"Artist's rendition of Rob testifying."

In my line of work, I’m called on to do many things that involve the world of selling.  Sometimes I entertain large crowds about selling.  Sometimes I teach smaller groups about selling.  Sometimes I consult regarding hiring practices about selling.  Sometimes I even teach managers how to make sure what I taught their salespeople about selling actually gets used.  This week was a little different, because this week I took the witness stand to talk about selling.

To protect the privacy of those involved I’ll be a bit vague, but let’s just say there was a dispute about selling that I was asked to provide an opinion on.  That dispute involved a salesperson, who has sold in one industry for over thirty years, and whether or not that salesperson could sell anything else but that one product they had sold for so long.  The defense said this person could not.  I said they could.

We start with a consistent track record.  Over thirty years of successful selling, multiple awards, so many years of six figure incomes that their retirement nest egg has swelled to over two million dollars.  Oh, this person could sell all right.

Unfortunately, with the turn in the economy this person’s industry had fallen on hard times and so had our salesperson. With two years of almost no income, and an expert witness for the other side saying that our salesperson could not expect their industry to turn around any time soon, there was no telling how long this money issue would linger.  All alimony would have to stop.

Oh, and as for leaving this decimated industry with no real hope of any turnaround in the near future, that would be impossible.  Having sold in only one industry would make it impossible for our salesperson to sell in another. And that’s where I came in.

Read the last paragraph again because it should make you angry.  I’m not mad at our salesperson; I’m made at an expert witness who raised his right hand, and swore he would, “tell the truth, the whole truth, so help me God.”  Rather than waste any more time telling you our expert lied, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was no expert, and he was clearly misinformed.

Who in their right mind honestly believes that a salesperson can only sell one product?  What skills are really involved here?  The ability to ask questions, the ability to listen, the ability to create trust, the ability to create urgency, and the list goes on.  Where in that list is there the ability to only know one product?

We are not talking about taking an accountant who has only knows preparing tax returns, and converting them to the world of sales.  We are talking about a salesperson with over thirty years of selling, and making them… a salesperson.

Of course there is a learning curve for new product, but let me ask you this question.  Which salesperson would you hire:

  1. A salesperson who has five years of selling in your industry, who could get up to speed quickly and produce results.  Notice, I’m not throwing in a long, successful track record because these salespeople have no reason to be on the move and are rarely in the equation.  They are not the ones let go in a tough economy.
  2. A salesperson who is a recent college graduate with no sales experience, but a lot of energy.  Some companies love to hire these young go-getters and try and turn them into selling machines.
  3. A salesperson who has thirty years of selling, at a high level, who will need a few weeks to get up to speed and than apply all they have learned to their new assignment.  And no, they do not have energy of a recent college graduate.

Which did you pick?  I’ll bet some of you picked our first salesperson and that’s just fine!  Some of you might have gone for number two and that’s fine too.  That’s because not all jobs are the same, and that goes for sales territories as well.  But don’t you dare tell me that our third salesperson is not hirable.

Some jobs require youth, and some require wisdom.  Some require energy, and some require strength.  Some require women, and some require men.  It’s impossible to know until you step into that hiring manager’s office and get a sense of their vision of who they are looking for, however, don’t ever tell me that the sale of one item can become some sort of prison sentence of selling that last the rest of your life.  It isn’t true, and that’s the truth, the whole truth, so help me God.

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