This is the 4th and final installment of this series of posts. If you’re way behind, I would encourage you to start with the first of the four posts HERE.
The idea behind this series came from a question that was posed to me a few weeks ago:
“If you could only offer only one piece of advice as I start a career in sales, what would that one thing be?”
I shared my response (and the response of five colleagues) in the introductory post, and I have now shared the responses from each of these world-class sales experts:
Barbara Weaver Smith
In this final post, 6 more sales professionals weigh in on this very important question.
1. Anthony Iannarino (Mindset)
Anthony is the President and Chief Sales Officer for SOLUTIONS Staffing, a best-in-class regional staffing service based in Columbus, Ohio. He is also the Managing Director of B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, a boutique sales coaching and consulting company that helps salespeople and sales organizations improve and reach their full potential.
In addition, Anthony serves as an adjunct faculty member at Capital University’s School of Management and Leadership, where he teaches Personal Selling in the undergraduate program and Persuasive Marketing and Social Media Marketing in the MBA program.
Anthony’s credentials speak for themselves: 5 years of blogging every single day. 35,000 Twitter followers. Harvard Biz School. Entrepreneur. International speaker. He’s got success written all over him and people pay close attention to what he has to say.
So, lean in close and listen to this sage advice:
“Conquer your fear. Be valuable. Be relentless.”
I think the cynical reader would be tempted to dismiss this answer as simplistic and clichéd, but I would caution against that response. There is enormous wisdom in Anthony’s observation that merits consideration.
First, most people – in any endeavor, but especially in sales – fail to meet achieve their goals simply because they cannot overcome their fears. In sales, call reluctance (the fear of cold-calling or prospecting) is very, very common and is a guaranteed ticket out of the sales game. But, can it be conquered? Yes.
Second, there are very few two-word pieces of advice that are as powerful as “be valuable.” The sum total of the profession of selling is to provide value to customers at every available opportunity – in the solution presentation, in the process of building relationships, and in adding of value outside of the products and services you sell.
Third, “relentless” encapsulates the mindset of every successful person I have ever known, without exception. As others in this series have observed, there will be plenty of hurdles and obstacles in your path, but only the relentless survive and succeed in the sales profession.
Anthony would be a prime example.
2. Tim Ohai (Discovery)
Tim Ohai is the founder and president of Growth & Associates, a community of experts that specializes in sales enablement and sales transformation solutions, with an emphasis on maximizing the most critical of resources: people. With well over a decade’s worth of experience in developing sales team performance, he consistently helps Fortune 500 companies design and implement selling solutions internationally, build sales systems that increase revenue and customer loyalty, and create genuine coaching cultures.
As a researcher, author, and emerging thought leader in modern selling, Tim’s expertise and enthusiasm have taken him to Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East as both consultant and keynote speaker. He is one of the Top 40 Sales Influencers on Twitter globally and he has recently released his new book, Sales Chaos: Using Agility Selling to Think and Sell Differently.
Tim, like many of the experts in this series, is highly involved in the advancement of the profession. He is currently working with the Association of Talent Development (ATD, formerly known as ASTD, the worlds’ largest training association) to revise their professional selling competency model. According to Tim, it is “a massively important work as it provides the biggest, most unbiased, most academically rigorous definition of what selling is.”
Translation: Tim knows a thing or two about selling.
In his answer, he expands on the idea of “value” and its importance in the sales process:
“Know the top conversations you will engage in. Do your homework in advance. Know every possible aspect of the top sales conversations you will initiate and be asked to join. Who are you talking to? Why would/should they talk with you? What perspective are they coming from? How can you help them see beyond the obvious? Know the promises you can make and the promises you cannot make. Know the impact you can make and the impact you cannot make.
Because that is what sales is about today. Value-creating conversations. Not email campaigns, web sites, or search terms. Leave that to Marketing. You are in Sales. You must become the master of relevant conversations. Yes, there is more than this – much more. But you are about to join the ranks of millions who have complained about the other stuff for decades. And will continue to complain about for decades more. The complaining is a distraction standing in the way of excellence.
Master relevant conversations and you will thrive in sales.”
This is an incredibly insightful bit of advice, this idea of mastering relevant conversations. Extensive research reveals what customers already know – that salespeople love to talk, but they rarely create a conversation. The dialogue is usually one-sided and relevant mostly to the salesperson.
The savvy salesperson understands that information is derived from dialogue, not interrogation. The right questions lead to “value-creating conversations” – for both parties. The salesperson learns what the customer values, and that ultimately leads to a solution that provides value for the customer.
