You may wonder why I would pose a question like this. Over many years I have trained, led, run and managed numerous sales forces. I’ve enjoyed a long and successful selling career, and now do more than my share of sales coaching with our team across our numerous clients’ sales forces. So please allow me to explain.

On the home front, it has been decided that a replacement oven is now on the agenda. This decision has arisen as a result of a gradual upgrade of all those domestic appliances – the dishwasher, the range hood, the cook top. The choice of brand was arrived at after careful investigation, research and many discussions with numerous friends and identities on whose experiences we can easily and reliably draw.

So, this one carefully selected brand has formed the basis of our decisions and we have purchased each item carefully and methodically. Therefore the choice of oven follows the same process. The make has already been firmly established and the decision now concerns specific model features and availability.

I point this out as a clear demonstration that, like so many individuals and businesses in the current market, we have clearly identified How we Buy. Into this mix, let me now share with you a recent experience.

We entered a retail outlet. A rather well known retail name that has been established at great cost by their huge investments in marketing and advertising budgets and one that it would be fair to anticipate had, as part of that investment, developed its sales personnel to maximise all the customer traffic. Left alone, we wandered somewhat aimlessly amidst the exhibits of all forms of cooking appliances. The approach by the “sales person” was something akin to a magical appearance. It was as if he appeared from out of the floor and proceeded to talk and talk.

His one starting question was “What are you looking for?” We got as far as telling him an oven, the dimensions and some preferred features and he immediately dragged us over to a brand with which we were unfamiliar and told us that he could do us a great price. As we started to explain that it wasn’t really what we were looking for, he immediately then dragged us across to another brand on which he again could do an amazing price.

It was about this time that I eventually got to identify the brand we would like to look at. His response was that the brand was NOT one of the better ones. In fact, it appears that in its country of origin, it is regarded as little better than a Holden and he couldn’t do anything on price.

Around this time, we decided to give up and watch him proceed in his “sales pitch”. We learnt that not only was our preferred brand choice less than satisfactory, but we could also conclude that every purchase we had so far made had been wrong. Now I should point out that he is still, to this moment in time, ignorant of the fact that we had made any other purchases; what brand(s) we had and/or why we had chosen them or how they had performed. How we would be using the oven – cakes or roasts – how many people in our family, or whether we entertained a lot. No questions and hence no information. Also, I should point out that he had in fact insulted all our selections, and if we had been Holden drivers, or employed by that company, he would have insulted our choice in brand of vehicle or employer as well.

It was around this time that this “sales” process became a spectator sport. We were not involved any more. We barely were from the beginning, but now he was well and truly on his own. We nodded and smiled as he dug the hole deeper; accepted all the printed materials he heaped upon us. He promised to give us his very best price, and we dutifully promised to return soon so that he could continue to batter us with his insights, knowledge and immense “sales” abilities. I’m afraid we may have misled him there a little. I trust he has not been sitting next to the front door, nose pressed against the glass awaiting our return.

Yes, I am having some fun at his expense. But he deserves it. And so does every sales person who assumes far too much; who doesn’t take the time and trouble to ask and learn about their customer. From the waiter who, when asked what wine he would recommend, immediately launches into a selection without any questions in relation to my wine type, style, or preferences; I am left convinced that he is recommending something that he has far too much stock of, or a wine where they make huge margins. It isn’t about me, it is about them.

Whether we are purchasing technology, services, cars, or yes even a wine or an oven – when did it become acceptable to make huge leaps in assumptions? When did people start selling without engaging with the customer? When did sales organisations decide that it was acceptable to have personnel who were ill equipped to engage with a customer professionally? When was price the key to sales success? We see so many people being “taught how to sell”, unless it is in step with how people buy, then put your money away. Take a look around. It doesn’t work.