MOST people have come across salesmen trying to "hard-sell" a product to them that they may or may not need.

As he doesn't ask the right questions to find out what his prospective clients really want, he uses standard sales phrases that make them doubtful that his product is really worth buying.

As a sales executive or manager in charge of a sales team, what can you do to optimise the sales experience of potential customers? The key is to embrace a shift - from limiting to differentiating values.

Limiting values

On analysing data obtained from interviews with 58 senior executives (the kind of people who impact buying decisions), training and development consultancy firm Consalia identified eight common "negative sales behaviours":

* Controlling

* Manipulative

* Selfish

* Disrespectful

* Aggressive

* Supplier-centric

* Individualistic

* Arrogant

If a salesman does not have the "right" values, then no matter what training, support and coaching is provided, there is little chance of these being applied in the field.

"Lived values" can be expressed through both action and non-action. They influence the behaviour that customers observe.

Negative behaviours can be linked to four limiting/negative values. The term "limiting" is used as these values may not necessarily lose a sale, though they could.

In the long term, if a salesman lives these values, he will not meet customer expectations and under-perform.

The four limiting values and drivers of these behaviours are:

1. Egocentricity.

This drives behaviour that can be interpreted as self-interested, arrogant, individualistic, opinionated and controlling;

2. Manipulation.

This drives behaviour that can be interpreted as pushy, insincere, pressurising, dishonest, glib and annoying;

3. Complacency.

This drives behaviour that can be interpreted as self-satisfied, inattentive, unconcerned, lazy and unoriginal; and

4. Short-sightedness.

This drives behaviour that can be interpreted as reactive, lacking in foresight and accountability, un-strategic and ignorant.

Differentiating values

In contrast, research identified positive values, that is, those values that customers look for in salesmen:

* Proactive creativity

* Passion

* Collaboration

* Authenticity

* Tactful audacity

* Integrity and trust

* Client-centricity

* Perceptive communication

* Leadership

These four values are considered "entry points" to becoming the ideal salesman and include the other attributes mentioned above:

1. Client-centricity.

This drives behaviour that can be seen as interested, investigative, knowledgeable, dedicated, passionate, accountable and attentive;

2. Proactive creativity.

This drives behaviour that can be seen as strategic, forward thinking, innovative, creative, reflective, going the extra mile;

3. Tactful audacity.

This drives behaviour that can be seen as daring, bold and challenging, unconventional and enthusiastic, and at the same time is diplomatic and aware of its limits;

4. Authenticity.

This drives behaviour that is seen as honest, credible, unpretentious, sincere, ethical, trustworthy and dependable.

The "four outstanding values" approach has already been adopted by several companies and has shown excellent results.

Participants gained a thorough understanding of the customer, reflected on their organisation and their issues, and then came up with ideas for improving the customer's business.

To adopt the new sales paradigm, a salesman or team must really "live" the four values.

This requires a genuine desire to understand customers and to help in all areas of their business.

As one senior executive said: "The most important thing is that the salesman must know the business of the customer.

If he knows the business, he is able to offer new services and new solutions for the business.