The Lost Art of Salesmanship

Sales are the life-blood to every business. Without sales there would be no income, and no means or justification for the business to exist.  To justify the position of “sales representative” it is based upon one truth:

“The purpose of a sales representative is to close the sale.  It’s the only reason why the job exists.”

Without this truth, the job of salesperson cannot be justified.

Before you can lead or coach anyone to become better, stronger and more successful in sales, as a sales leader you need to recognize these 3 realities about the selling process:

Selling is a system. You have to follow the system for it to work, but more importantly you have to know the system before you can follow it.

There’s always the baseball analogy; if you hit .300 in baseball you’re considered a success, which means you’ve failed 70% of the time. But let me take it a step further. Good hitters succeed because they know how to read the pitcher, how to read the game situation, how to recognize the pitch as it’s coming at them, and know how to swing the bat differently to effectively hit each pitch. Good sales reps have the techniques to be able to do the same in a selling context. In short, good sales reps are able to think on their feet.

Selling is a competitive process. People who embrace competition and enjoy competing do well in sales. Like the marathon runner who has learned to ignore the voice that says “quit running”, the star salesperson has learned to turn off the negative association with the word “NO” and has put it in the right “it's just business” context.

Salesmanship is a pattern of behaviors. It’s an oversimplification to suggest that knowing the selling system itself will make you successful at sales. It's sad to say that many people have followed the system to the letter only to fail miserably at selling. This happens because selling systems fail to get to the heart of salesmanship. Salesmanship depends upon interpersonal behavior, which rely upon attitudes, assumptions, and conduct, but not formulas.

In the world of sales this translates into spending time with your salespeople so they learn the art of salesmanship from you.  Not in team meetings, not with “hallway atta boys”, but spending one-on-one time with them where the action is.  You need to be right there when they’re reacting, responding, and relating to a client during a live “as it happens” sales call.

Are You Demonstrating Good Salesmanship to Your Crew?

In my years of sales management, when the going became tough as we were challenged with a large goal I likened the role of a sales manager to the elder in a pre-modern time village.  

A lion had been terrifying the camp, eating the normal hunt that surrounded the village that they counted on for food and making the villagers fearful that they’re next on the lion’s menu.  It was up to the leaders of the village to go out, kill the lion and bring the head back on a stick to show everyone that it was dead so life could go on.  It was a matter of survival between the villagers and the lion.

The analogy in sales leadership is that we have to kill the lions that have some of our salespeople scared.

Disbelief that people will buy today, low confidence in closing the deal, call reluctance.  These are the lions that terrify a sales team.  Especially with newer sales people who are asking for bigger dollars than they’re used to.  It’s up to the leadership of the sales department to take on those “lions” in the form of companion calls and companion closes. 

My definition of companion calls, or "shadow calls" to some is to be at the sales call with the sales rep who is in front of the client to observe the sales call first hand.  If the sales rep stumbles during the presentation you're there to get it back on track and demonstrate how to do it correctly.  An honest critique of what went right and wrong during the sales call also needs to be carried out after the call is made, and needs to be done in private.  My critiques were usually carried out in the car as we were off to our next call.  It's very important to teach your sales reps "how to do it" in a real world situation and in my opinion that means in front of a customer.

Fear of failure, rejection, or just not doing it right is as big as a lion if you’re a new salesperson.  With companion calls you'll hunt down the fear and inexperience that many new salespeople have.  Sales leadership can show first hand how it can be done and the way that it is done successfully.  A new salesperson or a veteran stuck in a rut who brings back a big order due to a companion call is the same as bringing back the head of the lion to the camp.  “Look, the lion is gone.  Just do like we did here with all your calls and you’ll close more sales, guaranteed.”

Given the choice between hunting an actual lion and making companion calls, companion calls win every time.  Less dangerous and more profitable.  Just as it is a matter of survival, a matter of who gets eaten first the lion or the villagers can still be analogized in sales. 

Many sales representatives have  failed because they were eaten by their own fears.  Hands-on leadership could have saved them.

Bring back the lion’s head with a companion call and you’ll show each salesperson that you’re not just sitting on the sidelines.  They will see you as demonstrably involved, and interested in their professional success. 

It's the best way to demonstrate good salesmanship yourself.  Hands-on and directly from the person who expects the same.


Bill Grady
About the Author, Bill Grady

Bill Grady has over 35 years of marketing and advertising creation, sales,
and management experience.


He began selling advertising at age 20, became a radio station General
Manager at the age of 23, and has personally sold millions of dollars in
local advertising over his career.


Bill is a former President of the Iowa Broadcasters Association and his
stations were recipients of multiple National Association of Broadcasters
awards for excellence.


Since 2002, Bill has brought his marketing and advertising knowledge to
thousands of small business owners in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota,
Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.


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