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A product of our environment

A product of our environment

I’m quite fond of silly youtube videos.

It’s not unfair to say I’m easily amused. We’ve all watched them, admit it, “Charlie bit my finger” and the funny one of the little girl doing the ALS challenge swearing like a trooper when the bucket of water gets poured onto her head.

My favourite though are the ones where people look like their dogs! It’s almost as if having spent that much time with the creature they have ended up looking like it.

I’m a lot less amused when interviewing professional, senior level sales people who have started to walk, and talk and live and breathe like the market in which they work and the customers that they work with.


Now don’t get me wrong here. One of the best public sector salespeople I ever worked with for example used to have two cars. The Ford Mondeo that the clients saw and the Porsche that she did the school run in. She had two handbags, two sets of earrings, two sets of everything and that’s ok. That works. That’s what we as sales recruiters call camouflage. I think the phrase is “a Wolf in sheep clothing”. I guess it’s a form of empathy. The real issue is sympathy

Empathy vs Sympathy:

Driving a different car to meet a low paid point of contact in a public sector client appointment is a form of empathy. A stepping into the other person’s shoes and imagining what it would feel like to meet yourself in your Porsche asking that person to, as Alec Baldwin says in my favourite movie “sign on the line that is dotted”.

The real issue is when this becomes SYMPATHY, i.e. feeling like and becoming like the other person in the deal. When the salesman starts to walk and talk and try to look and sound like his customers. That is very bad. Sometimes it begins with a conscious effort.

The salesman realises that his navy suit and his crew cut don’t quite look like the client and that it has created a slight “us and them” barrier. So he goes out of his way to “fit in” and starts to camouflage and at first, it’s very effective. He walks the walk and talks the talk and sales go up.

Clients say things like “I feel like you and I speak the same language”, and in reality, he probably does so hey, thinks our salesman “more of the same” and he goes deeper into the role like De Niro in Raging Bull. He justifies it to himself as “method acting” and as the plaudits and the commission roll in who can blame the lad for laying it on thicker.

Then one morning our hero wakes up, and he IS LIKE THEM. He has without realising it moved to the other side of the desk. He genuinely believes he’s a “trusted advisor” and his identity as a killer salesman has dissipated.

What started off as innate cunning has actually become a change of identity at a deep psychological level. I guess you can compare it to the reconditioning that happened to American GI’s in the war with Korea where they would eventually get them to believe they were communists!!

Our trusted advisor gives lots of advice, and he still picks up plenty of business but not quite as much as he was and he finds a way of rationalising away his marginal failure. That’s why he’s sat in front of his recruitment consultant because all of a sudden he’s behind target and under pressure. But it’s ok because he has a network of clients for whom he’s a trusted advisor, and he’ll take that network somewhere else!

And there lies the next problem. Because having reached the holy grail of “trusted advisor”, he’s now in the not for profit business of providing free consultancy, and he has probably stopped prospecting like he used to and is living off his “network”. A network for which someone else will be prepared to pay handsomely and which for him will only get smaller and smaller, so he get’s “CLOSER” to his customers, deeper into the method as an actor and more like the client.

We see this in different scenarios.

IT security is a fascinating one. It can be a very technical sale, and conversation and the technology is enthralling. It’s the hot topic of the moment, and often the salesman knows more about many of the problems faced than the client does.

In security, the salesman gets too deep and techy and forgets about being a tough commercial closer.

In healthcare, the sale is long and slow. The customers are “gentle souls” and they “can’t be pushed” and the salesman starts to believe it.

At interview, we find that they win the deals they were always going to win because the product was a good fit or because the marketing message was on point but often find in this sector that many salespeople are unable to demonstrate where they influenced the outcome of a sale.

It goes the other way too.

If a salesman sells to a tough commercial environment, it can tend to galvanise and sharpen the mind of the individual. Take for example people who sell technology like trading systems or certain CRM solutions where they are often selling to other salespeople. It usually does them a world of good.

So the question I want to leave you with is “do you look like your dog?”

All knowledge


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