Chances are this article’s title gives you a strong opinion about whether or not to continue reading. You are either in sales and want to understand your work better and therefore are very interested; or, you’re being kind and giving me until the end of this paragraph to convince you to continue: because you aren’t in sales, you don’t want to be in sales, and you don’t see a connection between your work and sales.
If you are in the second group, please give me just one more paragraph before you decide, ok?
If you think of the stereotypical high pressure used car salesperson when you think about sales, rest assured, that isn’t what I’m referring to. Think about this: Do you ever need to persuade others to see your position or take a particular action? Do you ever need people to follow your recommendations? Do you ever benefit in a tangible way when you are able to be more successful in persuading others? If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions (and I’m sure it is for everyone), then you are in sales — regardless of your job title or how you feel about “salespeople.”
So no matter your experience in or feelings about sales, there are likely things you can learn from the best in the sales field — because we are all in sales.
The model in your mind
With all due respect to the many truly outstanding used car salespeople, the “high-pressure, used-car-salesperson” stereotype is one held by many people. And, while we may have experience with this type of salesperson, most of us also have experience with someone who was extremely helpful. Someone who helped us select the best possible product or service for our situation and really cared about the results we would receive from the products we were buying. In other words, when we stop to think about it we all have had some very positive experiences with salespeople.
It is those positive experiences that I want you to reflect on as you read the seven lessons below. Chances are some — or all — will be consistent with your experiences, and by reflecting on your experiences as you read you will make these lessons even more valuable for you.
Seven lessons to be a great salesperson
Listen more, talk less. How can a salesperson know what you need unless they listen? If they don’t listen they are making assumptions as to your needs, wants and desires. The same is true for us. We will get much further much faster when trying to persuade or influence others when we talk less and listen more.
Ask more and better questions. One of the ways to talk less is by asking more questions. Great salespeople are masters at asking questions. They collect and use questions intelligently to learn more about our needs. They use questions to understand us better and to strengthen their relationship with us. Questions are one of our greatest learning tools and one of the best ways to further relationships. Whatever your work, being more skilled at asking questions will make you more successful.
Focus on the longer-term, big picture. The best salespeople aren’t trying to sell one car today. They are trying to sell you your next 5 (or 10) cars. They know Rome wasn’t built in a day and that they won’t reach their goals — or best serve you — by pressuring you to buy now. So it is for you in your interactions. When we think about the longer term, we will make better decisions and behave more appropriately.
Build relationships. Business success is about relationships, and great salespeople know that. One of the fastest ways to become more successful is by building more and stronger relationships. One of the fastest ways to lose your job is by neglecting relationships. Take it from the best salespeople — business is based on relationships.
Follow-up and follow through. One of the ways to build relationships is to follow-up and follow through. Ever had a service provider call you and check on your satisfaction? How did you feel about that provider and his/her organization after that? How do you feel about people who send you handwritten thank you notes? How do feel when people go above and beyond to stay in touch with you and make sure you are satisfied? You feel good about them and their services, right? Apply those approaches to your work. Send a note. Remember a birthday. Mention the article you read that they would be interested in. Do what you said you were going to do. Follow-up and follow through.
Lose the techniques — focus on the other person. There are many helpful techniques that we can learn from by watching others and reading. We can look for a magical formula or approach. Yet, while it is important to learn the techniques, they will only help us if we integrate them into who we are and what we stand for. For example, there is a difference between practicing active listening techniques and actively listening. When the focus is on the result, we relax and use the techniques in support of the end goal. Great salespeople learn the skills, but focus on their Customer. In an almost paradoxical way, by focusing on the Customer (remember your colleagues and your boss are your Customers, too) and being sincere and genuine, you will gain the advantage of the techniques you were trying to use to begin with.
Help them buy. People don’t want to be sold, but they do want to buy. Just like a master salesperson, help people be persuaded to your position. Help them see the value. Help them own the decision. Help them remove the roadblocks — real or perceived.
Some final thoughts
There are likely many areas of your life where you can apply the lessons above. Consider your work, but also your roles as neighbor, participant in a community group, a parent; these are also places where you can benefit from these lessons.
You may have never sold magazine subscriptions door to door for a school project. You may never have had a job selling furniture or other products. You may never want to be in “sales.” Even if this is true, I urge you to think about what you can learn from the true masters of sales — because they are lessons that can make you better at whatever you do. Because it is really true — we are all in sales.
Kevin Eikenberry is a leadership expert and founded The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a learning consulting company. Learn more at www.kevineikenberry.com or 888.LEARNER.