Sales can be tough. Here are some tips from a seasoned pro.
Being in the sales industry, one of the most frequent questions I hear from someone new to the job is “what is the best way to do x, y, and z?” Everyone has a different approach at achieving success, defining their best practices, and fine-tuning their style of selling. However, I think sales professionals in various markets share similar stories relating to their experiences in overcoming challenges faced in one of the most competitive occupations on the planet.
Here are a few suggestions that have helped me maintain success, and sanity, throughout my career.
1.) Introduce yourself!
One of the most common complaints I hear from clients today is how they can’t tolerate sales people who don’t introduce themselves properly when taking over their account. A simple mistake like this can jeopardize building a successful client relationship, and can be difficult to recover from.
I remember the first time I was handed an account with a notorious CEO who never talked to sales reps, and was impossible to get in front of. I first approached him through LinkedIn–we had a mutual networking group of which one of his employees was a member. One of their events took place the following week. I attended, introduced myself to “x” employee, and mentioned that I had taken over their account and would like to meet with the owner. “X” employee was kind enough to offer to make the introduction via email, but said the rest was in my hands. After the CEO was introduced to me, I emailed him personally, and explained how, as his new account manager, the best way for me to provide him with the best experience was to come meet with him so I could understand the work environment, and what outcome he was seeking as the leader of the company. He agreed!
On that first meeting, I brought in coffee and donuts for the staff, and the rest is history. (Side Note: Sincere and nice gestures on the first or second meeting, like bringing in breakfast, or making a basket of goodies for the staff, can help gain a client’s trust and help to break the ice).
2.) Find the right tools without breaking the bank.
There are many resources out there to help leverage and drive success, even if you are on a tight budget. For smaller companies or consultants, resources like HubSpot or ZohoCRM (open source), offer free programs, along with complimentary sales and marketing packages (for a small monthly fee). Both are aesthetically appealing and provide an easy-to-use interface for customers who prefer to learn by “playing around with it,” rather than reading “how-to” manuals.
A major player in the CRM market is Salesforce, which offers a ton of advanced solutions and products that can accommodate companies of all sizes. Personally, I am not a huge fan of their UI, but love the customizable tracking options as well as the ability to follow leads and capture data quickly and efficiently. The point is, there are many sales tools out there that can help you close deals and remain productive; it just depends on your budget, work-flow preferences and the sales goals that you are trying to reach.
3.) Don’t worry! You can still network without your business cards.
How many times have you walked into a networking event or conference and suddenly realized you forgot your business cards? Once? Three times? All the time? The truth is, business cards are becoming somewhat obsolete–there are other ways of exchanging information and proving you are a credible business partner.
For example, you can respond to mutually interested networkers by saying “I just ran out of cards, but you can find me on LinkedIn…” as you casually pull up your profile so they can accept your “connect” request on the spot. (Side note: As a technology sales executive, immediately connecting on LinkedIn demonstrates your web networking savvy. It is as authoritative as a business card that someone will likely, eventually, toss in the trash, or shove in a drawer.)
You can also ask what their email address is so you can immediately send them your contact information, and even attach a personalized note, which allows you to make a unique impression (you can use this method on LinkedIn messaging, as well). If you’re one who strongly believes in preserving the earth (like me), then just let people know that carrying business cards is not the “green” way to go, and you prefer networking digitally.
Lastly, if someone decides to be comical and make a comment about you not having a card on you, just respond by bragging about how busy you have been and thus keep running out of business cards. So much so, that you just can’t seem to order enough to keep up with the demand! (These responses can be tweaked, of course, to best fit your personality type.)
4.) Write an effective email, not an offensive one.
Avoid writing sloppy or offensive emails. Rule of thumb: always reply politely, no matter how bad the response was. You never know what sort of day someone is having so don’t take it personally. That company might have someone else that you could potentially work with, so it will always benefit you to be the better person and remain professional and sincere.
