Becoming a good salesman is easy — you just do the opposite of what bad salespeople do!
It really is that simple and for this article, I am going to share with some of the things not to do as in many ways, it is a lot easier.
Sales and selling are one of the most misunderstood arts of all and it is an “art”; it was not that long ago when it was regarded as a “lowly” profession and people including myself were steered well away from it.
“Get a proper job” was the response if the word ever came up and in those days a proper job was preferably in one of the “professions,” medical, legal, science and financial or something that had “prospects.”
The ability to sell is a key skill and probably one of the most important in what is a new economy thanks to the digital age we are now in.
It starts with having the ability to “sell yourself,” and this is the starting point in learning how to be a good salesman and even if you are selling online with no face-to-face or voice interaction, you will need to convey “the message” of what you sell, albeit in written form.
Most of the salespeople I see are what I term “actors” — they adopt a false persona and that can go both ways, the “ultra professional” corporate salesman or the complete opposite.
Today we are in very different circumstances and still, the professions seem to rule as far as job preferences go, but the question is — what will those jobs look like in the future?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation have already disrupted jobs and take for example the legal profession; AI will be able to automate the collation of masses of information concerning cases as Bernard Marr explains in this article from Forbes.
Any repetitive task can be automated and ultimately every human task can be learned through machine learning, but that doesn’t cover the gap between learning a skill and understanding the emotion behind it.
I am all for disruption and it doesn’t have to be only about technology.
Let’s look at the sales industry for a moment and many salespeople are either ignorant of automation or are ignoring it.
I have spent a great deal of time around salespeople and only recently, I was working with a large International corporation where the practices and methods of selling for the entire UK team took me back to the 1980s!
People would spend hours traveling for internal meetings which would occupy days, engage with their customers at the wrong levels regarding those people that were the key influencers, but what I really couldn’t understand was their total lack of a “sense of urgency.”
It was no wonder that the leadership team was unhappy with the performance of the team — but what frustrated me was the lack of willingness to change!
This is where automation can help and should be adopted to increase the amount of “face time” salespeople have with their customers.
Let’s now go through the key stages as to how you become good and the best salesman but first let me set the scene:
You were born with the ability to sell
Part of the survival instincts of mankind is the ability to barter — the exchange of help and goods for reciprocation has been central to the development of mankind and it formed the basis of all commerce today.
Take children for example, and have you ever wondered why they will instinctively go to certain people and run away from others? Nobody could have taught them!
Add to the mix, the aspects of fearlessness, creativity, imagination, determination and their sheer pursuit of getting that ice-cream just before dinner, oblivious to any parent or family member objections!
They are simply free to express themselves as they wish and as parents, we allow this…to a certain point, because at that point parents take a more serious view of life and start to think of the careers of their children and rightly so.
But what happens to that childhood innocence, fearlessness, creativity, imagination and relentlessness?
In the main, it gets shut down and I am just making a statement here because every parent wants their child to succeed in the way they feel is best.
Now can you see the above qualities relating to sales and selling?
Let’s add another very important one and that is the ability to listen to a story.
As children, we are all conditioned to listen to stories and as adults, we love telling them to our children. The best way to sell is to create a compelling value proposition as I will explain later and the best way to tell it to your customer is to create a story around it.
Great marketers have known this for centuries and it is something you should embrace as well.
Back to children and it is amazing as to how much confidence each and every child has…that is until it is shattered and usually by a bad experience, such as walking into a solid object or being “told off” by an adult. Here I am just being factual and noting responses, not the reasons behind them.
But I know with 3 children of my own, how easy it is to shatter their confidence and every one of them has displayed total confidence before an event that shattered it!
The key to selling and life in general in my opinion is to be able to get back into that “child-like state” and as I for one, have never really left it!
1. Be passionate about what you are selling
If you are not passionate about what you are selling then you need to stop right now, as you will never reach your potential and I speak from experience here.
Back in my youth, I took sales jobs to learn the trade correctly (as I thought) and part of the process was to go through formalized sales training.
I hated it and because I wouldn’t employ those techniques that I was taught, I was fired from my first commercial sales jobs and I am so glad to this day, that they did fire me.
When you are forced to follow a procedure or sales “script,” then you will always be following someone else’s idea, which means it is not your own and add to that, a product that you do not like, know or both and you are seriously reducing your chances of success.
