In Dec 2018 I realized that we needed to have a stronger succession plan for TU20. From that emerged the TU20 leadership series, a 12 week set of readings and exercises that helped to prepare the next group of TU20 leaders. This is chapter 8, originally written in March of 2019.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
— African Proverb
To grow an organization, you need to have sources of revenue and be a valuable member of an ecosystem that benefits your customers and users. Without the funding, you can’t pay your employees. Without a strong ecosystem, you are fighting against the tide, rather than going with it. So how do we get to be part of a healthy ecosystem?
Creating Valuable Partnerships
One of the things that they don’t teach you in school is how to develop long-term relationships with clients because you rarely need to. School projects are usually a couple of weeks long; the person buying at the bake sale is either a family friend or a random stranger that you will never see again. Sales is not a career people think about because it seems to be “just another part of capitalism”. It is seen as a generic career and when students pick careers, they follow their interests.
Sales is an essential skill for any career, but more simply put, sales exists for every industry. For every person who has to create a good or service, someone has to sell it.
- Building a bridge? Someone needs to persuade the government to choose your company.
- Building a new medical device? It doesn’t help people if it just gathers dust in a warehouse.
Once we recognize that every career has a mirroring sales position, we start to realized these niches are quite small. How many bridge sales people exist? Probably not that many. So if you … burn a bridge … it will be difficult to sell your next one.
It’s also interesting that 1 in 8 jobs in the US are sales jobs, with many of them being Business to Business focused (B2B). B2B sales usually take longer to close, are more likely to be recommendation-based, but are also larger in deal size.
In observing past sales, going to sales events, and doing some sales myself, here are 19 things that I think are useful for sales.
19 Things to Know About Sales
- Long-term sales are frustrating but very rewarding.
- We’ve heard about the classic “wine-and-dine”. It’s a real thing.
- You sell a relationship and not a solution or product in many cases. That’s why the relationship is so important. The solution is still critical, but if the other people don’t like you, good luck winning.
- Why do you think some massive companies still exist even when they have inferior products and user experiences?
- Getting in front of the right people is the hardest part; navigating an org chart is hard.
- Warm intros are essential.
- Never take a No from someone who is not a decision maker. Just move up the ladder.
- But going over someone’s head hurts egos. Use it wisely and gracefully.
- Don’t make the sale right away. Learn to listen and build rapport.
- Get your opening line right.
- Let the other person do the majority of the talking.
- Learn to make small talk.
- Learn to transition small talk to real talk.
- Come to meetings with an agenda. Be prepared and efficient but not robotic.
- Once you sell to a big fish, you’re making money for a while, but don’t get complacent.
- Make sure to maintain your existing relationships.
- Know what you are talking about or at least enough to be credible.
- Believe in what you are selling.
- Practice makes you better and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Pretending it’s not sales.
What is very interesting is how much the LinkedIn sales community talks about “selling to humans”, “don’t sell right away” or “give value before you take”.
With positive intent this makes sense; your goal with sales is to provide a service that makes someone else’s life easier. So if you read a recent blog post by a sales prospect and it indicated that their team is struggling with a work from situation, you have identified a bonafide problem they are facing. You might send them a couple articles about some pointers for their situation which might end up solving their problem or bring them closer to a solution.
The theory is that you’ll eventually “build a relationship” with this person and you’ll be a trusted source of information and advice, so people will be more open to you pitching something that affects your paycheck, such as a video conferencing software. Turns out that both the software and the initial articles were exactly what your client needed!
This was the most positive take. Now let’s take a more cynical approach.
Imagine you are strolling down your LinkedIn feed and you get a notification! Someone wants to offer you a cool digital badge — awesome!
After accepting the badge, their tone changes and they now want $10. At this point you aren’t sure what to do, but because this is the internet you can just ignore them as they are messaging you. Soon they start making a scene about how unappreciative people on LinkedIn are.
If you’ve travelled to some cities this experience might be familiar with stories involving some sort of bracelet. In real life, the scammer gives you something as a “symbol of friendship” and then asks for money, and if you don’t comply they try to intimidate you or make a scene.
So in a cynical world, sales people only want to help you to try to sell you something at the end of the day and they use the power of human emotion to be effective.
Now to try to find a middle ground.
Salespeople, like all of us, need to make a living. So if a sales person is nice, respectful and helps you solve a problem that you are having, there’s nothing wrong about it. The problem is finding people who are actually helpful since there isn't much ROI to be your personal problem solver, unless you work for a huge company that could bring in many thousands of dollars.
Pretending to be Friends
Now another trend is spending time to “build the relationship”.
If/when you ever become important within your company, suddenly people may start commenting on your posts saying how great you are. You may feel flattered initially, but afterwards you might start thinking about their motivations.
But then they keep commenting and never try to sell you anything, so your negative thoughts are quashed; this person offers an interesting perspective and engages with your posts.
Eventually this person starts a conversation with you that evolves over the course of a month and eventually they make a pitch.
Now you might be wondering: wait, did this person care about what I wrote 4 months ago or was I just a target? Usually it’s both, but we can’t tell intent. We can only tell how good the person is at their job.
A good “people person” will make you feel good in every interaction and can frame conversations in a thoughtful way. You will never feel taken advantage of because the combination of their external good nature and their social skills make it seem genuine. So it brings up the old question: if someone is truly genuine, or acts indistinguishably genuine, does it matter (especially if the outcome is the same)?
Compare that to someone who just read a couple sales books, or more commonly, How to Win Friends and Influence People (by Dale Carnegie). They probably sound like a manipulative robot but it doesn’t mean their intentions are worse than the “people person” for whom this behaviour is well-versed and almost natural. It’s very similar to movies and books. Only the good ones cause a suspension of disbelief.
