Telling Ain’t Selling

Ed BurghardMost people think selling is the same as talking.  But, the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job.

Quote attributed to: Roy Bartell



One of the biggest mistakes I see economic development professionals make is spending too much time talking to potential capital investors and too little time listening to their real needs.  I am reminded of some great advice I received early in my career from a seasoned sales leader.  He said – “Always remember, telling ain’t selling”.  Every minute you speak is a lost opportunity to discover clues that will help you better understand what a company needs to be successful and how your community can help facilitate that success.

Telling Ain’t Selling

Here are some quotes that reinforce the point.  I believe you will find them thought provoking.

Seems Simple Enough.  So Why Do We Keep Talking?

I think it might stems from one of two reasons (or both).

  1. Most economic development people do not see themselves as sales people.  I was asked to provide some basic sales training to a team of economic development professionals who were embarking on a foreign trade mission.  I started the training by asking members of the audience to raise their hand if their career included being a salesperson.  Of the 24 people attending the training only 2 raised their hand.  And both of them had been salespeople prior to becoming an economic development professional.  Net, not one of the 24 viewed themselves as salespeople.  They viewed themselves as deal facilitators – when the capital investor was ready to do due diligence it was their job to provide access to the right people and information.  WRONG!  Every economic development professional (regardless of title) has a responsibility to “sell” their community.  Every hand in that audience should have been raised, without exception.
  2. Most economic development professionals do not understand what businesses really need for sustainable success.  Often it is because they lack relevant private sector experience and as a consequence do not have a sense for what the key profit drivers are in a particular industry.  Understanding why a company might choose you community to do business from requires research.  And, research requires time.  Too often the exercise feels more like a “hot potato”.  You learn about the opportunity with limited time to respond to a formal RFP request.  Doing the research in advance of having a “live” RFP is typically viewed as a low priority.  But, getting prepared to really understand what companies need by proactively listening to business executives in your target industries may be the smartest resource investment you can make as an economic development professional.

Take A Deep Breath And Pause

So if I am correct, what is the practical action step?

When I was leading the Ohio branding effort, we had great success in using industry panels.  For each target industry we created a panel of Ohio based executives from that industry and met with them quarterly to understand what the real capital investment decision drivers were and to keep up on emerging industry trends that might impact the decision.  This took work to organize and maintain.  But, it was the kind of proactive research approach that helped Ohio win capital investment deals. When we were asked to respond to an RFP, we knew in advance what were likely to be the key decision drivers.  And, we listened hard to determine if what we thought was important actually was to the specific prospective investor.  Of course, we modified our response based on what we HEARD.  Net, we listened more than we spoke and it worked.

You might like this related presentation – Consultive Selling Process.

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9 Comments so far

  1. Tom Buncle

    April 10, 2015

    Sound advice – most especially in the digital era as people are now used to two-way sales conversations, customised products and tailored business solutions. I’d add that, just as telling ain’t selling, listening aint’ hearing. The difference between listening and hearing is like the difference between knowledge and wisdom…’s how you apply it that counts.

  2. Ed Burghard

    April 10, 2015

    Tom – Great point! The industry executive panels were key to understanding what was really important in site selection decisions within the industry and what was happening that could impact those decisions. Nobody can help you hear the questions behind the questions better than executives who live, breath and eat the industry day in and day out.

  3. Andy Levine

    April 10, 2015

    Ed: Great article…The “two ears and one mouth” advice was shared from a mentor early in my career and I’ve always found it to be on target. Thanks for all of your writing!!!

  4. Ed Burghard

    April 10, 2015

    Andy – Thanks! I think your mentor was spot on. Everybody would benefit from heeding that advice.

  5. Eric Canada

    April 11, 2015

    I have had a lot of resistance over the years to the idea that economic developers are in sales. I guess most believe they are above that unfortunately. Maybe they think marketing is a higher calling. As I point out in my marketing courses, everyone sells everyday. For economic developers we sell our community, we sell our organization, we sell credentials to win the responsibility of representing the community, and we sell ourselves. No one actively engaged in life can get by without selling.

  6. Ed Burghard

    April 11, 2015

    Eric – You are absolutely right. Sales and Marketing are two sides of the same coin in many areas. To echo your observation, I think many economic development professionals unfortunately define their role as sherparding the process rather than leading it to a positive outcome for residents in their community. They don’t acknowledge a responsibility for ensuring residents are better positioned to achieve their aspirations in life. They count success as jobs attracted rather than resident satisfaction. It is unfortunate, because the potential impact of the profession could be so much greater if the paradigm was modified.

  7. marcus osborne

    April 17, 2015

    In the social economy, when customers not companies define brands, the belief that something can be solved is a recipe for disaster. Today, consumers often know more about a product than the ‘sales staff’ who should be trained to build relationships that are genuine and based on trust and honesty and that aim to encourage to buy not sell.

  8. Ed Burghard

    April 17, 2015

    Marcus – Understanding a person’s true need/problem is a critical step in building the type of trusting relationship you refer to. Social media has not changed the game in that respect. Even before social media selling has required trusting and honest relationships to help ensure repeat purchase. Social media has simply created anothe channel for that relationship to get created. A recipe for disaster is to assume social media has changed the world so much that historical principles of success should be summarily dismissed.

  9. […] an emotional benefit in words often does not work. Often, a direct statement of an emotional benefit will fall flat. While people can tell you how they feel when they hear an idea or see a picture, most people do […]

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