When I finally found my real passion in life, I stopped “working.” I was now doing something I love, which I would put endless hours of effort into, which fuelled my success.
So rule numero uno is to find either a product or a company you would like to work with or for and then you will have dramatically enhanced your chances of success.
Here is an interview with Richard Branson, talking about the importance of passion in business.
2. Be “you”
Nothing irritates me more than fake people — you know exactly what I am talking about here and think about it, how many people in life do you avoid or dislike because of this one particular trait?
If you don’t resonate with fake people, then it follows that you would never interact with them in any transactional way.
When I wanted to hire senior executives in my company, I would often invite them into a social setting outside of working hours and this would occur usually after the last and what I would term “formality” interview. I had already conducted the main interviews concerning skills, suitability, etc.
But now I needed to see how they would hold up in a social setting as many of our higher level deals were concluded in such environments.
Some of the outcomes were, so to say, extremely problematic and embarrassing for both parties as I would see people literally fall over after a couple of drinks, or suddenly I would hear their voices revert to what I would then know as their “natural” ones.
There is a great saying in the staffing/recruiting world and that is:
“You hire people for what they know and fire them for who they are.”
Many a time I found out and luckily in some cases, who the person really is!
It is therefore vital for you to be “you” and at all times. You cannot hide it and if you do, you are not living to your truth and it will surface at some stage. Make sure you really understand this and also, never worry about anything else.
There is nothing worse than working for weeks, months and in some cases years to secure a deal, only to have that deal collapse because you as a salesman, have simply tried to be someone else throughout the process and are exposed.
I have seen this on so many occasions.
3. Work in anticipation
Don’t you just love it when people are on the same wavelength as you?
It takes away a lot of painful explaining and making sure you are understood doesn’t it?
Think about your customers — don’t you think that they feel the same?
This is the next critical component and it is called research. You absolutely must know everything about your industry, your customers and the problems, pains, and the challenges they are facing.
This is probably the most neglected part of salesmanship and it is your route to financial success. Your customers do not want to spend time answering questions you could have found the answers to before a call or meeting and they certainly will not buy from people if they have not done their homework.
It is so easy to get information today — if your potential customer is listed on the stock exchange, then you have an easy task. read the reports and information on the company and learn their mission, vision, and values.
Now move on to the financials and you are building up a nice picture of what they are all about and where they stand in the marketplace.
If they are not listed companies, then call the customers up in question and do some background research. Just be truthful and explain your purpose — you don’t want to waste the time of the person you are going to meet, so you are obtaining the information in advance.
The smartest salespeople who came into my office to sell a product to me were the ones who knew more about my company than I did — simply because they had told me information about it that I had forgotten!
Nevertheless, I loved the fact that they had taken the time and trouble to find out and more importantly when I asked them the question “where do you see our industry in the future,” the best ones would give me an opinion, that in some cases, they knew would totally differ from my own.
They were truly being themselves.
Think about all of your selling colleagues who are punding the phones, pavements and driving miles to attend appointments to achieve mediocre results. Granted, some of them work really hard and long hours, but it all comes down to results and those results depend on whether you stay hired or get fired.
4. Engage at the right level
You will never be a good salesman if you do not engage at the right level. Period.
For me, it starts with the CEO and works down — even in the largest corporations and pleas forget all of the people who tell you that “They don’t make decisions and simply refer things down,” these people are usually the ones who would never have the courage to make the calls in the first place.
They are however partially right, but dead wrong in their overall thinking.
I will give you a personal experience:
I was trying to break into one of the worlds leading technology companies and I had researched them in-depth, learning all about their employee culture (it was in the staffing industry), their vision, mission, and goals, but I was particularly interested in their overseas expansion from their home country.
I called the CEO’s executive assistant, explaining that I wanted her to look through a proposal I would like him to view, to tell me if she through it would be of interest.
I never try to ‘blast through” the gatekeeper, as they are employed for a reason and by trying to bypass them, you are in fact telling their boss that they are not important.
This lady was extremely helpful and not only read my proposal, but re-worked it into their own “company speak.” She then went on to add that it would be better for me to speak to one of the Senior Vice Presidents, who was tasked with handling that particular area; she then sent an email to his assistant, copying me and to cut a long story short, we did a very lucrative deal.
