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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