“It’s impossible to teach people to be you,” my old boss, Mr. K, said to me years ago, “you can teach them to sell, but not to sell like you.”
I had hired two friends, both with over twenty years selling experience in the insurance industry, that I expected to be Super-Star salespeople in the cemetery industry. It made sense to me that the skill-set was similar and transferable. They would be great! I was terribly frustrated and confused when, after several months of training and practice, they still couldn’t sell a single product without my help or intervention. My two friends had the grace to resign before I was forced to write-out pink slips.
I felt that I had failed them somehow, and it was a hard lesson in hiring employees and having preconceived expectations. I thought often about Mr. K’s comments, but it took a few years for me to understand the truth and insight he’d demonstrated that day — he was trying to tell me that I could teach methodology only and not intuitive sensing. I could teach the steps in the process, but not the underlying personal elements in my implementation of the process.
I’m a natural born salesperson…umm, okay…I’m a natural born writer (read that as observer of people and the world around me) which makes reading body language, evaluating tone of voice, and interpreting personality styles a somewhat normal and unconscious process for me. My boss was right – I can’t teach anyone to do that. At best, I can explain body language, personality types, postures, etc. and teach them awareness of those things in themselves and in the customers they meet.
Still, it takes years of practice, and possibly some trauma and habitual hyper-awareness to glean the details I do from customers. Body movement, posture, strength of handshake, tone of voice, choice of words, etc. These all add up to “reading my customer” in a way that gives me an edge in product selection and deal negotiation. It is one of the reasons I’m a “top salesperson” in the country and a tremendously strong “closer.” All the best salespeople I’ve met share this hyper-aware, intuitive ability to “read customers.”
I believe strongly in sales training. And, in my job as Sales Manager, I work diligently to train my people in all aspects of sales and customer relations – this often includes teaching them basic psychology and life skills that they’ve missed along the way. I work hard to build a strong team while encouraging competition among them. One of the most frustrating elements of my job remains the inability to teach them to truly read their customers.
Sadly, I have come to realize that the lower their ability in this one area, the higher the likelihood that they’ll fail in automotive sales. If they’re unable to enhance their intuitive ability, process various types of information from customers, and evaluate all aspects of their customers “presence” they will be unable to sell cars. Sales is a full-body-emotional-mind experience and the really good salespeople have an ability to understand that and gather and process data on myriad levels during the sale.