I suggest that you begin with the therapeutic approach if you are really upset: write a “nasty draft” email which is the response you wish you could send, but of course, can’t. Then, read your reply and immediately delete it. Remember, NEVER put an address in the “To:” section, unless it’s to yourself! If, for some reason, you don’t feel instant gratification after venting to that imaginary recipient, call it a day and go to the nearest Happy Hour, or whatever else you prefer to do to help you unwind, and reply tomorrow.
5.) If all else fails, try the “organic” approach.
9 out of 10 times, when I ask a client what their best method of gaining business or networking is, the answer is “organically.” What exactly does that mean? An example includes gaining customers by “word of mouth,” or having an existing client that gives multiple projects throughout the year. This is an ideal situation, especially for project-based companies, but doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re lucky enough, you might get an account that has already established a relationship with your company. You need to start focusing on adding value to everyone you meet, not just prospects, especially if you are starting from scratch or have gotten to the point where you feel like the “shark attack” approach is not working for you.
If you can make connections with anyone, from the clerk at the gas station, to the CTO of your most desired account, then you have an advantage over everyone else. It doesn’t have to be directly related to business or “making a deal,” but rather investing time and energy in developing relationships that could turn into leads, referrals and hopefully, successful transactions in the future. Also, start publishing your thoughts or interests on social media, but be mindful of not getting too “political” or “inappropriate”. This can help add credibility and exposure towards you and the services or products you sell.
6.) It Takes Time.
Organic growth and networking takes patience. For those who do not have the time, or interest, in developing personal relationships with people that might not be worth pursuing, this approach is probably best left at the front door.
Be sure to get in the habit of following-up. Set your own standards, whether it be every other day, weekly, monthly, etc., but always make sure to remind that person you haven’t forgotten them. (A nice birthday or holiday card once a year doesn’t hurt either!) I suggest concentrating on customers’ business processes and challenges, and learning more about the types of people and companies they work with, before you attempt to shove your sales pitch down their throats. This information can help you gain perspective as to what new value you can provide when you try to make a connection. It might take longer for some, but it is well worth the effort if it means developing a successful and long-lasting partnership.
7.) Rejection, Shmecktion!
When they say “NO,” don’t freak out! I will never forget the physical effects it had on me the first time I had to negotiate with a client, before I even got on the phone. My palms were sweating and I was pacing back and forth so much that the floor would have probably caved in if my boss hadn’t come over to stop me. I practiced and practiced and kept trying to remember what to say, and in the end, I found listening to my client and why he had reservations was the best tool I could use to close the deal.
You can be direct and confident in your skills, but you should also remember that a little kindness can go a long way. Be considerate, even with difficult negotiators, and let them speak first before you try to sell them. Investing in a new product or service is not easy, and neither is turning an offer down. As salespeople, we tend to over-talk and focus on our selling, rather than listening to what the prospect actually wants or needs.
8.) Listen Actively.
A conversation holds all of the answers you need if you pay close attention and ask the right questions, so take it to your advantage when you finally get that person on the phone or in a meeting. Don’t get nervous or distraught when you hear the objection coming. Make sure you acknowledge what they are looking for, and once you have confirmed their objections or concerns, you can provide solutions that will actually be a true benefit to them.
One of my favorite quotes to help me get through a rough day on the job, and just in general, is “strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Knowledge is power, especially when dealing with rejection and other challenges faced in sales. The more you educate yourself about the market, your prospects’ goals and most importantly, what process works best for them, the easier it will be to turn that “no,” into a “yes”!
9.) Exude Confidence.
I learned at the beginning of my career that you need to exude confidence and set long-term goals. Don’t take this job too personally or you’ll never make it! Reward yourself and celebrate the small wins. You will end up realizing that not every connection is a victory. You might even have to “break-up” with a client more than once which is difficult at first, but beneficial in the long-run. Accepting these challenges and implementing that confidence takes practice. The more “no’s” you hear, the better you will get at estimating which prospects will mostly likely try to give you push-back, and will also teach you how to respond to future clients. Remember that it’s completely appropriate to remind people that your time and job are just as important as theirs. Figure out what practices work best for you and just go with it. “Woo-sah” through the bad days, and rejoice at the end of a good day, but always try to remember that no job is worth sacrificing your sanity for success!