Sales is a beautiful, exciting, and rewarding career. But, unfortunately, it is also stressful, frustrating, and sometimes downright terrible! Every coin has two sides, and sales is no exception.
If you are new to the profession, welcome to the fraternity. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 13 million people are employed in sales and sales-related occupations. Interestingly, most people are accidental salespeople. HubSpot found that only 39% of the people in sales intended to have a sales career. You may be one of the many that found yourself here by accident. Rest easy. You are in the majority. Mothers hold their babies and dream, “Someday this little one is going to be a doctor or a lawyer, or (fill in the blank). Not many dream of their baby growing up to make cold calls! None of us “born” to be in sales.
Here you are. Now what?
First, congratulations! Seriously. Sales is a fantastic career, even if you found yourself here by chance.
I don’t know why you got into sales, but for me, it was for three distinct reasons. The first was money. The second was money. And the third one? Money. Not out of greed but necessity. I saw people around me taking vacations (vacations!). As a small baseball college coach, I hoped my relatives would someday move to the beach. I saw former classmates who had started their careers in sales joining the local country club. For me, sneaking onto the local muni after the pro shop closed had its advantages, but it seemed like that was not a sustainable plan. Plus, I think they call that trespassing? I had a Master’s degree, a decade of good experience, but I wasn’t able to take care of my growing family the way I wanted.
So, I got a sales job. I did it reluctantly. And it’s worth noting, I didn’t like salespeople.
What I found was both surprising and exhilarating. I found a place of opportunity. It was a career that if you are willing to change some things about yourself, work hard, and become a student of the craft, you can write your future story. The idea that no one controlled my earnings was freeing to me. For the first time in my professional life, I felt in control. Yes, you can have a wonderful life in sales.
The bad news is many don’t. Last year, only 24% of salespeople in the United States made quota. Buyers report that their interactions with salespeople leave much to be desired. There are a lot of people in sales who don’t belong. But, that’s good news. There is no competition at the top. If you are willing to take your craft seriously, study it, get on a path to growth and development, you can anyone can succeed. Sales is truly an equal opportunity venture.
I’ve been involved in sales and sales leadership for more than 25 years. I’ve been a front-line sales guy. I’ve managed sales teams and I’ve managed managers. I’ve trained and coached thousands. I’m not bragging, but I’ve seen some things.
How do you win in sales? How do you build a long career where you can enjoy financial rewards, have more autonomy than almost any other career, and get to develop trusted advisor relationships with quality people? There is no A-to-Z formula, but in my experience, there are some fundamentals to keep top of mind that will dramatically increase your success.
Here are seven concepts that will help you become a sales champion.
You must work on yourself. Every. Single. Day.
Above all, sales champions must have a different mindset than the mediocre, run-of-the-mill type that the profession often attracts. Sales is an exercise in attitudes and belief systems. You must first overcome your insatiable desire to be liked. Great salespeople focus on being respected over being liked.
You will face rejection daily. If this rejection causes you to lose your nerve, run into your comfort zone to avoid failure, you will never reach your potential. You must come to terms with the idea that sales is what you do, not who you are. It’s just a role. It’s not personal. Failure to separate your identity and your role will lead to a life of unnecessary emotional highs and lows, and chronic uncertainty. Better to never enter the profession. Buyers don’t want to do business with people who lack self-confidence. Growth as a sales professional first begins on the inside.
You must have a growth mindset
In my first year as a salesperson, my manager described me as “ignorance on fire.” I had no idea what I was doing, but I gave it everything I had. But I didn’t stay ignorant. Instead, I read, asked questions, asked for training, and developed mentoring relationships. As a result, I became a student of sales.
Today, there are mountains of resources available to help you with the day-to-day challenges of a selling career. Understanding that you are on a lifetime journey of growth, get started immediately by surrounding yourself with people and resources that can propel you to the success you desire.
You must have a selling process
Most amateurs (and that includes people who have been in sales for decades) “wing it.” They are reactive and fly by the seat of their pants. They have no process for prospecting or running a sales call. It’s impossible to improve if you don’t have a specific process that you use. When there are steps that you follow, you can isolate where you are strong and what needs to get better. A process allows you to plan and debrief your calls with more clarity. You can become your own best coach.
You must prospect for new business every day
Rest assured that whatever you sell, it doesn’t sell itself. Don’t fall for that trap. You will not sit back, aggressively wait for the phone to ring, and get new orders consistently. You are a problem-finder and a solution generator. You must talk to customers about other products or services. You’ll also talk to strangers. I know Mom said, “Stranger danger!” but in sales, that is a script you must destroy. Talking to strangers is required. The sooner you realize that prospecting is not a choice – it’s what it takes to be a sales professional – the sooner you’ll see success.
You must have goals and plans – and take time to think
My first year in sales (the “ignorance on fire” days) was a flurry of frantic activity that was wildly inefficient. I worked 70-80 hours per week, and I nearly burned myself out. Tired, out of shape, and exhausted is no way to go through life. Unfortunately, too many salespeople follow this pattern. I learned soon enough that having goals, making a plan, and then using discipline and guts to execute the plan was a better way. Instead of working hard for 70-80 hours, I found that by spending an hour to think allowed me to be more strategic and use my time more effectively. Use goals to set your direction, then build the plan. Then, it’s execution. Learn this early, and you’ll be more successful and have a better chance of making sales your final stop in the career journey.
You must be a student of human beings
You’ll learn a lot about your product, and you’ll never stop improving your specific sales techniques and skills. But as you progress, you’ll realize that people are your product. The first person to study is you. How do you show up to the world? Do you have the personal presence it takes to build confidence in others, to get others to believe as you believe, to follow your recommendations? Next, you must understand others. Why do they buy from you? How do they like to communicate? Finally, you must be a student of people. What do they say with their body language and tonality? How do you genuinely adjust your behavior to make the other person more comfortable? Learning about yourself and others should be a life-long project.
You must have a coach
You will be hard-pressed to name a top performer who does not attribute much of their success to a mentor or coach. Athletes have coaches on their respective teams, but they often have personal coaches for fitness, diet, and mental performance. Actresses and actors have coaches. You can learn sales through trial-and-error, but it takes a long time, and it’s expensive. Find a manager at your company who has your best interests at heart, someone who will give you unfiltered feedback. Invest in a coach outside of your company. It reminds me of the turtle on the fencepost. I don’t know how the turtle got on top of the fencepost, but it didn’t get there by itself. Mentors and coaches can accelerate the learning – and earning – curve dramatically.
If you are willing to go a little farther than most in seeking to be a master of your craft…well, you’ll go a little farther. You’ll find that sales is a fulfilling, engaging, and dynamic career. If you are in the upper echelon of the profession, you can fulfill many of your life goals. But it comes with a price. First, you must commit to doing what it takes. These seven principles will get you started on the right path.
Robin Green is an accidental salesperson, and through his experiences, he’s helped many others achieve their potential in sales. As an award-winning Sandler Trainer, he works with companies to help them develop their sales culture, systems & processes, and people. If you are interested in learning more about how he does it, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.