Why Everybody Should Master the Art of Selling [BOOK REVIEW]

How To Master the Art of SellingTom Hopkins’ classic How To Master the Art of Selling, widely considered a Bible of sales literature, distills the knowledge and philosophy of champion sellers. I choose the word champion deliberately because he alludes to it frequently (with capitalization). Champions are the exceptional few who by his definition are in the top 5% of salespeople and employ his techniques.

What’s striking about this book is that while the original publication date was 1982 and the most recent update is 2005, its essential principles still apply today. If anything, the “Champion” approach is more necessary than ever, as countless websites and media compete for buyers’ attention, and the salesperson is the one who can cut through the clutter and noise to create what human beings ultimately buy: relationships. In other words, the most important thing a seller can do to get somebody to buy is to cultivate a relationship. Get the buyer emotionally invested in your product or service. This involves physical demonstrations, active involvement, positivity and the personal touch, among other precepts.

Fathom’s Chief Revenue Officer Jeff Herrmann likes to talk about sales offering the guided tour. This is precisely the mentality adopted by Hopkins’ top performers. The world-class salesperson is a world-class tour guide. When you give buyers an experience they can’t forget, they are going to want to own what you offer. It’s the seller’s job to convey the powerful emotions associated with ownership so that the buyer brings herself to the table for a purchase that effectively becomes a foregone conclusion.

The second biggest impression I got from this book was just how much of these selling techniques translate not only to the increasingly blurring sales-marketing space, but also to everyday life. As anybody who’s read Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human or any other authority on selling and negotiation, the power of language, appearances, presentations, positivity, and closing have universal application. Hopkins’ down-to-earth approach and use of behavioral psychology make his tactics’ broader applicability to human relationships clear.

A key takeaway for marketers is that all salespeople should love whatever material you give them. The old sales line about “marketing doesn’t provide me anything useful” is a cop-out, argues Hopkins. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Make the most out of whatever you have and be grateful for all the weapons the modern marketer puts in your arsenal (and don’t forget the company website). Knowing this, the smart marketer will do whatever possible to make it easier for the salesperson to hold the buyer’s hand along the purchase journey … or for the buyer to guide herself along.

Do you see the connection? Marketers that make selling easier for salespeople help close more business. No secret here. Marketers, remind yourself of this fact the next time you are crafting a message or sharing it with your ideal buyers. Ask your salespeople what they could use to coax more buyers to the finish line. The same goes for salespeople: See if you can give marketing the front-line feedback its communications might be lacking (e.g., buyers’ biggest concerns, burning industry issues).

Lest you think I’m related to Tom Hopkins, here is a critique. Since this book’s most recent update in 2005, much has changed in the selling landscape. Buyers now dictate the buying pace; sellers need to acknowledge an increasingly informed and self-reliant buyer. Indeed, the Internet-enabled access to knowledge means buyers tend to be more educated than they were 10 (or 30) years ago. This shift in buyer needs does not render Hopkins’ teaching obsolete; merely, it reinforces the need for salespeople to carefully adjust their presentations (and assertiveness) in a world where distraction is the rule and buyers generally distrust brands and advertising.

Put another way, in order to be more persuasive and credible, salespeople need to know when to invite themselves in and when to lay back and let the buyer come forward. This dance is delicate, but mastering the timing of such exchanges can be the difference between friendliness and pushiness. Some words from Hopkins on this new buyer-seller paradigm would make the book that much more useful for today’s sales champions.

Perhaps the most revealing comment I can make about this book is that it made me, a writer who is not a salesperson, feel like I could become a salesperson tomorrow. The reason is because Hopkins breaks down in such detail what separates the top 5% from the average and under-performing salespeople that anybody could follow it. He simplifies selling to such an extent that I would be ready to get out there and sell anything as if my life depended on it (with his book permanently at my side). His practical instructions explode the myth of the “born salesperson” … you know, the one with enough charisma to be president. In reality, anybody who uses the tools laid out in this book—and works hard to discipline herself and instill the habits—should be able to excel at sales, as enough testimonials from people who’ve adopted his processes demonstrate.

In summary, this book is indispensable for salespeople, excellent for marketers, and great for the countless negotiations we all make in daily life.

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