Can You Sell? Can I Sell?

“Sales”. How many times did this word strike terror, in the heart of you, as a startup owner? You have big ideas. You know the finest intricate working of your products. After all, you are the visionary entrepreneur, the holder of the oracle that power the lifeline of your new business. Can you sell? Why on earth do you need to know selling?

My earliest experience with sales personnel, happened like three decades ago. In those days, a door to door salesman was as common as a postmaster, or even a technician. But somehow, the sales techniques during those archaic years brought awful disservice to this crucial profession. I recall my mum asking me to keep quiet when we heard knocking on our door. “Must be the salesman,” my mum quipped. In fact, the “boogeyman” was the image of every young child of a salesman when somebody brought up the subject of not getting good grades in school.  One of the most common scare tactic in the 80s, when the adults wanted us to study,”If you don’t study now, you might end up becoming a salesman!”

Think about this. In reality, all of us have been selling throughout our lives. Did you forget the time you wanted that lollipop? I’m sure you did go through some haggling and negotiation in your cute little way. But, you get what you wanted, right. When you got your diploma scroll, did you not prepare a two-piece document called CV to your prospective employer. That was actually a brochure of your skills. If you wrote it well enough, the brochure would couple up as a sales proposal to that dream company of yours. When your prospective employer called you for an interview, that was when you tried to “sell” yourself as an incumbent revenue contributor or what have you. Have you ever asked yourself, “Can I sell?” during that moment, when you need a job.

As a startup owner, not only do you need to know and understand sales techniques, the more you need to embrace the art of selling. Have you forgotten your next round of funding call?

Well, enough of convincing you the importance of selling. The whole reality of a business is about how to sell. You might have a product with the best features like a faster chip or a bigger memory, but if you fail to convince your customers about his needs, your product is just commodity. Even Sales VPs in the commodity business tried to etch an image of elitist for their brand, so that their grains could command higher price.

Unfortunately, there are industries doing the complete opposite. Instead of telling the world, how their merchandise could improve lifestyle and flatten terrains, these industries adopt the old sales tactic of undercutting prices. Due to their misdeeds, the whole industry of pc and notebook is still living in the shadow of past commodity sellers. Except for the brilliance in Steve Jobs, we are witnessing the same vicious cycle repeating itself in Apple, Tim Cook putting the whole company at risk by competing in features again. Out of desperation, somebody from the top management will suggest a strategy that plays out in similar tone with the commodity market.

I suspect the conundrum in Apple will continue to bite into the company’s growth, unless another visionaire comes along. This person needs to sell the vision in Apple in a different way. Now, back to you. It doesn’t matter at what stage you are in your life, are you ready to learn selling? An effective sales person, needs three instincts; empathy, believe and drive.

1. Sales Empathy
It is a gift to be able to put yourself in your client’s shoes, and understand what he is thinking. Looking at the vast array of human traits, not all are able to empathize. Again, to empathize is one thing, to take action so as to achieve the desired results is another. Let me illustrate.

If the gift to understand another person’s feeling is an indicator of sales ability, then most nurses can sell. After all, at entry level, the commission that a sales person gain, might overcome that of a nurse’s salary. However, how many nurses are willing to use what they understand about the patient, for monetary gain? From my own working experience with working with nurses, my take is not many of them will do it. Many nurses view their own profession as a sacred calling, and to compare them to sales people, is downright insulting.

2. Your Believe
This is important. Do you believe that selling is a noble profession? Or, do you equate a salesperson to a conman, who is always out to separate you from your hard earned money?

My own experience in the insurance industry. I used to think that I was a darn awesome sales guy. Really, I thought I could sell anything. All this ego instilled in me during my experience as a sales executive in a flour mill. During my hey days, I could convert most users of competitors’ flour if I really put my heart into it. Until when I was brought down to earth trying my hands in insurance sales. I was with an agency for 4 months but during those trying times, I only managed to sell to my sister in law.

I hated the products because as I studied deeper, I did not see myself as helping my potential, as much as my trainer wanted me to think. Insurance helps when you are healthy but quickly turn their backs when you need help. Try asking for a policy after a heart attack. You see, all these alter the way I look at myself as an insurance sales. That was when I thought that I was a scum trying to sell a useless product to my good friends. I even felt ashamed to call my friends out to discuss insurance.

3. Your Drive For Achievement
Now that, you could empathize with your prospective customers, and you commit to the fact that your products add value to their live; do you make a good sales person? Not so fast dude. You need drive to succeed.

There are many sales people, who remain in mediocrity despite being years in the profession. When I started my career, I longed to climb the pinnacle of the corporate ladder. This was my observation. At the top of the food chain within a company, you will always find a finance person. He or she might be a CFO or a Financial Controller. But there is one guy, who seemed to rise up above the accountants. That guy is the sales guy. When the top sales give his thoughts, the finance guy would usually keep quiet. From my observation in those days, the top sales guy would normally go on to succeed the CEO post.

Unfortunately, you see many sales professionals who do not seem to move up. Many remain at the same position as the time when they joined the trade. Mind you, these are smart dudes. These sales guys understand their customers’ thoughts. Are they proud of what they sell? I doubt it. To them, the sales job is just another way of making a living. They definitely lack drive though. You see, approaching a customer will only serve as an introduction between both of you. Most of the engagement and conversion happen after many times of following up.

After identifying all these traits of a successful sales person, it’s time to identify the various types of sales profiles and their techniques. Good sales professionals can be identified according to 5 different sales profiles:
1. The Bulldozer
2. The Problem Solver
3. The Good Friend
4. The Lonely Hunter
5. The Instigator
We will discuss more about the various profiles in the next post.

God bless you!

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