Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lessons from Sales

Okay, maybe not everything.  How about six things? 

Here are six life lessons I've learned via 25 years of bag carrying, teleconferencing, cubicling and negotiating:

1. It helps to have a great product.  I've sold everything from newspapers and theatre subscriptions to jewelry, trade shows and health club memberships plus business solutions of all shapes and sizes. I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to sell what I believe in than it is to sell the crappy stuff.

Increased confidence brings increased capacity.

In life, it’s hard to be confident when you feel crappy. In order to believe in ourselves, we have to invest in ourselves - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

2. Be organized. There's always one salesperson on the team who makes the numbers but is also a completely disorganized mess. Truth is, they could really blow it out of the water if they got some good habits and process to go with their talent.

Yes, true life balance is internal, but consistency and good habits are absolutely critical to achieving our highest potential.   Life is too short to just make the numbers.

3. S/he who controls the agenda controls the outcome. My goal is always to lead the customer down a specific path towards what I want as next steps - whether it’s the close, the next meeting, more information or whatever. Having prospects drag ya into tangents and down rat holes is not fun and usually unsuccessful.

In life as well, we must set our intention and have a plan. Follow a course which leads to the ideal outcome. Absolutely listen and learn along the way, but know when someone or something is bringing you off course.  Then, make a deliberate and mindful decision about whether you want to go down that new road. Beware "shiny object" syndrome.

4. Show me you know me. There is nothing more annoying and nonproductive than talking to a salesperson who knows nothing about your business (or you). Take the time. Do homework. Be thoughtful. Listen. Listen. Listen. My goal is to be someone that people want to talk to more; not someone they want to avoid. In business and in life, success can be measured by the relationships we build.

5. Fill the pipeline. Along the same lines of Heads Up!, we need to be thinking both short-term and long-term. All the time. For better or for worse, this too shall pass. We should appreciate the good times but not use it as an excuse to be fat, dumb and lazy.   Along the same lines, everyone goes through “slumps.” These pass too as long as depression doesn’t take the place of diligence. Keep moving. Keep pushing.  The future is now.

6. Ask for the business. My very first job was at a mall clothing store in Suburbia, USA. Although they called me a “sales" clerk, all I really did was stand around, watch people look at the clothes, and hope they’d buy.   My next few gigs came with much higher expectations but also scripts.  I’m sure I sounded awful saying things like (insert cheesy sales voice), “So... will you be buying a one-year or a two-year subscription today?”   But I learned.  A lot.

Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a bad critique from a sales manager because I failed to ask for the sale. (Though on one sales call not too long ago a former boss wrote in huge letters on my presentation, “TOO JOLLY! BE MORE SERIOUS!!!"  Yes, really.)

Bottom line, even in life:  We have to ASK for what we want. Whether it’s our partner, our children, our boss or the universe, we have to put it out there.  Explicitly.  Even when you don't think you should have to.  You do.


Special thanks to Stephen Pia of COACH MEdia, one of my first and favorite corporate sales trainers!
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