Sunday, April 7, 2013

What 6th Graders Know about Salespeople and Technology

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to my twelve-year-old's classroom.  One of his elective classes is "careers," and my son asked if I would come to school and talk about my job.  While I accepted the invitation months ago, I had no idea what I was going to say until moments after the students entered the classroom.

I spoke about two things:  Salespeople and Technology.  I was actually nervous and hesitant to talk to the class about being a salesperson.  I knew that my son had heard from plastic surgeons, professional baseball players, attorneys and other fathers that had fascinating careers.  How was I going to make an impact on my son's class?  Sure, I could down-play the whole "sales" thing, talk about how cool the technology I sold was, and come up with some flashy ideas that would leave an impression.  Instead, I thought about asking this group of 30 twelve year-old kids, "What do you think about salespeople?"

I've done this exercise many times before in sales training classes.  We all know the answers people give.  This time, however, I was unsure how these students would answer.  Would they somehow reply differently to the preconceived notion of "pushy, dishonest, money-centered individuals?"  I wrote their answers on the whiteboard in the classroom as they blurted-out the same challenging adjectives that everyone shares.  What surprised me, however, was that there was no difference whatsoever between these kids and adults.  Even at twelve years of age, these kids thought salespeople were horrible people.  

When I asked for a show of hands of how many kids wanted to be salespeople, I got the usual "zero" response.  Of course, I did my best to break the stereotype for the class.  I reiterated the importance of caring about customers, about helping people make informed decisions.  I'm unsure whether they believed me or not.

The second topic I discussed was Network Technology. Here too, I was surprised to see their interaction with me, but for a different reason.  Nobody in the class understood what the internet really was.  Nobody knew how information flows from their laptops or iPad's to a server in another state.  One child, after I was using the work "network" for several minutes, asked me "What is a network?"

I asked my son that evening what the class thought about my visit.  He said that the class loved it and was very interested in what I had to say.  I guess I connected in some way with the students.  What he didn't know was how much I learned by the experience.  Here's my two big take-aways:
  1. We will always have to strive to break the sales stereotype.  It happens early in our lives.  Even twelve-year-old kids have been indoctrinated to think negatively about salespeople.  Every day, every interaction and every communication must be a conscious effort on our part to become a trusted adviser, a buying facilitator.
  2. Never assume the knowledge set of anyone.  Something as ubiquitous as the Internet or a "network," may be poorly defined.  We need to explain what we mean.  We need to seek that understanding.  It reinforced how important it is to set forth a foundation of language with our customers, and speak to them about what really matters to them.
Happy Selling

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