, without other committee members present.

In many industries there is a gap between the level of trust customers need from those of us who sell to them and what they perceive they are receiving.  That gap manifests itself in a number of unproductive ways:  salespeople being seen as interchangeable, customers being reluctant to tell us the truth about their budgets, their decision processes, and their future plans, and the tendency to instantly delegate salespeople down to a lower level in organizations.

That gap needs to be filled in order for us to sell more of our products and services at better margins, with more predictability.
How might you go about this?  The first thing to do is to understand precisely what your corporate values are relating to how your products, services, company and capabilities are presented to your customers.  Sales management must clearly define and publish what is acceptable behavior and what isn't.  

In many cases, you'll have to be trained or coached in order to manage customer objections, without you having to risk, for example, crossing over the line into the zone of withholding, spinning, or misrepresenting the truth, because you don't know what that is.  Doing that is just plain bad for business.  

Another area for potential improvement is in the relationships between salesperson and customer.  Email, voicemail and instant messaging (not to mention corporate buying processes) have compounded the difficulty of building mutually trusting relationships with our customers. Certainly some business models would not support the time and expense required to foster relationship-building as an enabler of sales success, but so far as overcoming the trust obstacle, face-to-face selling goes a long way.  Not enough sales reps do it.

In addition to enhancing the standing of salespeople and winning more business, there is another benefit to earning the trust of your customer. As Mark Twain put it, "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."

Dave Stein, after 25 years in sales leadership positions and delivering his own sales training and consulting worldwide, founded ES Research Inc. ESR offers independent, authoritative advice on Sales Training and Consulting and the Companies that provide it through weekly briefs, in-depth reports, online seminars and advisory services. For more information go to or call 508.313.9585

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