If you do a quick search for "sales tips", you'll get more than 1.5 million results. Whoa. It's safe to say there's a wealth of information out there for how to get better at sales, whether you're in sales or not.
However, despite the sheer volume of sales-related article, blogs videos, and websites, as a general population, we're still split on overall perception and role of a “salesperson”.
To test this, I asked the following question on my Facebook page:
Within minutes, the comments came flooding in. Let’s start with the positive adjectives about salespeople:
- Risk taker.
And then came the…..not-so great adjectives:
- Says anything to get a sale.
- Cold caller.
- Money motivated.
Ugh. These are depressing! There’s clearly a split here for the brand of “salesperson’.
Like many things in life, our definition or perception of something or someone is based on our experience. The same goes for sales.
If you’ve been hounded by a sales professional who doesn’t seek to first understand your needs and how best they can help, you’re more likely to use the negative adjectives, like this response:
If you’ve worked with sales professionals who have consulted on your problem, helped identify the solution, and made your life better, you’re more likely to use the positive adjectives, like this one:
If you’re in sales, it’s safe to say that you have some negative perceptions to overcome! But that’s why it’s even more important to embrace the role of sales -- the TRUE role of sales -- and the potential you have to make a difference.
Like many things in life though, this is easier said than done. It takes intentionality, purpose, and structure.
Let me explain.
As an industry expert, regardless of what field you’re in, you have a wealth of knowledge that you’ve accumulated over the years. We see this every day in what we do at Simple Strat.
For example, we often take it for granted that we know how to:
- Optimize a website so it ranks higher for a specific keyword or set of phrases
- Setup, measure, and interpret data from tools like Google Analytics and HubSpot
- Design and carry out email marketing programs that lead prospects through the buying funnel
- Compare different types of CRMs and setup databases for client sales and marketing
- Leverage thought leadership strategies to increase a company’s credibility and lead generation
These aren’t things you learn by reading about them. They’re things you learn by doing them!
This is simply an example from a marketing service standpoint. There are many other things we don’t know how to do, which is why we rely on other service providers in areas such as finance, IT, office supplies, etc. This is why it's so important to have a problem-solving mindset! This response to the question "How would you describe a sales person?" was particularly helpful:
Do you need to be an industry expert to sell effectively? Good question.
Like many people, I used to think this was true. You definitely need to be attentive and understand your needs, but a well-developed sales strategy relies on expertise at all levels of the organization.
A good sales person relies on feedback and expertise inside their company in order to design a solution for their customer that will help solve their problems.
- It’s not about knowing every single thing about an industry or problem.
- It’s not about having the most educated answer for the prospect’s every question.
- And it’s definitely not about being “smarter” than your prospect.
Observations from Sales Bootcamps
In the last 3 months, I’ve completed 2 sales training programs – the Hubspot Pipeline Bootcamp (otherwise referred to as the LION selling program) with Dan Tyre (pictured below) and the Sandler Sales Bootcamp.
As you can see, it can get a bit crazy...
Both programs have been incredible at helping establish the groundwork of effective selling while better understanding the tools needed to help our customers.
The Sandler Sales training was more behavior focused – how you act, the psychology of sales, and tips for how to run an effective sales meeting.
In the HubSpot Bootcamp, we tackled how to approach the sales conversation with HubSpot tools and marketing services; the research process to identify good sales targets; and how to transition those conversations to ones that help the customer, sale or no sale.
In completing both of these programs, I’m more convinced than ever that we all are in sales. Let's say it again for emphasis.
Each and every one of us is in sales!
Whether we’re trying to persuade our friends to choose our favorite restaurant for lunch, or sharing the coolest app on our smartphone that’s made it easier to track our workouts, each one of those interactions is sharing information with someone else.
And in the sharing of that information we’re helping one another.
So, what does it take to be successful in sales?
Being successful in sales and learning how to become better at sales boils down to 3 things: empathy, a genuine desire to help, and persistence.
As described in this article from Harvard Business Review, empathy – the central ability to feel as the other person does – must be possessed in large measure to be effective at sales.