But don’t breeze past another very important idea from Tim – that complaining is a distraction. Salespeople can find a dozen excuses for failure, none of which are usually helpful. Skip the excuses. There is absolutely NO value there.
3. Elinor Stutz (Relationships)
Elinor Stutz, the CEO of Smooth Sale, delivers inspirational keynotes at conferences and has authored three books, including the international best-selling book, “Nice Girls DO Get the Sale: Relationship Building That Gets Results.” Community service led to the writing of her second best-seller, “HIRED! How to Use Sales Techniques to Sell Yourself On Interviews.”
• 2014 CEO World Magazine “Brightest Minds in Sales to Follow on Twitter”
Elinor has a rare perspective on life – an accident that nearly took her life and left her with a broken neck. By her own admission, it made a tremendous impact on her career. She enjoyed success in her sales career (including an international best-selling book), but the the near-tragic accident caused her to see a need to become much more involved in community service.
However, early in Elinor’s career, as a complete stranger to the world of selling, she received very little in the way of guidance, and you will notice that her answer to the questions reflects that experience:
“[My story is that] not knowing how to sell, no knowledge about what I was selling, or how to do the job, whenever invited in I asked clients why they agreed to the meeting and got to know them personally. After a few meetings I was told to please bring in a brochure so they could purchase from me (I was so green I didn’t even know to do that!) Remarkable as this may sound, I was the top rep by the 4th month and held that title through my career.
The short answer to your question is develop your personal brand – your values, priorities, and how you serve your clientele differently from everyone else – and leverage it.”
In the absence of sales training, Elinor intuitively moved towards understanding people and developing relationships with them. Getting interested in others resulted in something remarkable – customers saw her as a person, not as a “salesperson.” She was a person who wanted to help, not a salesperson chasing a commission.
The selling skills, I’m quite certain, developed over time, but the truly important skill – building relationships – came first. It reminds me of Dale Carnegie’s timeless quote: “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Since people generally buy from people they like and trust, I would suggest that Elinor is on to something.
4. Mark Hunter (Relationships)
Mark spent 18 years in the sales and marketing divisions of three Fortune 100 companies before starting his consulting business in 1998. He travels nationally and internationally 240 days per year working with global leaders like Coca-Cola, Kawasaki, Sara Lee, Mattel, Unilever and Godiva. His strategies are in place with many leading companies, including Fortune 100 corporations in the U.S. and around the world.
In 2012, he published “High-Profit Selling: Win the Sale Without Compromising on Price.” He writes extensively, and is also a contributor to the salesforce.com blog.
• 2014 Sales Engine “18 Sales Blogs You Should Be Reading”
• 2014 Top Sales World “Top 50 Sales Influencers”
• 2014 OpenView Labs “Top 25 B2B Sales Influencers”
• Top 25 Sales Professionals to Follow on Twitter
• CEO World “Brightest Minds to Follow on Twitter”
Mark has worked at the highest levels of business, and he currently consults at the highest levels of business – Fortune 100 corporations. Clearly, you don’t do that as long as Mark has without producing results. His book, “High-Profile Selling,” is a must-add addition to your sales library, and his credentials are on par with anyone in the sales training and consulting profession.
His answer to the question is also oriented around relationships, but he offers a little different twist on the idea:
“Build relationships with strong sales leaders with whom you can meet and learn from. Not only will you learn incredible insights from them, but you will be building a network that will, in turn, create significant opportunities. Remember, you become who you allow yourself to associate with.”
Mark’s idea of ‘building relationships’ is in regard to other sales professionals rather than customers. That is not to imply that Mark doesn’t value the customer relationship as well, but his focus in answer to the question is on developing a network of mentors in the sales profession.
In many respects, it is also a way of getting around the limiting aspect of “one piece of advice” as presented in the question. Surrounding yourself with successful people in the sales profession provides you with the opportunity to continue to learn and grow, and to benefit from the successes and failures of others as your career develops.
A network of strong sales leaders. Active relationships with those mentors. A lifetime of learning.
5. Lori Richardson (Mindset)
Lori Richardson is the founder and CEO of Score More Sales. She is a thought leader on B2B front-line sales growth and works with technology brands worldwide. She is active in the inside sales community and in the local B2B tech sales + marketing community, having been in professional B2B sales roles for 20 years prior to launching her company.
Beginning her career in technology sales for companies like Apple, IBM, HP and Siemens, Lori rose through the ranks from retail to corporate accounts, then from individual contributor (closing millions of dollars worth of business) to sales leader.
