Paul Butler: Service sells

Paul Butler

When I was a kid, one of my best friends, Mitch, said I’d be a good salesman because I could: “Talk the hind legs off a donkey.” I guess what Mitch was alluding to was that good salesmen must be good talkers.

I don’t necessarily see the correlation, though, between the volume of words used and the selling of a product or service. In fact, I’ve found the best sales people tend to listen twice as much as they speak — maybe that’s why we were created with two ears and just one mouth.

Isn’t the science of selling really just the art of listening? As a business owner and therefore by default a salesperson, I’ve found that if I really listen to what the buyer needs, I tend to sell. When a buyer believes they’re understood they’re more open to listening to how our products and services can serve their needs. We sell by serving.

Isn’t this the same exchange we see in a doctor’s office? What does a good doctor do? They diagnose before prescribing. They listen first.

As a staff training and leadership development company we’re often asked why we don’t offer sales training. We believe sales training is no more complicated than learning to listen. We believe most sales training is, shall we say, less than an exact science.

The language used between most sales people is so aggressive and self-centered. Only last week we heard someone say: “As soon as we’ve captured the sale, I move on to the next pursuit.” As a potential buyer, I don’t want to be captured or pursued? Yuk. In commission-only sales, we often hear the phrase: “You eat what you kill.” Oh my gosh — so not only am I being pursued as a buyer and they’re trying to capture me, but now someone wants to kill and eat me!

Mediocre salespeople talk of “pipelines” and “qualifying prospects,” whereas conversely, I hear highly effective salespeople talk of “understanding needs” and “service solutions.” What drives two different approaches to the same endeavor? I fundamentally believe there are two types of sales people — those who care about people and those who don’t.

Selling is a relational transaction and people like to do business with people they like. If I trust someone and I sense they have my best interests at heart I am more open to buy from them. The sales transaction really becomes one of seeking to understand the needs of another. Selling and buying are really a symbiotic relationship — they’re two sides of the same coin when done well.

Nowhere are the two extremes of selling perhaps more amplified than on the used-car lot. Recently our son Henry needed to buy his first car on the eve of starting his first full-time job just seven days after graduating university.

We went to a number of used-car lots, many of them in our own backyard right here in Awesometown. The biggest problem we faced was used-car sales people pursuing us to capture a sale. Henry and I mastered the fast walk to outpace most of them. We found few of them actually listened to what Henry wanted and didn’t want. They were locked into the pursuit; the landing of the sale and probably wanted to kill so they could eat. The problem was, the stench of that mindset was self-evident in their selfishness.

Frustrated, we headed back home for a nice cup of tea, and within minutes, Henry found the car he wanted on this thing called the “world wide web.” We traveled 45 minutes down to Woodland Hills and boy did we get a much different experience there.

It was still a used-car lot, but this young salesman couldn’t have been much older than Henry and therefore hadn’t been poisoned by all the stupid sales training techniques. He simply listened, and then he listened some more. He answered all the questions Henry had and the ones he didn’t know the answer to he found out quickly and didn’t give us any … what’s the word? Oh yes, “baloney.”

So just as Henry and I found out recently on a few Californian car lots, my conclusion is: We best sell when we most serve.

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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