by Tony Vidler
I am a professional. I am a salesman. These two things are not contradictory. I sell stuff. It seems like I’m selling my time these days…sometimes a product….sometimes it is just selling concepts and possibilities.
But I sell. And I think I am a professional too.
Why do we treat these as contradictions? Why do professional services treat the two as an either/or option….you can be one or the other, but not both?
Part of the problem is simply perception, and the perception of “selling” varies according to who you speak to…and this meme captures the different perceptions pretty well:
The last picture in the montage really does sum it up correctly though….selling is about problem solving.
Oddly enough, so to is giving professional advice. That is about problem solving too.
Most professionals think they are selling time, or their expertise and ability to provide technical information. They are just ways of pricing the service, but they aren’t really what we’re selling…or shouldn’t be. We should be selling our ability to solve a customers problem.
To do that well requires “sales skills”. The ability to listen proactively, empathise and understand precisely what the customer is thinking and feeling, talk to the customer in ways that make sense and eliminate confusion (instead of adding to the confusion), and ultimately to determine the best course of action and convince a customer to take that path.
Great professional advisers are also great salespeople.
The problem for the “profession” of financial advice however is that not all great salespeople are great professionals. Or even great advisers sometimes.
There are certainly too many advisers who are selling without advising professionally. However, there are also too many professional advisers who are not selling – and that too is a problem which receives very little attention.
A superb professional with great technical competence and empathy for their customers is useless if they are rarely talking to customers. They are even more useless if they are talking to a relatively small number of customers and not using their skills to convince the customer to make a required change which would dramatically improve the customers future.
So I believe that to be a great professional you have to sell. I am not afraid to tell clients that I am selling either….it is just that I am not selling them. My role is to sell institutions. You see, if I am working for my client I definitely have to use some sales skills to convince clients of the right way forward, otherwise nothing changes. That is not who I am trying to sell “a thing” to however. I am selling an institution that this client is a good risk, or that this client should be given a particular deal or arrangement, or that this client qualifies for a particular product solution that we want to access, such as a mortgage perhaps.
I am definitely selling…but it is not my client I am selling to. It is the people or institutions who I want to talk into giving my client what they want or need that I am selling to.
You can change the perception of “selling” for your customers if you get busy being a proactive professional who is helping them solve their problems. If you “sell” somebody on a change of course that results in them being able to achieve their goals or fix their problems, then you are a professional adviser. If you are focused properly upon who it is that you are actually trying to sell, and who you are selling for, then there is no shame in it and nor is there a contradiction with being a professional either.
We all should be selling….not just leaving it to the people who are only product salespeople only.