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Selling the team

I was sitting in a meeting with a new client recently talking about how one way we could help them improve performance on the show floor was with booth staff training. I was explaining the benefits of pulling together all of the staff for a meeting the night before the show and talking about the qualifying process – how to greet, qualify and close on the show floor.

My client looked frustrated. I asked her to explain. She said all of her company’s sales staff were ‘territoried’ and all they ever did on the show floor was look for people in their territory and then talk about themselves. She complained about their lack of interest in cooperating with the team effort, and their focus solely on selling themselves and not what the team was trying to accomplish.

After spending the next 30 minutes talking with her about this issue, we moved on to other topics. But walking out of the meeting, this issue was still nagging at me. I kept thinking about how often I have seen this very same thing in my other clients’ sales staffs. And then I started thinking about my own sales staff.

I have seen this very issue play out over my entire career. I’m sure there are lots of professional sales trainers that can provide some well-researched explanation for this behavior, but I have my own theory. I have been selling for almost 20 years, so I don’t think it’s totally out of the blue. I think it comes down to self-preservation or perhaps a misplaced sense of need for self-preservation.

Somewhere along their sales career, the salesperson must have felt that the only way to preserve their job, and their income, was to keep all of their client information and contacts to themselves. That way, if things didn’t work out so well for them at Company A, they could take their clients and go to Company B. Having not shared anything about their clients with Company A, the clients really had no choice but to follow the only person they knew to Company B.

The problem with this is that the salesperson’s clients never get to truly know the company they work for and the full breadth of capabilities. The client only knows what the salesperson shares, and they’re not sharing anything that threatens their security.

So this behavior sets up an adversarial relationship between the company and the individual salesperson. It certainly doesn’t promote team play, which is an all-for-one mentality.

Now to be fair, I think many companies have often looked at salespeople as a commodity. If you didn’t sell enough fast enough, they would quickly replace you. I worked in the car business for a short while and saw that first hand. The only way a salesperson could maintain some balance in this kind of situation would be to protect their clients and contacts so they could try to take them along with them.

But what about a company that is really trying to build a team and introduce their clients to the entire team, so the client knows the strength of intellectual capital that resides in that company? Rather than a client knowing just one person, they could know many of a company’s people and understand how strong the team is that is supporting them. They could know that no matter what their needs are, there is someone at the company that can help.

It would seem that this would be a much better situation for both the client and the salesperson. How much more loyal would the client be by knowing the depth and breadth of knowledge and experience contained in the company? Of course, that also means the salesperson must share credit for that knowledge. And that gets to the other part of my theory: the level of self-centeredness of the salesperson.

The most successful long-term sales folks I have met have all been servants at heart. They are all about doing whatever it takes for their companies and their clients. It’s not at all about them. In fact, most deflect any attention from them and put the focus on their companies, giving credit to their teams rather than themselves. They are team builders, promoters of other people and look at how to serve their clients best.

So how does my new client fix her problem? It’s much bigger than booth staff training. Companies need to show long-term commitment to their sales people and support them in the sales process, and sales people need to open up and be a part of the company team and serve their clients better by sharing them with the company.

And if it was as easy to do as it is to write about…

See you on the show floor…

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 30 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive. He is a partner in the trade show and event marketing firm Reveal. He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

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