“Telling’s not selling.” – Greg Weinstein, Boiler Room
It may seem extraordinary to hear, but the majority of salespeople I’ve encountered in my career have been so self-involved that they forget to ask what their customers actually want. This time last year, as a relative newcomer to the sales world, I quickly discovered that traditional sales tactics were redundant and ineffective, and that I needed to try a new approach.
Don’t get me wrong. I started out using old-school techniques, but frustration soon set in as cold call after cold call fell on deaf ears. To combat the rejection, I did what I always do when I’m out of my comfort zone. I researched, I spoke to experts I respect and I thought outside the box before creating my own rules.
To welcome 2015, I’ve considered the eight things I’ve learnt about commercial sales in the past year. Call it the content marketer’s guide to selling, if you will.
1. Believe in your product
If you don’t believe in your product, find something else to sell. Work for someone whose product you believe in. Selling requires enthusiasm because enthusiasm is infectious and genuine. Unless you are really focused and love what you are doing, it is hard – if not impossible – to be enthusiastic. Customers will see straight through you. The best thing you can do is move on and find an area you want to work in.
2. Listen, don’t talk
You have two ears and one mouth, so use them proportionally. This is where the expression “selling is not telling” comes into play. This advice was given to me early on in my career when I was told to listen twice as much as I talked. By listening to your client or prospect, you will better understand their business, their pain points and how you can best serve their needs.
3. Be a good consultant
Reply to emails on time. Meet expectations. Get back to people when they call. Take notes. Consulting, as opposed to selling, is all about building structures and processes that keep your clients happy and loyal. To be good at it, you have to articulate your services in a business context that is relevant to your audience.
4. Marketing is sales and selling is marketing
This is hands down the most important thing I have learnt so far. In the content marketing industry, selling is just one facet of the client relationship. Just one facet of a holistic process of customer engagement. When you market correctly, it can fill in the gaps between face-to-face meetings that you have with clients. It creates a constant touchpoint – whether a client subscribes to your blog or follows your posts on LinkedIn. There are many times when customers have read something I have written about, called me and said “I want that” or “great article”. When done well, marketing is a sales tool that can push prospects along the path to purchase. Use it.
5. Be confident, but never arrogant
I opened this post with a quote from the film Boiler Room. If you want a study in arrogance, watch the movie. And then note how everything falls apart for the protagonist. Nobody likes arrogance, but most of us enjoy being around confident people because confidence instills confidence. If you show a client that you are confident, they will likely get a sense that you can do the job for them. If you show a client that you are arrogant, the client will put up their defences and walk away. So be confident, be open, respect the opinions of others and demonstrate humility.
6. Selling is a process
The more active you are within this process and the more you work to understand your clients’ businesses, the more successful you will be. Once you understand the internal workings of a client’s business, anything is possible. Look at the activities that drive the most amount of return and map out a plan to ensure your strategy is consistent. Track everything and refine the approach. There will be deviations, but if you follow a process, the results will be, more often than not, positive ones.
7. LinkedIn is your best friend
Cold calling may work for some people, but I have had zero success. I don’t like pushing things down people’s throats. That’s why I love content marketing – it’s not a hard sell.
For those who feel the same way, LinkedIn is your best friend. When you’re prospecting, use your network, give people value, share relevant content and get on board with LinkedIn’s publishing functionality. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who might need your services. I cannot understate the power of this platform. Here you have an instant, active and high-value audience and you don’t have to resign yourself to the outcome of making three successful cold calls in 12 months.
8. Relationships are important, but reciprocal
Strong relationships are the key to sales success. To be able to tell a client that you think they are going down the wrong track or making a bad decision is invaluable. It builds respect and trust. Treat your clients like you treat your friends, because with any good relationship, there is an element of give and take. Give as much of yourself as possible. You will not need to ask for anything in return – it will come to you.
Just don’t sell
Have we arrived at a place where there is little difference between marketing and sales? Perhaps. If you can’t appreciate that or you don’t change your outdated tactics, then your future in sales may be a dim one. Instead you should help, educate and guide. Act honestly and, above all, listen to what your clients need.
Don’t sell, consult.