Like it or Not, You’re in Sales!


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Ten years ago, the company my daughter worked for was swallowed up in one of those ‘merger’ deals where one side gets to call most of the shots and they were moving her division halfway across the continent. Only a few years into the workforce with more ability than had been exercised in that job anyway, she asked me what kind of job I thought she should be looking for. Those of you who are parents know what a thrill it is to get asked for your advice, especially so close to your recovery from their adolescence, that you know I dropped everything to give it some serious consideration.

I contemplated the future of this intense young woman who calls me mom, a five foot dynamo with a head full of wild red curls outside and equally wild and colorful feelings inside. She’s a loyal friend and has the most caring heart I know, but I was caught up in speculation about how future markets, industrial shifts, and new technologies would affect her. I finally said, “You make such an impact on people, you should be in sales.” First mistake: Never say “you should” unless you are prepared to defend yourself to the end. Second mistake: Never underestimate the negative association so many people have to the word “sales.”

Sales, marketing, and business development get used interchangeably a lot these days. In many smaller companies, where people are more likely to have some input into the title that goes on their business card, there is hardly a salesperson that doesn’t have a title like Director of Marketing. Ask why and you will typically get an answer that reinforces the negative view of sales my dear offspring was expressing, quickly followed by the opinion that marketing sounds so much better. But really, are you fooled when you get a cold call from the Director of Marketing of the ABC Laser Printing Supplies Company? I didn’t think so.

So by whatever term you call it, what makes a good salesperson? That depends on what’s for sale:

  • Is it something that you can sell in abstract terms? My iPhone may look like a cool toy to you, but to me it’s a way to transcend time and space.
  • Is it something you can hold, touch, feel or experience in any sense? My favorite shower gel gets me clean, but really, I buy it because it’s a lovely shade of coral and smells exotic and natural at the same time.
  • Is it something that lifts the spirit and makes you feel you’ve reached a new level of satisfaction? Think about all the things you buy that you never take home, at least not in a physical sense. Those include your charitable contributions, the inspiration you get from a visit to an art museum, or the joy you feel when you are really ‘sold’ on something like a new way of thinking or interacting.

When I pointed out to my daughter all the items in that last group she’d sold me on so well, she was quick to counter with a dismissive, “ Mom, that’s not selling – selling is getting people to buy things they don’t need.” Oh dear. And she is very mainstream for her generation, the infamous Gen X. But I was not about to give up. I raised her to be a good listener so I blasted away at what I thought were the most important talents for sales of all kinds. Donning my official Teamability® Guru chapeau, I gravely intoned my three rules for sales success:

  1. Believe in what you are selling, whether it’s an idea, a technology, or an imprinted pen. If you don’t use it, why should I? When your eyes sparkle as you talk about it you make me want to buy it, do it, be part of it. Excitement engenders excitement, whether or not I have long desired exactly what you are selling.
  2. Express your self-confidence, but nicely. No one likes a smarty-pants. If you don’t think you have enough self-confidence, go find it or make it happen. Start small, with something you know well enough to consider yourself at least an entry-level expert. Influence is really the most natural form of leadership – even if it doesn’t come naturally, you can develop it.
  3. Take the risk that someone will say “no” to you. What will happen if someone turns you down? I know from personal experience that the world keeps on spinning. If you won’t get into the game, how will you know if you’re a winner?

Okay, I got minimal buy in at this point. But I wasn’t closing this deal, no matter how right I knew I was. So I decided to take the ‘try-it-on-you-don’t-have-to-take-it-home’ approach that had occasionally worked during the shopping trips of her pre-adolescence, which I had survived, albeit barely. So I got very, very quiet for a few moments and then said, “You are a seller of dreams, of caring, of love and light.” What could she do? She knew I was right and that imperceptible little nod that admitted I was, and she knew I was, announced itself quite visibly to my maternal eye. Coming in for the kill, I smiled and asked, “Can you sell just one more thing?”

If you are considering a new position that involves selling or business development. or you’re thinking of going into business for yourself, and you’re not sure how to cross over and sell something unfamiliar, here are some hints, helpers and confidence builders just for you.

If you are a seller of abstract, heady stuff:

  • Listen carefully to your potential customers. You are probably selling something they have no idea they need – yet. If you can find their pain points and get them to feel their hurt, you’ll be able to position whatever you’re selling as the right antidote for what ails them.
  • Innovators can be viewed very suspiciously. Getting your prospect to trust you first will make it easier for you to showcase your product’s value.
  • Encourage your customers to ‘supersize’ their dreams. Let their fantasies soar, then show them how your product will help them get there. And remember, you won’t get anyone else to do it if you don’t have your own big dreams.

If you are a seller of sensual pleasures:

  • Offer your product in a way that will seem novel and fresh to your customer. People who buy for pleasure want to stand out from the crowd and are always on the lookout for something truly unique.
  • Use sales techniques that get your customer to identify with you, such as mirroring their posture. Let your own excitement about your product shine through your words. Remember, you aren’t selling some ordinary item; you are sharing your exclusive discovery.
  • Your customers are looking for an excuse to indulge themselves in a wonderful experience. If you can honestly promise it to them, they will eagerly accept what you are offering.

If you are a seller of the heart:

  • Be as nice to yourself as you are to other people. Treat yourself as your own best customer and it will show in everything you do.
  • Take your time with people and treat them as if they are your only concern at the moment. Pay special attention to what is important to each one and take an interest in it. Focus on your customer and let your product take care of itself.
  • Make each customer feel special. Small courtesies will go a long way, so unless you have a perfect memory, make notes after each sales encounter so you can personalize the next one.

If you are wondering what happened to my daughter, I will tell you. She went to work as a customer service rep for a medical supplies company. She still provides loving care to those who call, but in the course of it, she constantly upsells, even though she doesn’t think of it that way, because she knows she has just the item to make someone’s life a little easier. And because she also services heath care providers, and they pass the word on just like people do with any sales person they have a good relationship with, she develops new business without even thinking about it.

I’m happy because I see her doing what she does well, her employer is happy because the customers are, and she’s happy because she knows she’s helping people. And our relationship is better than ever because I remember to follow the most important rule: Just don’t say she’s in sales.

This article is from @DrJanice: Thoughts & Tweets on Leadership, Teamwork & Teamability®

Dr. Janice Presser
Dr. Janice Presser is a behavioral scientist, CEO of The Gabriel Institute, thought leader in talent science, author of six books on teams, and architect of Teamability® , the completely new 'technology of teaming'. Launched in 2012, the technology caps a quarter-century of behavioral science R&D, including nine years of software development. Engineered to identify and organize the foundational elements of team activity and team management, Teamability produces true analytics of team chemistry, and delives practical, repeatable business benefits.