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Networking or selling?

A remark made to me this week got me thinking about the attitude to selling in different countries and the related question of whether networking was really selling or something else.

Different attitudes

In the United States selling is openly recognised for what it is: vital for all successful businesses. Its great entrepreneurs are all recognised as highly skilled salespersons; its great salespersons are admired and richly rewarded. Selling is a profession to be proud of.

In the UK we are not too sure about selling. It’s considered a bit common, a bit pushy; not a profession you want to stay in if you can help it. If you are a top salesperson you probably hope get “promoted” into a job in which you will likely become a poor administrator. We know we have to sell, but we are uncomfortable with it.

A friend of mine used to highlight the attitude to selling in the UK by the salesman he knew who, on his daily rounds to his clients, would always open his pitch with due diffidence: “Good morning Mrs X, you don’t really have time to see me today do you?” You see, we don’t want to be seen as too pushy, we don’t want you to think we are selling you something!

Networking

Why these different attitudes prevail in different countries is for others more qualified than me to decide, but I wonder whether the more diffident approach has helped to explain the exponential growth of networking meetings, the business phenomena of our age?

Networking is a difficult beast to describe. The duck-billed platypus of the business world, a cocktail, if you like, of socialising, a reason to get out of the office, an excuse to have a good lunch or breakfast while pretending to be working and, oh yes, a chance to “build relationships”. But what is its real underlying purpose?

Is the purpose of networking to sell? Or is it selling in a polite, disguised, non-pushy, “non-salesey” way that we can feel comfortable with and which doesn’t demean us too much? If so, why the hypocrisy?

Embracing selling

All of us in business should be constantly selling ourselves, our business, our goods and services and, indeed, be being proud of doing so. Selling should be accepted for what it is: a vital part of every business, but also a highly skilled profession, which requires training, hard work and application.

I accept that different national characteristics will determine the style of selling that is most successful in different countries. The British will say “We are not as brash as the Americans, we prefer a softer approach.” I agree, but it is still selling, why be ashamed of it? Also, why are we in the UK so judgemental about selling approaches where they don’t tie in with our views of what we consider acceptable? Just hang up, or say no thanks. After all, most business people are just trying to make a living.

Sun Life of Canada

My father at one time of his life worked selling life insurance with Sun Life of Canada. Appointments were acquired either through “qualified leads” or cold canvassing, the latter not for the faint-hearted! Sun Life chose and trained their salespeople carefully, treated and considered them as respected professionals (rightly so, as most of the company’s income was derived directly from them). They also were aware that their salespeople needed psychological support and would tell them the following story:

A salesperson after an unsuccessful call, received an apology from the client because he had not bought a policy. “Oh that’s quite alright Mr Smith.” responded the salesperson, “You have earned me $250.00 today, thank you.”

You see, Sun Life had statistics that showed one in three client sales call resulted in a sale and each sale averaged $750.00 commission for the salesperson. No call was a waste of time.

The lesson

I tell the Sun Life story because to me it highlights a few important issues:

  • Without selling there is no income; without income there is no business
  • Selling is a noble profession that requires hard work, strong will and dedication
  • Salespeople require our support and admiration
  • If you own a business, don’t kid yourself, you are a salesperson. If you are not, you won’t be in business for long
  • And, by the way, I will keep the remark and the source to myself