You could say in a sense that sales came naturally to me. I think it is because when I was 9 or 10, I made family road trips more palatable by creating “commercials” with my best friend for whatever we could find within reach in the backseat. Usually, it was a bottle of Windex kept in a nifty little compartment in the back of our totally hip 1983 Honda Accord LX. (After you’ve owned cars like Datsun station wagons that nearly explode from being overheated in what is otherwise a normal summer, you feel like a total “town girl”* when your family finally buys a car that is not only fully intact, but also full of a few non-essential features.) We’d use our most Vanna-White-esque voices and gestures while explaining the amazing benefits of this dazzling product—also highlighting how the sleek bottle would make you look like a total celebrity.
Even though sales came naturally to me, it didn’t mean I liked sales. I grew up in a Hippie era (and area). A particularly leery peer warned me upon college graduation, “Marketing is the arm of the devil,” and a part of me believed him. (Ironically, he went on to become marketing director for a prominent tea company, before being put on some watch list for placing death threats on the family of the same friend who had made up the Windex commercials with me.)
A few years later, I was in charge of the company I still run 15 years later. After serving in two sales positions, I realized it was about time I took this sales thing to heart, and made it mine.
It’s taken me years to refine my process into one of comfort. I hadn’t thought about it until the other day when a client asked me to help train him in sales. I realized I do have sales strategies. But even more than that, I have a sales philosophy. So to help this client and myself, I decided to write this stuff down.
Here are my 5 Sales Strategies for the Non-Salesperson:
1)If you are an entrepreneur, accept that you are in sales. Sorry, but you simply won’t succeed on your own if you do not embrace this. You can hire someone to do sales for you, but you can’t pretend you don’t need it. And even if you do hire someone, it will behoove you to become very comfortable selling your product or service, because most likely you are the one who has the most to gain or lose if it succeeds.
2)Take a long-term approach. Create long-term relationships. In one sales job I had, people told me they bought from me because I took several years getting to know them. Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, said in his book Delivering Happiness that it often takes two years after meeting people to know exactly how they fit into your business plan, but it is still pertinent to foster those relationships. My business has stayed alive because I always invest in these relationships.
3)Be generous, but don’t give away the farm. There is a fine line between giving and getting when it comes to sales. My ideal sale is when the customer gets slightly more than I do in terms of value. This is because I can then sleep at night knowing I more than delivered. So be sure to offer value in terms of your service, value-added extras, and the quality of your interactions. Give value before you ask for anything, if you can. But don’t discount so much or wait so long to ask for the sale (or payment for it) that you can’t feed your family.
4)Ask for what you need. In sales, they say to lead the thinking of your customer. I call it not being afraid to be direct. If you know you are hoping to sell someone a service, yes, make pleasantries, take two years to get to know someone if need be, but also express what you hope to gain from the relationship when the time is right. Be very clear about what you offer, and how someone can use you. Customers appreciate directness so they can quickly assess whether to buy, and people in general generally like to help.
5)Don’t call it sales. For my sales-averse clients, I call it “communicating about what you do.” You would tell your mom what you do, right? So why wouldn’t you tell a potential customer? If you think you are wasting the customer’s time, then he probably thinks so too. If you aren’t, and you actually have something that can improve life, then why wouldn’t you share it? You’ve probably heard it likened to the cure for cancer; if you had the cure for cancer, you wouldn’t hesitate to reach out to everyone on Earth to announce it, right? And your opening line might be, “I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get to you.”
6)Bonus point: Keep it simple. If you are selling ponies for $5,000 each, don’t get too caught up in how to pitch pony shoes for an extra $50. Focus on and close the sale for your main product first, and accessorize second. Don’t confuse the customer by giving too many options. Present one decision at a time.
I’ve found myself passionate about sales recently, because sales enable passionate people to build businesses–and lives filled with hip cars and creative children. Without sales, those business would remain mere dreams.
If you have any more sales tips to add, I’d love to hear them. If you have any questions for me, I’d love to answer them. Happy selling… I’m off to wash windows.
(*A town girl, to me, was anyone from the “big” metropolis near where we lived. There were something like 25,000 people there—not counting sheep.)