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That Icky “Sales” Thing

A Whole New Perspective on a Scary Subject

BY Peter Bowerman

 

(Excerpted from The Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds; Fanove, 2005).

 

Say “sales” or “marketing” to a group of creative types and watch the sweat beads pop, the muscles tighten and the breathing get shallow. For many small business “creatives” – whether writers, graphic designers, illustrators or others, sales and marketing are indeed the “Panic Pair.”

 

In The Well-Fed Writer, when I wrote, “This business is, first and foremost, a sales and marketing venture,” oh, the e-mail I received: I’m terrible at sales… I could never sell anything to anyone... The thought of selling something to somebody is downright frightening to me... and on and on. Alas. All so unnecessary. So, let’s talk about what sales really does – and doesn’t – mean.

 

Bad Associations

 

Somewhere along the line, for many of us, “sales” of anything got wired to high-pressure techniques, pushy salespeople, slick sales practices, etc. Why did this happen? Because, at some point, we’ve been the target of salespeople who embodied all the negative stereotypes about sales. Maybe it was someone selling cars. Time-share vacations. Encyclopedias. Aluminum siding. Perhaps enough obnoxious telemarketers got thrown into that broad “sales” bin as well. However, wherever, whenever, and at whoever’s hands it happened, it happened.

 

Sales: Meeting Needs

 

Well, guess what? That’s not what sales is. Sales is nothing more than matching your product or service with a prospect’s needs. With this definition in mind, we can start seeing the potential for “sales” to morph into a more consultative function. If you build a commercial writing business, one thing’s for certain:

 

Whether or not you thought of yourself as selling something, you did. That client bought you and your service because of who you are, how you presented yourself and what you had to offer. And he or she had a need for that product or service. Over time, as we’re about to discuss, you dismantled the barriers standing in the way of that client doing business with you.

 

Now, I’m going to make a few generalizations here. Maybe not true in all cases (so please don’t e-mail me with your exception), but certainly valid enough to serve the purpose of underscoring a few key points.

 

B2B vs. B2C

 

Sales takes place in two main arenas: business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C). A B2B sale (what we as small business professionals do, in case you’re unsure) is generally a “problem-solving” type of sale. You’re a professional selling a product or service to other professionals. Examples of B2B products include: mainframe computers, medical equipment, software, billing systems, pharmaceuticals, copywriting services, marketing consulting, graphic design and about ten gazillion other things. You’re helping a business address its challenges and your “solution” will enhance its position in the marketplace by making it more efficient, profitable, reputable, competitive, etc. So far, so good.

 

B2C, or business-to-consumer, is the other big arena and, as consumers, many of the bad sales experiences we’ve had in our lifetimes fall into this category. By definition, all door-to-door, in-home and telemarketing sales are B2C sales. Why are B2C sales usually the ones that bring out the “dark side” of sales and salespeople and turn us off to sales? Well, for a few inter-related reasons.

 

Discretionary vs. Non-Discretionary

 

Many sales in the B2C realm are discretionary, meaning they involve items you don’t actually need. For example, you don’t need a time-share, encyclopedias, aluminum siding, etc. And yes, you may need a car, but you don’t need that $50K car. And when you don’t need something, emotions play a much bigger role in your buying decision. Playing on those emotions becomes a B2C salesperson’s big role. He or she has to resort to pressure and manipulation until you can sometimes feel – well, pressured and manipulated. And so you may walk away from those sales experiences with an icky taste in your mouth about sales in general.

 

In the B2B arena, sales are generally more non-discretionary. Sure, an organization makes a choice to buy a product or service. But, instead of some ephemeral want or desire being the catalyst – as in many B2C scenarios – it’s much more prosaic but crucial considerations like profitability, operational efficiency and competitive edge that carry the day. In today’s competitive climate, if a business wants to thrive, it doesn’t often have a lot of choice about investing in certain things.

 

Emotional vs. Unemotional

 

Yes, emotion can play a slight role in B2B sales – that is, from the standpoint of planting the idea that a product carries with it the promise of success (or conversely, the fear of business failure through non-action), increased competitive edge and, of course, the professional rewards that might logically accrue to a wise decision-maker. But we’re still dealing with the primacy of business considerations.

 

Translation? B2B sales are much more unemotional than B2C. And when emotion isn’t ruling the proceedings, pressure and manipulation become non-issues. Not that they’re ever appropriate in any sales arena, but in the B2C realm, when a juicy commission is on the line, many salespeople see the consumer as a sitting duck to be exploited for his discretionary desires. As small business people, high-pressure sales tactics – what many think of as the “sales model” – aren’t just inappropriate; they’re irrelevant.

 

Now, relax, mop your brow and take a deep breath. It’s going to be all right.

 

Mothball all those “I-can’t-sell” excuses and start looking instead for a fit between what you offer and what a business needs. Good luck!

 

 

Related learning materials:

 

Nick Usborne's Million Dollar Secrets to Online Copywriting

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Michael Masterson's Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting

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