I’d like you to imagine that you’re walking down a road and, from inside a house, you hear sounds of distress. Someone is hurt and they’re calling out in pain. What would you do?
We’ll revisit this idea later. For now, place it at the back of your mind and let it settle in.
On Saturday I had the immense privilege of addressing a group of entrepreneurs and business people from the Latin American community in London at the ExpoOportunidades 2016 where I delivered the Hard Not Complicated Field Guide to Being Different – an exploration and celebration of what it means to be you. I’d like to thank the organisers for involving me as I had a genuinely great time.
At the end of the workshop I was approached by a group of participants from the same company with a question about sales. They told me that their employers had recently asked the senior consultants in their business to take on more of a sales centric role, feeling that the salesforce they had previously used wasn’t serving the best needs of the clients.
From the brief conversation we had it seemed that the consultants were finding this change difficult and were unhappy about this new requirement. While I can’t and wouldn’t share specific details about this case and what my proposed solution might be, I would like to share some generalised thoughts about sales and how to both sell yourself on selling and find out how you sell instead of trying to sell how you feel you are supposed to.
Selling yourself on selling
I used to be a salesperson. I was a good salesperson. In some cases I was the best salesperson in my team or branch. Today I am the head of sales for Sabre Tooth Panda by virtue of being the only person who works here! But I am not and never was a typical salesperson. Or, at least, I wasn’t a stereotypical one.
When you think about salespeople, if you don’t happen to be one yourself, you probably imagine brash, extroverted types who think in simple zero sum ways. They only care about their bonus cheque and probably don’t really understand the products they’re selling. They’re pushy, annoying, try to guilt/con/pressure others into paying money for things they don’t need and you avoid them like the plague.
No wonder you don’t want to be one! To act in this way would bring about feelings of shame and guilt, go against your values and undermine your self image. It would be a denial of who you are.
Like all stereotypes this one begins with a little bit of truth. Their are salespeople like that. Maybe even the majority of them. But that doesn’t mean that this is the only way to be a salesperson.
When I worked in sales I had some roles which pretty much required me to be this person. I did not like these roles. And, it is worth noting, when I was in these roles I was a very mediocre salesperson. Being good with words and confident with people I could force myself to adopt these behaviours for a little while but relatively soon the pain of having to be someone I didn’t like would undermine my performance.
Then there were other roles where I got to sell the way I like to sell and what typified these roles was that I genuinely loved what I was selling.
For instance, when I was a waiter at a steakhouse, a role that is absolutely a sales job, I genuinely believed that we had a great product and that it was my job to make sure that the customers got the best meal that they could have. I wasn’t there to pressure them into buying something that they didn’t want. My job was to guide them to the food and drinks that would make their experience wonderful.
There was another time when I worked in a mobile phone shop. As a geeky guy who loves his gadgets I enthused my way to a sale, my excitement at helping people choose and use a really cool phone was what made people buy from me and I felt great about it because I believed I was helping the customer.
These days I sell what I love because if I don’t love it I don’t do it. And again, I don’t see myself as going out there looking to get something; to get a sale, to get money, to get more for me. I see myself as going out there to find people who I can help; people who have a problem that I can help them to solve.
Yes, this does require me to be a little more forward than might come naturally but I don’t feel guilty, I don’t feel shame or any sense of personal tension because I am not working against my values.
I believe in what I have to offer. I believe that I can help people. I believe that I am doing good, meaningful work. And if that requires me to be a little bit forward, maybe even a little bit pushy, then so be it.
Recall the question I asked at the start of this piece? The person inside a house, calling out in distress; would you feel guilty about knocking the door down to get to them? Of course not. But you’d hardly do that most of the time! If you believe that someone genuinely needs your help and that you genuinely can help them, then you can and will act in ways that may not come naturally to you.
If you believe that what you’re selling can help someone in a meaningful way, you should be willing to knock down that door, metaphorically speaking.
How do you like to knock down doors?
But there’s another layer to this challenge. Even if you’ve accepted that there’s nothing shameful or wrong in trying to help people by providing them with a product or service you believe they’ll love, perhaps you find that there’s a challenge when it comes to methods.
If sales is not something you feel personally connected to as a profession you probably have some relatively narrow ideas how exactly how one goes about selling things. You’ve been told how it’s done and that’s that.
You have to call people over and over again. You have to “always be closing”. You have to be pushy. You have to be that guy. But do you? And, could you even if you did?
This is where the second part of the challenge comes in. If you’ve now accepted that it’s OK to sell what you have to sell, that selling isn’t the same as conning people but is, in fact, a way of helping them, you then have to begin to look for authentic ways to do that, ways that work for you.
I was a super geek salesman. I sold things I loved by geeking out about them with others. But that was me. That’s not necessarily you. Nobody, certainly not I, can tell you how you sell because we don’t know you. Perhaps it would help, though, to begin by identifying the problems you have to solve. I can make a broad guess to you need to:
- Find people to help
- Connect with those people
- Understand them and help them understand you
- Build trust and belief
- Reach agreement about exactly how you will help them
- Agree how they will compensate you
How would you do these things? How could you do these things?
To put this in my context – this here, these very words, are part of my sales process. I’m connecting with you. I’m helping you to understand me and, by a passive process of filtering, if you respond to these ideas, I am gaining an understanding of you and your needs. When I run my No Wrong Answers Quizzes that is part of my sales process. When I blog and run workshops, provide guidance and advice to people in person or online, these are all ways in which I work on items 1-4.
If I do those things right I find that steps 5 and 6 are very natural, very easy. They are a conversation between people who are, by now, on the same team. We have a shared goal and all that remains is to figure out how best to work together.
This is how I do things because this works for me. You, if you’ve taken ownership of the idea of being a person who sells, must figure out what works for you, what is authentically your way to do sales.
You don’t have to be anyone other than who you are. You don’t have to become a salesperson. You have to figure out how you already are one.
If you want to talk about this some more, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise, I won’t try the hard sell on you. 😉