In addition to coaching and training frontline sales leaders and sales reps she writes and blogs for technology brands on selling.
• 2014 Forbes “Top 30 Social Sales Influencers”
• 2012, 2013, 2014 “OpenView Top 25 Sales Influencers”
• 2013 Insideview.com “Top 25 Sales influencers”
• 2012 and 2013 SLMA “20 Women to Watch in Sales Lead Management”
It has been fun to watch how each of these experts have approached this very simple question. Lori’s answer struck a nerve with me because of my own personal experience.
When I first started in the sales profession, I struggled. I received some good training, but I worked for a couple of companies that I was not passionate about. It wasn’t until I transitioned into medical sales that I found a company and a product that I found to be personally motivating. With that idea in mind, I was especially pleased to see Lori’s answer to the question:
“Understand that sales is one of the most admirable professions there is; that companies go out of business if their products and services are not sold. You must sell something that you believe in, and find the people and companies that will benefit from it. This solid foundation will allow you to be successful.”
I believe that Lori hits on two critically key points. First, why work in the sales profession if you can’t believe in it and derive satisfaction from your work? Many people are convinced (sadly, by the actions of a few) that the selling profession is less than noble.
However, as Lori points out, nothing happens until someone sells something. It’s not the profession; it’s the actions of some within the profession. But isn’t that true in just about every line of work? If you don’t understand the value of selling and believe in it wholeheartedly, don’t waste your time – success will forever elude you.
Second, cannot be effective in sales you have to believe in your product or service. It is extremely difficult to passionately represent something you’re not bought into. That was my problem at one point in my career – I worked for a great company, but I did not enjoy the products or the nature of the business.
Here are three critical questions for any salesperson:
1. Do you work for a good company?
2. Do you have a good product (or service)?
3. Is it worth what your company charges?
If you can’t enthusiastically say “YES!” to all three, start looking for your next position.
6. Mike Kunkle (Unique)
“Put a middle-aged, balding guy with glasses and a goatee in a blender with 20+ years of sales force transformation experience, a healthy dose of training and development, organization effectiveness, leadership development, process improvement and performance consulting expertise, then sprinkle in 3 step-kids, a cat, an unruly Dachshund, a patient wife, Internet research, social media, elliptical and resistance training, and a Venti Starbucks Americano with an extra shot, steamed soy milk and Truvia, and you get Mike Kunkle.”
After his initial years on the frontline in sales and sales management, Mike spent the next 19 years as a corporate manager or consultant, leading departments and projects with one purpose – to improve sales results. Today, Mike works for a Fortune 10 company in a sales excellence role, but freely shares his own sales transformation methodology, speaking at conferences and writing online.
I’ve met very few people in the sales profession who possess the depth of background knowledge and experience that Mike has. Like many of my colleagues who have weighed in on this very simple question, he is way, WAY smart in the field. His recent four-part series on “The Path to Sales Growth Through Customer Focus” is must reading for sales managers, as is his excellent article on “The 4 Pillars of Sales Value Creation“.
I was excited to see what direction Mike’s answer would take, but, I must say, he completely surprised me:
“I don’t want to participate in a “tip” session of 25 words or less. ‘Focus on the customer’ is entirely trite and benign, in my opinion, and exactly why I hate tips and tricks. This is a pet peeve of mine, [but I] wish you absolutely the greatest of success with it and hope the ideas help in some way.”
Mike is a guy who is passionate about everything “sales.” And he aligns everything he says and does around a core set of principles. So, I understand Mike’s response; in fact, I agree with the whole idea, although it was a bit of a letdown (I had anticipated an especially erudite response!).
In retrospect, however, it is exactly what I would expect from Mike: Thoughtful. Insightful. Uncompromising.
I admire Mike’s avoidance of the “quick fix” or “the tactic of the day.” I think, in fact, that we can derive a more specific answer from Mike’s response:
Avoid the one-sentence, quick-fix, solution to anything. If the sales profession is worth pursuing, it’s worth pursuing in all of its complexity – and that is what will lead you to success.
A fitting conclusion to this series.
Kelly Riggs is a business performance coach and founder of the Business LockerRoom. A former national Salesperson of the Year and serial entrepreneur, Kelly is a recognized thought leader in the areas of sales, management leadership, and strategic planning. He serves clients ranging from small, privately held companies to Fortune 500 firms. Kelly has written two books: “1-on-1 Management™: What Every Great Manager Knows That You Don’t” and “Quit Whining and Start SELLING! A Step-by-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career in Sales.”