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American Executive Sales training expert Ron Willingham advises companies to add something unusual to their sales process: integrity.

In Sales We



t’s amazing what a little integrity will do. We all know what a lack of integrity does for business, given the recent scandals involving Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, and Martha Stewart. But what happens when you add integrity to your business—more specifically, to your sales process?

Before addressing that question, let’s look at a few others. Do you enjoy doing business with people whom you trust? Do you boycott people you don’t trust? Do you feel a natural resistance to people who are simply trying to “sell you stuff” whether you need it or not? Do you quit doing business with people who don’t follow up and help you? If you answered that you like to do business with people you trust, you’ve started to understand the

value of selling with integrity. Here are some examples of companies that have seen concrete results from taking a customer-needs approach to selling. The North Atlantic Region of the American Red Cross increased their blood sales 35%, and their employee turnover decreased 50%. Johnson & Johnson saw sales increase 26% in Japan and 28% in South Africa. Trade New Zealand reported a whopping $500 million increase in trade. These organizations were doing well before they began using this approach and had a strong integrity base to build on. But by increased focus on basic values such as listening, valuing people’s responses, understanding their needs, and being genuinely customerneeds focused, they improved their already excellent performance.

Customer focus Salespeople who focus on the customer’s needs, rather than their own need to 79

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make a sale, are consistently more successful. There are two important attitudes exhibited by these types of salespeople: 1. I want to understand your needs, wants, prob lems, or objectives to see if I can help you fill, satisfy, solve, or reach them. 2. If my product or service is the best solution for you, I’ll tell you; if it isn’t, I’ll be honest with you and tell you that. This approach works all the way through the selling cycle. For example, it’s important to make the most of an initial contact with a prospective customer. Most salespeople use this time to make a brief pitch. But people are more apt to trust and open up to someone who listens to them and has a sincere desire to understand them. Thus, a customer focused approach entails showing a genuine interest in the customer and their business, to the point where they relax their guard and are willing to discuss their needs.

Balanced view From observing thousands of salespeople, it has become clear that those who view sales as a process of convincing customers are less successful than those who view it as a process of identifying and filling customers’ needs. Those in the latter group exhibit more energy, a stronger work ethic, and an eagerness to do the difficult activities required to meet their goals.

Rather than trying to


In essence, the best approach is to have a balanced view of selling expressed by these attitudes: 1. I feel a professional responsibility to create as much value for customers as possible. 2. I know that I will, and should, be rewarded to the degree that I create value for customers. 3. I will focus on creating as much value as possi ble for clients, knowing that I’ll be rewarded accordingly.

people that their product is the best, salespeople taking a customer- focused approach ask questions and listen carefully to determine whether or not their product can help them.

Similarly, rather than trying to persuade people that their product is the best, salespeople taking a customer-focused approach ask questions and listen carefully to determine whether or not their product can help them. Successful salespeople know that the more one attempts to persuade people, the more they tend to resist.

The bottom line is that adding integrity to your sales process is good for business. Again and again, we find that the harder salespeople push to make sales, the less they sell. When they focus on creating the most value for people, creating a partnership with them, they sell more. In many cases, they sell a lot more.

Once a customer-focused salesperson is sure the customer has a need or want they can fill and is interested in a solution, they conduct a demonstration, one that clearly shows how their product or service can fill someone’s particular need. A similar customer-driven approach is used to handle pricing (helping them determine whether or not value of the product exceeds the perceived benefits) and closing (simply ask for a decision once all issues have been resolved and the person is ready to say yes).

Ron Willingham is the founder and CEO of Integrity Systems,, a sales and customer service training firm, and the author of Integrity Selling for the 21st Century: How to Sell the Way People Want to Buy (Currency Doubleday).


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