Empathy means putting your agenda aside and focusing on the needs and goals of the other party. You need to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they’re asking for.
In conducting outbound sales at my company and in previous roles at other companies, I’ve discovered that empathy sounds a lot easier than it is. Especially if someone’s had a negative experience with a previous marketing company.
You see, for me to be empathetic with a prospective customer means I need to feel what it’s like to be frustrated with another company like mine. Or to be overwhelmed by the idea of implementing a new CRM or marketing email system and instead just want to stick with what’s currently used, regardless of how effective it is.
To have empathy means I must feel what they feel. And in feeling, I acknowledge their emotions and leverage that experience to connect with the customers and move a step closer to partnering in finding a solution.
As a wise mentor once told me, “You bond with a prospect over their problem, not your solution!”
2. A genuine desire to help
Not everyone you meet with will be a good fit for your products and services. And a good sales professional realizes that. But they help anyway.
In the Hubspot Bootcamp, facilitator Dan Tyre continuously reminded the group that we are not calling to sell, we’re calling to help. Because we never know where someone might be in their buying cycle or what triggers lie ahead of them, we should never assume we can’t help.
Having a genuine desire to help also leads to the ability to reframe a “sales conversation”.
It can be scary to think about calling a company and asking to talk to their COO or the marketing director, but reframing it as a helping opportunity makes it less intimidating.
Additionally, to be a successful salesperson, you MUST do research before your call. There’s no such thing as a cold call anymore. Consider all of the sources of information about a particular company:
- LinkedIn (company page)
- LinkedIn (individual profiles of employees who work there and anything they’ve posted)
- 3rd party tools that allow you to see what technology they’re using to power their website and marketing platforms
- Any PR or publicly available articles/blogs
The list goes on. When you call a company or head into a sales meeting and you don’t have a firm grasp on what’s publicly available, you’re not there to help. You’re there to sell. #boo
Do your homework so you can help in the most effective way possible.
And yes, this might mean they aren’t a good fit for your products or services, or they don’t have the budget, resources, etc. to make it work.
In that case, you can still help by pointing them to online resources, strategic referral partners, or other tools that would address their needs.
In advertising, the effective frequency is the number of times a person must be exposed to an advertising message before a response is made. While the discussion on effective frequency is quite controversial, the principle here applies to sales as well.
It takes the right place, right message, and right time to motivate someone to buy. And it make take several tries to nail that down.
Plus, we never know exactly where each prospect is in their buying journey.
As a result, many sales professionals give up far sooner than they should. If they would have stuck with it, they may have emerged as the top choice – but because they don’t want to “bug” the prospect, they give up.
As a busy business owner, I appreciate persistent salespeople (ones that follow rule #2 that is, and want to help me).
I don’t have time to drop what I’m doing and look at what they’re suggesting, nor do I intentionally ignore messages. It’s simply not a top priority that day, and it’s the job of the sales professional to remind me of the reason why we wanted to look at solution XYZ in the first place.
This manifests itself in sales in a number of ways, for example:
- Calling ghosted opportunities (the ones that fell off the face of the earth last year!)
- Revisiting the conversation after a proposal has been outstanding for a specific period of time
- Calling lost opportunities
Persistence in sales also means being willing to accept the calls that don’t go so well, or the conversations that end in a “NO”.
As Sandler Sales teaches, a “NO” is much better than “MAYBE” because you have a clear direction of what you need to do next.
Sales is an essential function of a prosperous and successful organization.
To be effective at sales requires that you rise above the negative definitions that plague the marketplace and embrace the role of chief problem solver and customer service agent.
By demonstrating empathy, a genuine desire to help, and a high level of persistence, you can be successful at sales.
To quote my Hubspot Bootcamp facilitator:
“By embracing the role of sales and everything that comes with it, you’ll truly be a sales LION, capable of transforming your company and the lives of your customers.”
Note: This post was written by Simple Strat CEO and Founder, Ali Schwanke, a lifelong marketer who has learned to embrace the role of "sales professional." 🙌🏻