Sales continues to be the least taught profession in the world.
To get hired, I suppose it was necessary to have a decent personality, but you didn’t need any specific industry certifications. You just had to "want to" sell. By the time the first year passed, I had accumulated some on-the-job trial by fire experience, but the amount of official sales training I received was negligible. There was this unwritten feeling among managers that salespeople should already know how to sell.
I didn’t. I knew how to pick up the telephone and keep dialing until my fingers bled. I also knew that everyone was focused on results, and my manager told me that sales was simply a ‘numbers game.” For a neophyte like myself who was struggling to scratch out a living, selling was hardly a game.
Someone advised me to seek out the top performers in my company and offer to take them to lunch, and ask them what they are doing that makes them so successful. I did this several times and found that top performers are generally very open and generous with their advice. Usually, they attributed success to vague concepts like, “Building relationships, uncovering needs, differentiating their solutions, or communicating value…”
Wait just a minute! I was already trying to do these same things…build relationships, uncover needs, differentiate my solutions, and communicate value, but I was clearly not their same level of success.
Duplicating the success of top performing salespeople has always been the number one challenge for salespeople and companies, alike. For some inexplicable reason, some salespeople are more effective than others when it comes to the softer skills of “building relationships, uncovering needs, differentiating their solutions, and communicating value.” If you are currently performing at peak levels, and you do these things already, then your challenge is getting other people on your same team to adopt and duplicate your same thought process and approach. If you are not yet the top performer, then it is very possible you have your sights set on somehow duplicating the success that others have already demonstrated is indeed possible.
Now, the bad news. Sellers are pretty much on their own to learn the softer skills of sales effectiveness. Your local college or university offers classes in Marketing, Journalism, Botany, Architecture, Engineering, Sports Medicine, Hotel Management, Public Relations, and Graphic Design,… but not sales.
- What’s your strategy for causing people to share information with someone they don’t yet know or trust?
- How does a customer who is used to fending off salespeople know that you are a valuable resource?]
- What’s your strategy for speeding up the sales process without making customers feel pushed?
- How much of your current selling strategy and approach is identifiable and repeatable?
- Given that competitors are also putting their best foot forward, what can you do to demonstrate intangible qualities like credibility, integrity, leadership, innovation, and that you care about your customers?
- Which traditional selling tactics no longer work in this new economy?
The answer to these and other questions must be clear in your mind in order to have a strong and repeatable foundation for being successful in sales. Unfortunately, most of the people I know who have a clear vision for these things learned by good old-fashioned trial and error. This creates an interesting paradox for our current sales culture, however.
I bet it didn’t take long for cavemen to figure out that it didn’t make sense to continually reinvent the wheel. We seem to have figured this out in many areas, too, with the exception of selling. If you ask any of the six questions listed above to three different salespeople, you will get three totally different answers…and two of the three people will change their minds before they finish answering your question.
Therefore, my advice to you is simply this. Go to college and get your degree. Then, whatever career path you take, become a student of the sale, and what it takes to be valuable in the eyes of your customers, colleagues, boss, family and friends. If you get a few good tips along the way, great! But, make a commitment to choose a philosophy and invest the time to understand the nuances of what makes a top performer so much more effective than a struggling salesperson, even though they are all essentially doing the same things.