Regardless of your career, you are selling. You are selling a budget, a marketing promotion, a financial plan, perhaps a strategic step your company needs to take. And yet, so many people equate selling as something potentially negative, drawing analogies to the “used car salesperson” persona. No matter your career plans or ambitions, you better learn to sell well. And if you want to be a small business owner or entrepreneur, then selling is an essential skill every entrepreneur must master. Think about it. Starting from day one in your business, you’re selling.
Whether it’s pitching your idea to potential investors or showcasing your latest innovation to prospects, the success of your business depends on your ability to sell. As you try to attract a co-founder or early employees, you are selling. When you negotiate agreements with suppliers, vendors, or key partners, you will be selling. Listed below are insights that will better help you sell in your career, especially if you aspire to be an entrepreneur.
Understand people. At a basic level, you need to understand and care about people to better understand them. First and foremost, learn what motivates people as they try and craft their career. Reading a few books on psychology and anthropology would help you better understand employees, customers and the people that are important to you in your life.
What did you say? Listening skills are so under-utilized that we should offer courses on them in high school and college. People, and customers, want to feel heard and understood. Take the time to polish your listening skills and build “listening” into your social media and marketing efforts.
Everyone is not your customer. While you may think everyone could benefit from your product or service, you better understand your niche target market. Build into your sales process a step where you determine if the prospect is the right “fit.” Sometimes it’s budget, sometimes it’s personality, sometimes it’s your ability to deliver what they want versus what they need. Whatever it is, figure it out early so you don’t waste your time and theirs.
Brand positioning is critical. For your product or service, figure out where you stand relative to the market and focus your sales efforts on communicating your core value proposition. Are you a low-price, high-volume commodity or a premium luxury brand? You better define how you are unique or more valuable than the competition because if you don’t do this well, your customers will not see you as being better.
Perfect the sales process. You need to completely understand and craft the purchase process for your customers. Do they need information on features first, then you offer the benefits of your solution or the other way around? Are you solving a problem or enhancing a need? Think about exactly how and why someone will buy from you, then create the “system” that drives and supports that decision.
Budgets, projections, costs oh my. Get comfortable understanding the basics of money from a business point of view. You need to understand basic costs for your product or service and the possible gross margin (revenue minus costs). Because if you can’t make a profit, then why are you pursuing the opportunity? And be realistic when doing sales projections; don’t be overly optimistic or delusional, be realistic. Also, remember, nothing ever goes as planned.
Pitching is a skill. Learning to pitch to strangers, aka customers is such a critical skill. You need to be comfortable with your verbal communications skills. If not, take a Toastmasters course and learn how to be uncomfortable and still do well. For your entire life, you will be pitching so try and get good at it. Besides, if you believe in yourself or your product or service, it should be easier to communicate confidently.
ABC. Always be closing. Practice how you might close (sell) a customer. It doesn’t have to be overt or pushy, but you do need to give prospects clear direction on what they need to do next to buy. Is it click a button? Sign a contract? Agree to the pricing and terms? And be ready to sell anywhere at any time. You never know when you might step into an elevator, and someone asks what your company does.
Here are two books you might read (or re-read) to better understand selling and people. Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends & Influence People and Spin Selling by Neil Rackham. Whether you read them or not, you need to be better at understanding people and selling.