“What do you want to be when you grow up?” A 2015 survey showed that the most common response is “Pro-Athlete” for boys and “Doctor” for girls. “Salesperson!” was nowhere even near the top of the list. Yet sales has long been known as a career path leading to both greater earning potential and advancement to business leadership. Bowing out of sales has been noted as a key factor holding women back in both regards.
Sales can be intimidating, in large part, due to misconceptions about what it takes to be successful: among them, the notion that successful salespeople must be wildly extroverted slicksters. This leads lots of talented potential salespeople who don’t identify with this description to shy away from sales as a career option.
This is unfortunate on several levels, including the fact that sales can be a great entrée to desirable industries like Tech and SaaS. Additionally, sales also provides experience that can be successfully parlayed into other kinds of jobs. (e.g.- if you don’t consider Public Relations “Sales,” listen to a pro pitching a story to a Journalist).
So what does it take to be successful in sales, and how much is nature vs nurture?
If you’re a good relationship builder and friend maker—not only fun to be around but also a good listener; if you’re good at explaining things—a natural teacher; and if you’re resourceful, you’ve got the essentials, and a lot of the rest can be learned. Here’s the lowdown on some of the valuable skills you’ll hone on the job:
1. “Yoohoo!...Hey,You!...Yeah, you!...Over here!”
Salespeople learn the most effective strategies to draw someone’s attention. They learn the tone that people are more responsive to, how to strike a balance between TMI and offering just enough info to pique someone’s interest, what outreach methods are most effective, and how to follow up without being too aggressive. These attention-grabbing strategies translate across your personal and professional life to help you get your foot through any door…That’s really half the battle, isn’t it? For example, How do you open a conversation to convince your boss you’re the right person for the management job? How do you grab the attention of a potential investor you’d like to help fund your new eco-friendly straw startup? What angle will you take to get your roommate to agree to adopting a dog? (His name is Wally, and you may or may not have already impulsively rescued him.)
2. The Dale Carnegie skill
Salespeople learn both how to initiate a conversation with people from a myriad of backgrounds and how to make those conversations productive, guiding the conversation toward a desired goal or outcome. How do they do it? The best sellers are not just good at “telling,” they’re great at listening, connecting, building trust and rapport and asking the right questions. They are experts at navigating that essential process of discovery through which the sales person surfaces the needs and challenges which beg for a solution. With a good sense of direction, they guide the conversation toward a mutually beneficial outcome.
(Sidenote: listening skills are part of the reason why oftentimes quieter, more introverted individuals can make good salespeople, too!).
This is a real-life ninja skill. Nailing down the science and practice of the persuasive conversation will help you land that funding for your eco-straw venture, secure a new job, and finally pick Wally up from the “shelter” (aka your friend, Chris’s, house where he’s been staying for the past 2 weeks).
3. R&R: Research and Relationships
Successful salespeople rely on their research skills along with their interpersonal network to get the intel they need. These two resources add up to some pretty stealthy reconnaissance work that we’ve seen sales experts leverage in several ways--to break into new markets, get acclimated in a new country, get that key contact introduction (think: six degrees of separation!), score a new job within an entirely different function, and get the real scoop on that “Nigerian Prince” your lovestruck friend is meeting for drinks tomorrow (unless you can stop it).
4. Dress Well, Test Well: Presentation is Key
We’ve all seen a promising idea crash and burn on Shark Tank. Cause of death? A bungled presentation. Salespeople understand that when introducing a prospective client to a new product, the presentation has to be clear, engaging, and relevant to the prospect (shaped by the information surfaced through discovery- see #3). This is an art you may think you perfected in college, or, heck, maybe even after that high school science project presentation that you absolutely slayed. While it still begins with doing your homework and knowing about the prospect and their business, the best sales pro goes from playing the notes to mastering improv, responding in the moment to questions and cues picked up from the audience… And there’s nothing better than reaching that crescendo of, “Where do I sign?!”
5. Where does the time go?
Salespeople are often balancing between managing their day-to-day outreach, carefully cultivating relationships, and keeping track of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of contacts and data points. If you weren’t good at time management before, this will give you the incentive you need to build out processes and strategies that work for you. Learning to maximize your efficiency and prioritize competing responsibilities will help you to get every ounce of juice out of your day at work and at home. If you do this well, you’ll have plenty of time to hit the dog park with Wally.
Of course, the best way to learn these skills and have a positive work experience is to have the right manager and/or mentor and…the right sales job!
Stay tuned for more on: How to find, assess and land a great sales job!
These are just a taste of the valuable skills salespeople sharpen on the job. Want to find out more about a career in sales? Contact us at CFW Careers (firstname.lastname@example.org)!