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What Makes a Great Salesperson?

June 12, 2012 - Ray Tsuchiyama
20 Qualities That Make A Great Salesperson

The Web site above “20 Qualities That Make a Great Salesperson” reminded me of great salespeople whom I met in my life. It is true that great sales people do not make sales, they create relationships. When we bought our couch in Kahului, the saleswoman sent us a nice “thank you” card, and occasionally called my spouse C., and naturally we returned to her again and again for more furniture. She also was prompt in scheduling and never tried to come up with excuses, and was honest and always responded to our queries. By her actions, her service level make us unable to think of another sales person. This relationship became one of loyalty, from us to her. She had dominated our minds by her follow-up.

When I look back on my life, there was one person who influenced me in sales: he was a real estate broker who had never gone to college. Yet he dressed in suits, shirt and tie (in Honolulu) to present a professional appearance (he always said that there is only “one” time for a “first impression” -- you don’t get a second chance, and people make up their minds on-the-spot).

Of professionalism, he instructed sales people to always have a cover letter with important documents in the mailing envelope – the recipient knows that there is courtesy and respect, plus the exact contents are listed, along with any responses (e.g. signatures) are required within a time period.

In order to make his firm the “go-to” place for real estate information, the before-his-time CEO hired an economist to create quarterly reports on Hawai’i real estate trends, and soon all the leading Hawai’i newspapers and business magazines would quote the report in articles (which was then read by Hawai’i residents and his agents would call customers and asked whether they saw the article in so-and-so business magazine.) His customers referred the firm to their friends since it seemed to have the best, up-to-date information – anybody wants to do a favor for his or her friends.

He also made a real estate map, and the firm’s agents would call up potential clients and ask “We have the latest informative map – when can I drop by to give you a copy?” Of course people would never say No; people, like me, desire information and dislike sales people (but cannot resist a present, or anything free). A meeting was the key for relationship-building. Both the report and map was not really about asking if the customer wanted to buy or sell – rather, it was an education process. After a while, the customer did not think of the agents as sales people, but rather repositories of data, trends, and insights.

This mentor was an expert in image, branding, education, and respectability – differentiation from the typical image of realtors (he also hired lawyers and MBAs into his firm and made his staff dress well). And instead of focusing on commissions, he always promoted service and professionalism – he said that customers want to deal with people who have market knowledge and can execute without excuses. He said that it is OK not to have every answer to a customer’s question – after all, no one knows everything – but never fudge, never give in to temptation to make up an answer on the spot, since one wrong response will invariably make the customer wary of future responses, and soon he will seek another real estate agent.

In the best sales people, there is passion. This is what drives start-ups, as well. When I was with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the attribute that Sloan School (the M.I.T. business school) identified as “the” success factor was passion – along with the technology, the business plan, the product or more specifically, the solution. Passion drives networking, new customers, viral hype on Social Networking. Apple is driven by passion. Nike is driven by passion. Even Walmart is based on passion. So are the myriad start-ups in Silicon Valley right now.

At every Maui or Hawai’i hotel, every person, from front-desk clerk to waiter to maid to parking attendant is in sales, selling an “experience”. Recently, many visitors to Hawai’i yearn for an “authentic” experience, more Host Culture-based, not just a dip in the pool and a mai tai at the bar. In a future blog post, I shall discuss the history of Hawai’i hotels, since real “passion” (culture-based, sharing culture, sharing stories and insights, history) will drive more visitors and spending, and is the newest chapter of the evolution in hospitality in Hawai’i.


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