Engineers should learn to sell

Sept. 9, 2010
Engineers should learn to sell

“Selling is an act of love.” That’s the slogan I adopted a few years ago, when I realized I had major issues around the subject — issues that were hurting my business. For a long time, when I heard the word, “selling,” I was repulsed. It immediately reminded me of several bad memories:
• Trying to sell Encyclopedia Britannica door-to-door for a month while in college. I spent a lot of time, walked a lot of miles, and accumulated an enormous stock of reasons people had for not wanting to buy an encyclopedia. And I made no money.
• My experiences in car showrooms, with the whole dance between the “good-cop” salesperson and the “bad-cop” sales manager, and the subsequent realizations about all the add-ons I had bought that I didn’t need or want.
• Rude and pushy salespeople in stores.
• Having my consulting proposals rejected.

In short, I associated sales with people trying to make me do things that I didn’t want to do and spend money I didn’t have, for their own benefit, with no consideration for mine. So is it any wonder my sales pitches sounded like guilty apologies? “I know you probably don’t want this thing, and I hate selling as much as I’m sure you hate being sold to, but would you maybe please buy it anyway?”

Let’s back up a minute. Why should an engineer learn to sell? There are lots of good reasons. Whether you know it or not, you’re always selling. Good examples include negotiating a raise, working with Manufacturing to point out why the latest changes are necessary, and explaining to your spouse why it’s in the family’s interest for you to work late tonight. Also, when you don’t know how to sell, you’ll avoid it — and deny the world many of the good things you have to offer. And when you avoid selling, you will always be the victim of circumstances. Surprisingly, you might discover you enjoy selling. And salespeople usually make more money than engineers.
On the other hand, my prospects might not immediately recognize the value of what I’m offering. They are busy focusing on what they are good at, and thus don’t understand my expertise. As a good salesperson, it’s my responsibility to communicate my value in a way they can understand and make an informed decision about whether to buy from me.

I want my prospect to benefit from what I have to offer. That’s why I consider selling an act of love. When a potential customer can see this, they get the benefit of my expertise and I get paid for the value I bring. Otherwise, either I didn’t do a good job of conveying the information, or there simply isn’t a match between their need and my offer.

The best approach comes from first gaining a complete understanding of a potential customer’s needs. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” says best-selling business author Stephen Covey. Once I understand a customer’s pain, I can point out how specifically my expertise can eliminate that pain. It’s not about making them buy; it’s about giving them the opportunity to buy a solution to save their problem.
Since reframing selling as an act of love, my business has been transformed. First, I enjoy the process, now that I see it as a way to help people act in their own best interests. Second, I am selling much more than I ever did — and my clients are enjoying the process and benefiting from my services. Third, I’ve begun sharing the benefit of this new understanding with many others, employees and entrepreneurs, and have seen them grow.

Joel Orr is Chief Visionary Emeritus at Cyon Research Corp. in Bethesda, Md. Got a question or a comment? Reach Joel at [email protected]

© 2010 Penton Media, Inc.

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