The Ladder Method
In investing there is method called the Bond Ladder. Generally long-term bonds have higher interest rates. The idea with the Bond ladder is that you should buy the longer-term ones rather than short-term ones.
If you buy a 1-year bond, you’ll get a 1.83% for that one year, but if you buy a 3-year bond, you’ll get 2.01% every year. It makes sense to buy longer-term bonds if you don’t need the money now.
But usually you need your money sooner than a year from now. So what do you do?
You stagger your bonds. Let’s say you have $1000. You split those into 1-year increments, investing $100 into 1-year, 2-year, … 10-year bonds. Then every year when a bond matures (expires), you reinvest in a 10-year bond. This means you’ll have money available to you every year but you’re getting a higher interest rate as well.
So if we follow the bond ladder, we realize we make more money than just short-term investments. The same thing applies to most sales pitches.
Many of you who have done sales in the past might be thinking “Yes, I use this method all the time. I send out automated emails and newsletters to my prospects.”
This is great, but you have to compare apples to apples. If your pitches are automated then comparing them to automated touchpoints is great. If your pitches are handcrafted, then you have to compare them to handcrafted touch points.
So, by utilizing a sales prospect ladder to build your sales prospect funnel, you’ll make sure that you have someone who is primed to hear your pitch at any point in time, rather than scrambling at the end of the month or quarter!
Putting Anecdotes and Advice to Work
In the past couple of sections, we talked about how you feel on the receiving end of sales techniques. Now what? Let’s revisit some points from our original list of 19 tips.
9) Don’t make the sale right away. Learn to listen and build rapport.
The key to this point is learning to listen. We can go back to the previous analogy of being a good friend. We probably appreciate the friends who are willing to listen to our problems, do nice things for us and help us out when we need it. We usually appreciate friends less who always ask for things, never listen to our challenges and are self-centred.
So as a sales person, how can you “build relationships” if you don’t actually know what your prospect needs or wants?
17) Know what you are talking about or at least enough to be credible.
People usually don’t do a lot of research. They click on the top 5 Google results, find some list, watch a video, and then go forward. Have visibility and seem like you have your shit together.
Most companies are full of smoke and mirrors. Be aware of this, learn how to see past it, and learn how to replicate some tricks to be successful.
10) Get your opening line right.
Opening lines (and all engagements afterwards) are important but they aren’t static. After listening to your customers, your sales message will become clearer and it will become apparent if your product is a good fit for them.
Now let’s take a look at the customers we are selling to, because partnerships aren’t one-sided. Both parties need to be right for each other.
Be Choosy With Customers
So you followed the tips and BAM!, you have a potential customer. When you are starting off, you might take any customer you can get. But some customers may not be useful to your business:
- The toxic one — they are mean, demanding and degrading.
- The unhelpful ones — they don’t give good feedback.
- The flakey ones — it sucks to chase them around.
Find customers that help you develop your product, help you find more customers, and do this symbiotically.
It’s what they say with co-founders and team members — be careful who you work with.
Dealing with Difficult Customers (And Team Members)
We will undoubtedly have to deal with people yelling at us, around us or just not talking to each other. How do we get around this? Good question. There is no one answer. Typically your goal is to:
1) Listen and understand the situation
2) Resolve the situation ASAP — don’t let it brew
3) Bridge gaps in misunderstandings
4) Shift reasons for being mad away from being personal
5) Have people step back and take some deep breaths to calm down and think
6) Don’t take things personally
People are fighting because A called B’s idea dumb. B is offended and is super passive aggressive with A. A starts excluding B from important meetings.
Question to reflect on: How do you handle the above situation?
The 30-second Pitch
No matter how good your product is, a rambling call or email will dissuade any potential buyers immediately.
You need to be able to tell your story (personal and company) in 30 seconds.
We are a 500-student community focused on technology, business and entrepreneurship. We help students learn about these topics, get the skills they need to succeed and find opportunities such as jobs or entrepreneurial funding. We do this through conferences, competitions and hiring events.
I focus on building technology and people focused on solutions. On the technology side, I’ve worked on technology products in the mobile, back-end and cloud spheres, and on the people side, I run a 500-member student group called TU20.
What’s hard is when you do many things (I struggle with this for TU20 and myself). You need to adjust the pitch depending who you are talking to.
I could talk about debate on the competitive and teaching side, I could talk about specific tech and my projects, or I could talk about how I like long walks on the beach. There is a time and place for everything.
What’s your 30-second pitch?
Strategic Use of Marketing Channels and Techniques
To wrap things up, I have one more Listicle for you about which forms of engagement work effectively with which types of channels.
- Team leaders with large networks: Share your expertise and ideas with the community.
- Organizational social media: Be visible with and responsive to customers who have questions.
- Email newsletters: Let people know what’s up and what’s next.
- General content: Improve SEO and authority on a subject.
- Networking: Get to know people in person at industry-focused events.
- Coffee chats: Get in-depth conversations and find partners to work with.
- Personal messaging: To close a deal or to learn more about someone who has an objection.
Questions to Think About:
- What did you want to be when you were a kid? Did you think sales was a viable career?
- What makes a good friend? Do you think it is possible for a professional contact to be a good friend?
- What’s the hardest part for you in the sales process?
- What’s the best sales encounter you’ve had and what did the other person do to make it a good experience?
- When was the last time you cold called someone? What was it for?
- What do you think is the next trend in LinkedIn sales?
- What is the best professional partnership you’ve had?