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The First Task: Respect Yourself

If there was an election for the patron saint of selling, I'd nominate the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield. His signature line, "I don't get no respect" describes a feeling that most sales reps have experienced sometime during their careers.

I don't understand why some people don't respect salespeople. I've always loved being in sales. Years ago, when I was new to selling, I heard a speaker say, "Look around this room. Everything you see was sold by someone -- the wallpaper, the podium, the water glasses, and the light fixtures." That simple truth really impressed me.

I got to thinking about respect for sales professionals -- or lack thereof -- while on a recent plane ride. I was sitting next to Jeff, a sales director for an outfit that sells big-ticket engineering software. He told me that in his first meeting with prospective customers, he tells them he makes no excuses for being in sales. He's a professional salesman, and his job is to sell his products and services. Setting the tone for his selling relationships right from the start shows his high level of self-respect, so his customers can't make him feel like Rodney.

CRUMB BUMS. In my many years of selling, I've found there are basically two kinds of customers. There are those sadistic Neanderthals who don't respect salespeople and those who see their vendors as partners.

Customers who get their kicks out of treating their vendors with no respect seem to picture their sales reps sitting at their feet, begging for crumbs and willing to endure any humiliation for a meager purchase order. The only saving grace is that this type of customer rarely gets ahead over the long run. Unfortunately, in the short term you may encounter some of these types in your selling territory.

Fortunately, most successful customers see their vendors as partners. With all the choices and options customers have available today to solve their problems, an informed and caring vendor partner really can make or break most companies.

UP FROM THE APES. For instance, you can bring your customers ideas on how to raise their revenues by showing them new products and services they could buy from you and resell to their customers. Or perhaps your wares can increase the value their customers perceive and allow your customers to raise their rates. Either way, you can help them increase their top line.

You can also show them ways to reduce their expenses by offering them new products that are more efficient or perhaps create less waste. Perhaps you can arrange to negotiate better volume pricing and reduce their per-item costs. In all of these examples, you make more sales and your customers make more profits. A business-partner relationship between a customer and a vendor can be a beautiful thing.

The good news is that this type of evolved customer is often a rising star in a company or their career. After all, those employees who can increase the bottom line deserve the next promotion, a bigger territory, or better benefits.

INTERMEDIATE TERMS. When your customers get promoted, you benefit because they usually have larger budgets to buy more from the vendors who helped them succeed. These same successful customers can also refer their peers, who can then sign large purchase orders with you. If their referred peers are outside their company, you've just added another company to your happy customer list.

My seat-neighbor, Jeff, also explains to his customers that he sees himself as an intermediary between the customer and the company. His job is to help the customer get what they need. From there, Jeff shuttles back and forth between his customer and his company, getting and giving information and ideas, with the goal of coming up with a proposal that meets the needs of both parties.

Seeing yourself as an intermediary, instead of a serf, is a great way to build a partner-based relationship with your customers. After all, your customers want the best solutions for their situations at the lowest price, and your company wants more happy customers at the highest profit level. This requires respect for your abilities from your company as well as your customer, but it all stems from you having respect for being a sales professional.

TENDING THE FLOCK. One technique I have used if the customer has a very big desk is I ask if I could sit next to them on their side because I have some information I want to show them. By the way, if they're of the opposite gender, be sure you say this with complete professionalism. Most customers don't want to make me work and write upside down so they say O.K. By sitting next to them instead of across from them, I have physically demonstrated the idea that we're on the same side, playing on the same team, and our conversation is more partner-oriented.

So how do you sell to more partnership-focused customers? First, you have to find them. Just remember the old saying, "Birds of a feather flock together." Quality customers will refer you to other quality customers -- and disrespectful ones will refer you to more bad-mannered ones. You'll know quality customers because they give straightforward answers and treat you with respect.

LIKE FAMILY. Never forget that if you want to sell to customers who see their vendors as partners, inspect everything you do to make sure it's how you would treat a true partner. A good yardstick is how you would treat a favorite relative or best friend. You would tell the unvarnished truth without being asked, you would refer prospective customers and other quality vendors, and you wouldfollow up on every detail you said you would, before the time you said you would.

So the next time you're on a sales call, don't see yourself as Rodney Dangerfield. See yourself as looking for customers to partner with to help them make more money -- and your sales will grow too. Happy selling!

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