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7 Things I Wish I’d Known at the Start of my Sales Career

When you’re a rookie salesperson right out of college, you’re invariably confident in your ability to take over the world. After all, you’ve got this freshly minted degree from a good school, boundless energy and a solid work ethic. But like Ryan Howard in the classic episode of Office titled “The Initiation,” you need to recognize that actually, you have a lot to learn. Luckily you don’t need to go to Dwight Schrute’s beet farm and wrestle his cousin Mose to be more effective. Here are 7 things I wish I’d know when I started my sales career, which can hopefully benefit you, too:

► Be Responsive

I’m constantly amazed by the amount of folks that I communicate with that want to buy something or have a question and they simply get no response from the company they’re trying to get more information from. You’ve got to monitor “contact us” email addresses and customer comments and questions on your social media pages because in this digital age, they expect a rapid reply. The easiest way to build trust and rapport is to be responsive. This doesn’t mean that you must have an immediate answer to everything. It’s better to say, “That’s a great question. I’ll ask a colleague in that area and get back to you.” Then make sure you follow up and do what you’ve promised! If you don’t have an answer in a day or two, circle back with the customer or prospect to let them know where things stand.

► Set Realistic Expectations

Customers and prospects want to be kept in the loop at every stage of the sales process. They expect to not only be kept up on what’s happening now but also what’s coming next, when and what you need from them to make it happen. Setting realistic expectations is just as important for a 10 minute phone call as it is for a potentially deal-clinching meeting. When you’re trying to set an expectation, get mutual agreement from the other party and make sure that you’re giving your colleagues enough time to do their part. If the expectation changes due to unforeseen circumstances, communicate it immediately.

► Treat People Like People

Your quarterly and annual sales targets are certainly important, but if you treat customers like mere money-making commodities it will be all too apparent what your real motivation is. Instead, try taking off the sales hat for a bit and treat the person across from you with mutual respect, as you would a friend, family member or co-worker. Be as consultative as possible in all your conversations and get to know their likes and dislikes, their hobbies and where they’re at in their life. Also make sure that you’re always frank and transparent.

► Care More About Your Customers’ Success than Yours

If you truly want life long relationships and customer loyalty, you need to show the customer that you’re invested in the positive outcome of their project. It matters to them so it should matter to you. When they’re successful you’ll have someone who will gladly tell others about how great your company is and this recommendation is worth more than any ad campaign. Some of the best advice I receive came from Casey Coffman, who said you should sell like you’re independently wealthy. While I am not exactly that, having this attitude allows me to have a customer-first mindset and not bring the pressure of quotas or trying to have a big quarter into the process.

► Do Your Homework

As a kid, nobody likes homework. But when it comes to sales, doing your homework can make or break a deal and enhance or damage a relationship. Do the effort before your call or face-to-face meeting so that you’re well prepared. Get to know the customer or prospect’s needs, their company history and their mission statement, and see how what you’re offering aligns with all three. This way you can ask intelligent questions, make informed recommendations and prove your value to a much greater degree than if you just show up and try to wing it.

► Nail the Presentation

Most sales are won or lost during the initial presentation. Try and tailor as much of your demonstration to the specific customer, their processes and their individual needs. And don’t make the mistake Nike made when pitching Steph Curry. They left the name of another player in the PowerPoint deck, which showed that 1) it was a generic presentation and 2) they didn’t care very much about signing the man who’d go on to become an NBA champion and two-time MVP. Their apathy showed and Curry signed for Under Armor instead. Make sure you pay more care and attention than that, listen more than you talk and repeat things and ask further questions to make sure you’re understand how you can meet the person’s needs.

► Have Fun

This one might sound a bit cheesy but it’s also valid. People want to buy from and spend time with people that they enjoy talking to. We pay far more attention to non-verbal communication than we realize and how you sit or stand, walk into a room and portray either apathy or enthusiasm have a big impact. Energy and positivity is contagious. It’s also important that you keep a healthy work-life balance. Have hobbies, spend time with family, enjoy your weekends and take vacations. And once you’ve asked the customer or prospect about their life, feel free to share more about yours in return. This kind of appropriate disclosure will help them see that you’re a person just like them, not a corporate drone who’s just trying to sell them something.

-Tyler Groepper, Vice President of Sales at Shamrock Solutions

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