In twenty years of sales we’ve consumed more content on how to sell than we could ever remember. Suggestions are everywhere and range from great to awful, entertaining to forgettable.
Since we started our business ten years ago we’ve been honored to sell our tech to household names (American Express, Google, Anheuser Busch, Fox Sports, MasterCard, FedEx, etc) while selling investors on the $30+mm in financing we’ve raised along the way. We had similar success at StubHub where we helped grow a sales department from inception through the $300mm ebay acquisition.
Here are the six pieces of advice we’d offer anyone venturing into a sales career given our experiences. They all may seem simple, but as the popular saying goes: “easy is easy, simple is hard.”
The most common mistake we see salespeople make is a lack of authenticity. It is especially prevalent in less experience salespeople. Reps are thrown into SDR roles where they are over-scripted, under-trained and under-mentored leading the personality which got them the sales gig in the first place to be stymied in favor of some caricature of a sales trainer, a movie character they think is “cool”, or another rep sitting nearby.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s incredibly important to find people before you who had success and replicate it in a number of ways such as output, work ethic, and habits. But be careful to do so without suffocating your natural personality. For example: some salespeople are tremendous at disarming with humor while a more serious detail-oriented salesperson flops when attempting a joke. They can both be effective.
We see so many well-intentioned sales trainers/managers imploring people to be “more like the #1 rep” in all ways. Ignore them. Be you.
It’s possible to put up big numbers and make a lot of money without believing in what you sell. Most people, however, don’t have the skill set to pull it off (nor would we want it).
Find a product, company, cause or service you really believe in. One which you know helps the people you are targeting. One with a “Why” you are fully bought into.
Believe what you’re providing really can help people. It makes selling so much easier and more fulfilling as your authenticity will shine. If you have to deceive to sell a product, talk about others or spin a tale you don’t believe to hit a quota it’s time to find another place to ply your craft. Taking pride in what you sell shows in every step of the sales cycle.
After 30+ years in sales the piece of advice my father imparted on me most: Find the best and sell there. You will be honest, authentic, and will have a competitive advantage right off the bat.
We’re not saying only sell the premium or most expensive product. There is plenty to be gained at all price levels in any industry. What we are suggesting is selling the best in your category. If you sell phones, sell Apple. If you sell low-cost industrial toilets, sell the best low-cost industrial toilets.
A terrific salesperson doesn’t show, tell, or share how great their wares are. Instead, they understand the needs of the prospect and do everything possible to get on the same side of the table. A true B2B customer is a partner, not a competitor to be outwitted or a lawyer offering “objections”* to be overcome.
Today’s reps at so many companies pester under the veil of “persistence” but aren’t adding any value. Persistence is a tremendous virtue, as timing is everything in B2B sales, but it must be accompanied by deep understanding of the pains of the prospect and the value available. Otherwise, it’s just annoying and doing more harm than good.
If you believe in your product, and are selling the best product in your class, there is no need for deception or tricks. You’re best served having an open conversation about the prospects pain points and how your business has set out to solve for them.
Sit on the same side of the table. In the end, everybody wins.
Great salespeople make buying the product the prospects idea. If you have the best product on the market, you’ve identified a need, a real pain which you truly believe your business can solve, and you’re sitting on the same side of the table; your job is to help them understand your offering and believe like you do. You’re not just selling to them, you’re selling them on selling for you.
In b2b sales there is very rarely one buyer and you will need an evangelist to spearhead the project through the business, set up meetings, and cut through red tape. They usually have more hoops to jump through than you will. In short: They need to sell for you when you’re not in the room and that will happen often. They need to believe like you do.
Are they more likely to be passionate and believe if it’s your idea or if it’s theirs? Great salespeople don’t take credit. They give thanks and praise to the customers succeeding alongside them to create a community.
The most important element in sales is fear.
When I interviewed for my first sales job out of school I liked most of what I heard. The pay was good, I wasn’t stuck in an office, and I would get to meet new people every day. On the way out of the office, however, there was a big board with the sales standings of the current team. It scared me. I was afraid. And I have been afraid many times since in my career.
While walking through the details of the job with my dad later that evening, I voiced my fear: “What if I don’t sell anything and I’m at the bottom of the board. How humiliating. I don’t think I can take that chance.”
He asked a simple question: “Tony, when have you ever been at the bottom of anything you’ve ever tried at in your life.”
“Never,” I replied.
“So why would this be any different?” It was all the encouragement I needed.
Fear is uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s really uncomfortable. It can be mental and physical. In my experience, you don’t get used to it (at least I haven’t).
Fear, however, cannot stop you from doing what is important to you. At worst, it will make you uncomfortable. Yet that discomfort is so powerful I’ve seen it derail too many promising sales careers.
Do what you’d do if you weren’t afraid.
* The need to overcome an objection would suggest we haven’t successfully gotten on the same side of the table as the prospect. Everyone is going to have questions about how something new to them works. Those are not objections, they are buying signals.
Tony is the CEO and Co-Founder of InviteManager. He is a regular contributor to ESPN, Fox, USA Today, Yahoo!, and other outlets.