Ultimately I was dealing with the lower management that all of my competitors were engaged with and also enjoying financial success, but I had come in “top-down,” with the highest recommendation. Now don’t get me wrong here as it is not that simple, as I had to “know my stuff” and have a compelling value proposition.
I find it much easier to engage with more senior-level people simply because they have no time to waste if it is in the interests of their company.
But, it comes with a price and that is you must know what you are talking about and be able to get to the point quickly and prove your value and if you don’t you are history very quickly.
Hence the need for in-depth research.
5. Make sure you have a clear and compelling value proposition
This sounds obvious, but trust me it is not and at least of the many salespeople who have walked into my offices over the years.
As a CEO, I am looking to grow my company and I will listen to anyone who can help me both internally and externally.
But, they have to be able to tell me something I don’t know as well as stand out from the crowd in a highly -competitive marketplace.
This could be as simple as an opinion (as long as they can back it up), a threat to my industry or better still both, with some ideas as to how I can grow it faster.
Now here is something else you have to realize — whatever you say to me and assuming it is of interest, I will listen to but I may not convey that to you at the time and in fact, I may even try to shut you down to simply test your resolve!
Never take the look of your audience too seriously at the meeting and please don’t get “euphoric” if they seem to be interested. I can tell you that on many occasions, I have winced during the presentations that I have listened to thinking “why the hell did we not know or act on that.”
And after such meetings, I have called in some of my team, questioned them in let’s say, a strong manner and then told them to hire the company I had just met with.
The opposite is also true and in a few cases, I have terminated contracts with some companies after meeting their “key” salespeople.
A clear value proposition must include:
- Who you are
- What you do
- What you can do for me
- With proof of concept at least
As a CEO, I was only concerned with point 3 and if you answered that, then you were in the door if of course, it was relevant to my needs.
When I used to present to my own customers in the latter part of my career, I would not even put my logo on presentation slides — it was all about them.
Lastly, you may have wondered why I haven’t mentioned the “how” part of the value proposition and that is because, in the main, people don’t care — it is all in the outcome.
The “how” part will fall into the next phase as you progress, if of course, you are successful, which is still vital because it is your processes and procedures that determine the outcome and the CEO or his leadership team will have people to look into just that.
6. Never, ever try to close the sale
This may astound you as a salesman and I can tell you that the reason I was fired from my first sales jobs, was because I never tried to “close.”
If you have to close a sale, then you have failed in every aspect — today’s buyers and extremely aware of the sleazy and slick sales tactics of yesteryear and they know there is no place for them in today’s market.
They will have researched your company, just as I hope, you will have researched them and they will have also researched your competitors, their pricing and will have an acute awareness of the margins in your industry.
Do you really think some lame, old-fashioned and straight out of the classroom sales techniques will convince them to sign on the dotted line?
I hope not and I have built a pretty good sales career of never trying to close a sale and I still practice it to this day.
When you have done your research, then you not only know the pains and problems faced by your customer, but you are also able to prepare solutions, which you can back-up with facts and figures — CEO’s/Leaders are facts and not emotion-based decision-makers, although the “emotive” components may well play a part if there are two salespeople offering the same solution.
Your homework should have led you to a compelling value proposition and your salesmanship skills will be able to put those across in a persuasive way.
Being natural is the way to allowing your “persuasive” self to shine through and this is where the skills of selling come into play and what separates the good from the bad salespeople.
Not closing a sale is counterintuitive in the world of selling and that is where a billion-dollar industry becomes under scrutiny.
There are so many sales trainers and training courses out there, just to help companies try to get their salespeople “customer ready” and able to hit quota — nothing wrong with that and I am sure that the trainers involved have their clients interests deep at heart, but I don’t think they realize that people are born with the ability to sell as I outlined at the beginning of this article.
The problem is that there is a world shortage of good salespeople and that is because many don’t hit their quota!
The more you try “not to sell” the more successful you will be — just re-read the section about why you were born knowing how to sell and it will sink in.
Have confidence in yourself.
It all comes down to you and your self-belief, confidence and that leads to expertise and excellence.
Good salespeople will be in huge demand, regardless of automation and AI, but they will have to learn to have a huge degree of commercial awareness.
Please let me know your thoughts on this subject which is dear to my heart!
Last modified: August 12, 2019