It doesn’t have to be a product or service. When you’re trying to convince your co-workers where to go for lunch or happy hour, you’re selling them on an idea.
My first real memory of selling was when I was recruiting for my fraternity at Michigan State University. I was selling the idea of what the house was, what our beliefs were, and who our friends were.
That’s much harder to do then selling something you can hold in your hands. But I enjoyed the challenge of it, and I liked the social element of building relationships.
At the time, I was studying political science, and thought I would become a lawyer, a lobbyist, a consultant — something like that.
But then I realized, “If I can convince these kids to join one fraternity house out of the 40 options they have in front of them, what else could I sell?”
Lesson #1: Nobody Will Remember Your ROI
After college, I started working on the Denver launch team of Zomato, which sold white-label apps to restaurants and breweries. I had virtually no experience as a salesperson, but the head of the sales team saw something in me, and wanted to mold me into an outside sales rep.
Working outside in your first sales role is a very different path than a lot of people take. Usually, you’ll start off as an SDR, pounding the phones all day. And when you get rejected, it happens over the phone. Easy.
In outside sales, the rejection is face-to-face, which can feel a lot worse. But once I got my feet wet, it became a lot of fun. Those moments where you discover that the customer needs something and they don’t even know it yet—that’s always exciting for me.
In sales, you learn from everybody that you work with. That’s how you hone your skills. The head of Zomato’s sales team, Justin, became a great mentor to me. He was a numbers guy, but he was also very charismatic.
He taught me that if you can leave a lasting impression on somebody when you meet with them, they’ll think about the conversation that you had when they’re thinking about the product.
“Numbers are always gonna be your ammo,” he told me. “But is a prospect going to remember your ROI, or someone else’s ROI? They want to know that what you’re offering is going to fix their need.”
Lesson #2: Everybody Needs a Friend
We have very informed buyers now, which is changing the game of how people sell. Before, the sales rep was your main point of contact. I told you everything about the product; I was all the information that you needed.
Now, you can get all that information by yourself, so customers have shifted more towards buying based on the relationship. They’re already sold on the product before they even reach out to you. What they want is the personal aspect of having someone to connect with.
Depending on what book you’re looking at, there are about five distinct sales personalities. There’s the lone wolf, the problem-solver, and so on. My selling personality has always been relationship-based.
Now, that’s not the most productive one that you can have, according to a lot of the literature, but it’s what I feel the most comfortable with, because it reflects my personality outside of the job as well. I try to treat the client as not necessarily a friend, but as close as you can get when money is involved.
Social selling is more important than ever, but that doesn’t mean you have to be socially gifted to sell. I’ve worked with salespeople who are very analytical, who can list off every data point you need to know. There’s none of the “Hey, did you catch the game last night?” banter with them; it’s just straight business. But if they can get in front of a prospect who has the same mindset, it’s a wrap. It just requires a different kind of focus.
Lesson #3: The Sale Is More Than the Number
We work in a very social world now, and people’s opinions are everywhere. If you rub somebody the wrong way, a lot more people will hear about it than just their small circle of friends.
There are a lot of sales organizations out there that encourage you to push the product whether the buyer needs it or not. I’m fortunate enough to work for a company where we don’t treat our clients that way. At Nutshell, we place a lot of value on improving someone’s situation. Consulting comes first.
One of the most important things I bring to the table is my ability to make other sales professionals understand that I’m going to give them a true opinion as to whether or not our product’s going to work for them. If I’m listening to your needs and I know that you need a different system, or that CRM isn’t a good fit for you right now, I can be honest with you about it.
Not only do you see those people six months later when they are ready, but they remember the honesty you brought to that conversation. And maybe they have a colleague or a friend who would be a better fit for us right away; I’ll get that referral because the conversation we had was more personal and relationship-based than me just shooting off products.
For a lot of sellers, a one and done sale is great, but I’d much rather see the growth of what my product is doing for you, as opposed to just closing a big contract and disappearing.
“Growth” can take a lot of forms, by the way; it’s not only about revenue. If I look at your account and see that you had two employees when we first talked, and now you’re sitting at 15, I know a lot of that has to do with the CRM that I got you in and the conversations that we had along the way.
So…Why Do I Do This?
The biggest misconception about salespeople is that we’re aggressive, self-centered people. Sure, you’ll run into that personality from time to time, but we don’t all fit the pushy, money-hungry stereotype. We love what we do, just like anyone else.
It’s just that we have to be a little bit more…out there. More confident is how I think of it. (Other people might have some different words for it.)
Still, it always comes back to people. I love to see the big money coming in from a huge sale, but the real value you create as a salesperson lies in building relationships. For me, it’s the only thing that matters.