Sales professionals, an old joke goes, have two modes of communication: talking and waiting until they can talk again.
First-year sales reps in particular often personify this by “eagerly spouting all their newly learned product or service knowledge before learning the goals and needs of their customers,” says Marie Warner, president and founder of Warner Sales Architects and a 20-year sales veteran.
So if you’re a new sales professional and you’d like to not only survive your first year but thrive, your ears will come in handier than your mouth will. It all starts with listening to your prospective customers, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Heed these tips for sales success.
Focus on Making a Difference vs. Making a Sale
The most successful salespeople don’t behave like salespeople at all, says Howard Wallin, a sales performance expert who has 25 years of experience in sales training. Instead, they act like their customers’ business partners, listening for the real problems an organization is having and then offering targeted solutions.
One of Wallin’s clients is a US-based snowshoe manufacturer. For years, its factory ran at or near full capacity through the fall, when consumers gear up for winter snowshoeing treks, but then sat idle for several months.
Two years ago, the company launched a marketing campaign targeting new customers in Australia and New Zealand, where the seasons are opposite the US. This meant its factory would be busy producing snowshoes year round.
“Problem solved,” says Wallin. “And here’s the kicker: The idea came from a salesperson who sells manufacturing equipment to the snowshoe company.”
Bottom line: “Nobody cares about your product, service or solution,” says sales expert Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big Companies. “All they care about is the difference you can make for their organization.”
Tap Others’ Wisdom
You may be new to the sales field, but you’re probably surrounded by potential advisors and sounding boards, either in your own company or through professional associations. Take advantage of this expertise whenever and wherever you can.
“Find a mentor,” stresses Nadine Keller, founding partner of Precision Sales Coaching. “While we’re in the training business and we’d like to believe that training is they key, we’ve found that successful salespeople typically credit their success to having the good fortune early in their careers to sit next to or call with a fabulous salesperson.”
Sell Yourself on Your Own Product/Service
If your inner voice is telling you, “I don’t much believe in what I’m selling,” you’re in big trouble from day one, according to Anthony Migyanka, president of Anthony Migyanka Financial Media.
“Life gets difficult,” Migyanka says. “Each rejection is an affirmation of what you already believe: That your product is junk.”
So before you start making cold calls or setting up meetings, ask yourself what you really think of what you’re selling. If you honestly believe in it, Migyanka says, “People will sense it in you and buy in droves.” If you don’t, they won’t.
Acknowledge Market Conditions Matter
It’s easy to take the inevitable rejections of your first year in sales personally, even in the best of economic climates. But when times are tougher, it can be that much more difficult to keep your spirits up and stay motivated.
That’s when it’s most critical to acknowledge that it’s tough for anyone to sell in a bad economy. Sales rep Nancy Spruiell was reminded of that fact just recently at the airport.
“I was telling the owner of one of the lines I represent that a buyer who wants to place an order cannot get approval from her management, and that they’re on a buying freeze and she can’t tell me when she might get approval,” says Spruiell, founder of Wholesale Spa Source. “The woman sitting next to me turned to me and started laughing and said, ‘I’m in the same situation -- no one is buying!’”
In other words, Spruiell says, it’s rough out there in sales these days, “and a first-year professional in today’s economy probably needs to know that and remember that.”