What Exactly is Selling, Anyway?

That question will certainly provoke an endless stream of responses. But rather than invent an entirely new, different, slick and perhaps emptily engaging definition, let’s turn back to a very reliable expert on the subject.

It was legendary author, salesman and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar who said, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

If you ask any long-term champion salesperson, you’ll get the same answer: the more emphasis you place on helping your prospect, the higher the likelihood of a successful sale. At the very least it means providing, through your product or service, a real, tangible benefit to prospects and customers.

But today, we’re in a world of social selling—and this maxim goes much further.

The Expert Salesperson

A salesperson was not always an expert on what they were selling. In fact, they usually had just enough knowledge, and just enough information about a prospect’s needs or desires, to rattle off a great pitch. It was rather hit-or-miss, and the good ones obviously had more hits than misses.

Such a pitch today, though, won’t get you very far at all. By the time a prospect contacts you, they’ve already researched your product—and your competitor’s product—online. 60 to 80 percent of their buying decision has already been made. No “pitch” will do very well in such circumstances.

What does this mean for you, the salesperson? You must become an expert in your marketplace, and of course your product or service. But well beyond that—and far more importantly—you need to learn every detail about your prospect company, their issues, and how your product or service might address those issue. You need to know your ideal buyer and their qualities.

Outward from there you should be keeping constant tabs on your industry, current events within that industry and what they mean, government regulations, and any other pertinent facts. Last but certainly not least, you should have a deep understanding of your competition—their strengths, weaknesses, where your product surpasses them and—equally as important—where it doesn’t.

Getting Social

The first place you’re going to apply such knowledge is through interaction in social media. Get on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Quora and others, and become involved in any groups where your prospects might be found. Offer sound advice, and set yourself up as a trusted expert in your field.

For example, if your product was call accounting software, you’d investigate social media platforms to find groups discussing call accounting issues. You’d enter into conversations, answer questions and interact with group members. At least at first, it is best if you do so with without ever mentioning the fact that your product is call accounting software—in fact most online groups won’t allow you to promote your product anyway. So in that respect you’re selling yourself, not your product.

But even if you don’t mention your product, if you make yourself a trusted expert and genuinely provide help, who do you think these people will turn to when they’re shopping for call accounting software? You guessed it: someone they trust. You must make yourself that person.

Shut Up and Listen

In the past, a salesperson has been all too willing to jump right in with a pitch—which, as we’ve already mentioned, isn’t the way it works today. The most important aspect of the new sales landscape is listening. You’ll discover that in situations where prospects were upset by salespeople, failure to listen was often the reason: the salesperson didn’t make the effort to find out about that prospect, and how—or even if—the product would help them. The same goes for a prospect company.

Returning to the call accounting example, let’s say you’ve made a first contact with a potential buyer. You should start right off by asking questions—about the company, its operations, why call accounting is something they need, which application they currently use and why they’re on the hunt for a new one.

Armed with the answers to these questions, you can confidently slant your pitch to help them and solve their particular needs. You’ll know which of your product features to highlight, and what advantages you can offer to them over their current application and your competition.

And now, you’ll find, you’re selling! Of course, you must actually have an intention and willingness to help. It’s not the kind of thing that can be easily faked—most of the time in doing so you won’t get to first base.

But thoroughly understand your product, do your homework, have a comprehensive understanding of the industry and, most importantly, listen. You will then be helping.

And if you’re helping, you’ve just answered the question at the top of this article.