Is sales a future crime?

13Jul, 2018

Customer service staff in New Zealand’s banks by and large hate the sales pressure they come under. So much so, one reported their employer to the newspapers and we quickly had headlines this month like ‘Bank employees blow whistle on sales tactics’.

When I first read that headline I thought ‘oh, for crying out loud – is sales now in the same category as social ills like smoking and soft drinks?’

The story unfolds further. Apparently, we have staff selling income protection insurance to a pensioner who would never be able to claim on it, as well as the use of so-called emotional blackmail – specifically asking parents how they’ll support their families if they are made redundant.

What the bank salesperson purportedly did with the pensioner (if true) is despicable (potentially criminal?), but I don’t have a problem with the second one – selling income protection to parents (provided they can afford it).

What’s wrong with that? In fact, shouldn’t parents have a moral obligation to ensure their children are provided for if something happens?

How long, I wonder, before the social warriors – and some young journalists with no families and no life experience – turn ‘selling’ into a morally repugnant activity, using a handful of disgusting examples as an excuse to justify shutting down the practice altogether?

I’ve heard that sales is the oldest profession in the world, and I’ve also heard that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world.

If actively pitching or selling becomes taboo – and we’re not far off when you consider most people’s attitudes to sales and salespeople – we may even see a full reversal between the two oldest professions in the world. Prostitution is now legal (once considered immoral), and sales is illegal (the new immoral).

Imagine a world, for a moment, where you cannot attempt to offer, pitch or sell to somebody any goods or services. Anybody deemed to be breaking this law will be subject to fines of up to, say, $600,000 and a criminal record. Companies may only present their goods or services for consumers to choose, and be careful of how you word the benefits.

I’m not a fan of pushy sales. More often than not, advertising and telesales are one-sided conversations that make no attempt to understand me or solve my problems. Failing to understand a customer’s problems, of putting their needs or wants first, is still routine practice in our economy.

If you don’t believe me, wait for the next time you’re trying to watch a YouTube video and suddenly your clip gets interrupted by somebody shouting at you about a product or service you have no interest in (ads on TV, the radio and YouTube are always at a higher volume).

I know most of you will share my feelings, which in turn suggests that maybe as a society we aren’t that far away from banning sales. When you read that offering parents income protection is considered morally disgusting, we may even be closer than you think.

So, how would a world in which you’re not allowed to sell, look? And, if most people don’t like being sold to in our current world, would a ‘no selling’ business model right now give you a strategic advantage going forward?

The answer isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Here’s how you might sell without being an over pushy salesperson:

1. Be consistently visible
Visibility is the beginning and the end of marketing and sales. The more visibility you have (the more you get noticed), the more sales you will do. That’s just logic at work – but it’s expensive in terms of time, money and resources.

2. Be relevant
To be visible, you must be relevant. You cannot be relevant if you don’t understand your customer, and if what you’re offering doesn’t fit into the daily context of their life. In other words, help them solve today’s problems and fulfil their current needs.

3. Be identifiable
Your customer must be able to identify with you. Your customer wants to know that you are listening to them, that you’re taking your time to understand his or her needs (not trying to foist something on them regardless); and that you are willing to be helpful and prompt.

4. Find your customers online, but take them offline
After you have captured the attention of your audience, and earned their loyalty and trust with a programme of education, information and inspiration, look for ways to take them offline into a face-to-face scenario where you can strengthen and nurture the relationship.

How might this look?
In a content marketing context, you could create an article which you publish on social media e.g. “How long before sales activity and selling becomes a crime?”.

Talk about a current problem that’s in the news in the place where your clients live (New Zealand bank employees blow whistle on sales tactics), and then offer them advice or education on how they can solve their problem or need – no strings attached (how to sell without selling).

Finally, organise an event – like this masterclass that brings you face-to-face with your audience – customers, prospective customers, supporters, readers, influencers, friends, referral partners…

This may apply equally to business-to-consumer. With B2C, your events will be bigger, but they’re a great way to nurture influencers who can spread the word.

Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@rawpixel

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