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How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime

Beliefs that limit sales people:
The problem with passion

by Dave Kahle
copyright (2013)

This is one of those pieces of conventional wisdom that no one seems to question: "It's good to be passionate about your product." Like so many of these conventional myths that ingrain themselves into our psyche, this one has the potential for frustrating countless thousands of sales people, sales managers and chief sales officers.

Let me reassure you: It is not necessary to be passionate about your product or service in order to sell it effectively. In fact, your passion may be a detriment to an effective sales process.

Before you impale me on the skewers of this deeply-help belief, let's consider this together.

The dictionary definition of "passion" is this: "enthusiastic -- showing or having intense emotion." In a business sense, we commonly think of passion as arising from a conviction that our product or service is a great value, or has some really unique features. So, when we are passionate about our product/service, we are so enamored with it that we become enthusiastic promoters of it. This enthusiasm is thought to be a good thing, and managers everywhere promote it.

Enthusiasm about your product is, however, greatly overrated, for a number of reasons. Let's look at them.

First, enthusiasm comes out of you, the sales person. It arises out of your unique combination of life experiences and values. It says something about you, but has nothing to do with the customer, and says nothing about the product.

For example, you can have two sales people viewing the same product. One, a young, inexperienced sales person, is enthusiastic about the product. The other, a more experienced veteran, is much more objective and less emotional about the product. In that very real example, does the sales person's passion arise out of the product or out of the person? Clearly, it says something about the person, and that person's lack of experience.

I believe that experienced purchasers often view a sales person's enthusiasm about a product as an indication of that person's naivety and inexperience.

But, that's not all. In fact, enthusiasm can be a detriment to servicing the customer because it clouds the communication process and weighs it heavily on the side of the seller. It holds your (the sales person's) opinions up as more important than the customer's.

When you are passionate about a product, you naturally want to talk about the product - after all, it's so great that you are enthusiastic about it. And that enthusiasm then means that you don't inquire deeply into the customer's needs, interests or desires. Your enthusiasm often overrides your attention to the customer.

Here's an example. Let's say you are looking for a car, and have in mind a used, small SUV. You visit a car dealer, and a sales person introduces himself. You explain what you are looking for. The sales person walks you over to a new car - a model that has just been introduced. It has some really great new features, and the sales person is clearly enthusiastic about it. He goes on and on and you can tell that he is passionate about this new car. You listen politely, and then excuse yourself.

His enthusiasm got in the way of your needs. Perhaps if he weren't so passionate, because he liked the new car, he would have spent more time trying to meet your needs. While he may have liked it, you weren't particularly interested.

His passion was based on his opinion, his needs, and his interests, and not yours. So, passion comes out of the sales person's experience and needs, not those of your customers. Passion can interfere with the sales process.

Passion can also blind you to the truth. Here's an example. There was a reality TV show on for a while that rated people's inventions. One inventor has created a wooden board game. It required a large wooden construction, larger than an ordinary card table to play. It looked like an interesting game, but the judges criticized the need for this construction, particularly in a day when far more fascinating games are routinely available for a fraction of the cost on smart phones and tablets.

The inventor stuck to his guns. He was passionate. He had invested his life savings in this game, and was enthusiastic about it. His passion and enthusiasm blinded him to the truth: It wasn't very saleable. He would be better served by cutting his losses and moving on. Alas, his passion wouldn't let him do that. His passion had blinded him to the truth, and interfered with a more rational decision.

Early in my career I was engaged by an entrepreneur in a similar situation. He had created a device that would alert the parents of school age children when the bus was about to appear at their bus stop. He was passionate about it, and invested lots of time and money into the product. Unfortunately, the market just did not want it. It took a couple of years and hundreds of thousands of dollars for him to find that out. His passion stood in the place of a wise decision.

As a veteran sales consultant, I routinely see people who are suffering in the aftermath of a passion, misplaced. They find or create an effort or company based on a passionate belief in something. However, their passion blinded them to the realities of the market. In a last ditch effort to rescue their vision, they call for the consultant. Unfortunately, I can rarely help them. Typically, they have depleted their resources in a mistaken effort that just a little more of some marketing effort would open the flood gates, and the world would share their passion and recognize their product.

The self-improvement literature is littered with exhortations to be 'passionate', to follow your passions, etc. Various examples are put forth of people achieving great things by being enthusiastic and following their passions. But very seldom does one see the far more common story - a misplaced passionate enthusiasm resulting in defeated dreams, mediocre performance and human potential squandered.

From my perspective, I'll take experience, commitment and skill over passion every day of the week. There is a problem with passion.

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