My recent screed regarding intrusive telemarketing calls (Selling? That’s Not Selling) was greeted with many constructive comments and a surprising number of positive reactions on the part of sales folks. Many of these folks correctly guessed or figured out that I have been involved in sales myself. Indeed, I have carried a briefcase around a territory, lived on draws and commissions and also more recently actually looked after a group of inside sales agents.
While none of those things are within the scope of my current responsibilities, believe me when I say that I have all of the admiration in the world for great salespeople.
I think given the wonderful reactions to my previous piece, it is only fair that I follow that up with some constructive suggestions of my own.
As indicated in the previous piece, the role of Sales is changing. Sales is changing because business is changing. More and more manufacturers are embracing a demand-driven business model. The strategy of providing sales teams with incentives to clear out warehouses full of product at the end of the year is not applicable in a world where products aren’t produced unless they’ve been ordered.
As a consequence, sales folks are expected to deliver value to prospects from the beginning. Prospects aren’t interested in pitches, they are interested in learning useful things and attaining knowledge that is immediately or at least, potentially useful to them. So, as a sales rep, you need to become familiar with what it is your prospects are actually doing all day. What worries them, what keeps them up at night?
How do you do that without picking up the phone and asking, “Hey, what are you doing”?
Here are five strategies that I’ve learned from great salespeople.
1) Get Social
This is huge. Folks gather together via social into assorted groups, circles or other organizational units. These are typically based on some common interest. Some of these interests are professional, and some are based on hobbies, politics or artistic preferences. It’s very simple—join the groups that your prospects are joining. Personally, I prefer LinkedIn because the groups are easy to evaluate in terms of membership, they offer a variety of discussion options and the individual profile data is pretty good as well.
The engagement process within groups must be natural, not forced and certainly not blatant. I would recommend spending your first month within a group listening only. Read the conversations, get a feel for who is posting and what they are discussing. As you become familiar with the players in the group, slowly start participating in those discussions that are relevant to your product and your own knowledge.
Don’t hide the fact that you are a salesperson, but don’t open a discussion with a “wanna buy one of these?” statement. Show folks that you are multi-dimensional, build trust and pretty soon you will be trusted. When the time comes for the buyer to actually start talking like a buyer, who do you think they will talk to first?
2) Become a Joiner
Join professional associations, industry groups and local chapters of any buyer-relevant organization. You will learn a ton about your own product and its application to real-world problems. You will also make new contacts and build relationships that will only come from repeated engagement over time. If you can, be active in the organization, volunteer for various committees and perhaps run for office.
If you think, wow, sounds like work, you are right. Sales is not an 8 to 5 job. Great salespeople are obsessed with their job 24×7. If you don’t enjoy—maybe even love—talking with people, you may want to consider another career path.
3) Be a Blogger
You likely have opinions about many things. Why not share them? People will be interested in your thoughts. Pick out a subject related to your product or market or common problems faced by your prospects. People will read it. Don’t be afraid of being controversial; some people will disagree with you no matter what position you take on an issue. The point is to be generous with your knowledge, open to different opinions and eager to engage in constructive conversation. The easiest way to do this is by starting your own blog.
Blogging is a wonderful way to establish your professional credibility. It also helps you organize your thoughts and to communicate more effectively.
I would recommend starting off blogging about something not work related. Write about a hobby, current events or other things. Get your writing skills honed a bit before you tackle work- or product-related topics. Also, if you do continue to blog about “personal” things, be sure your personal blog is separated from your professional blog. You will be addressing two different audiences, so don’t confuse them by talking about kayaking one day and product evaluation strategies the next.
I recommend WordPress for any blogger, but there are many alternatives. The WordPress product is scalable in terms of pricing and sophistication. Another great alternative is what I frequently use, LinkedIn. Their blogging service is included in the basic plan so it does not involve any money out of pocket. You can easily deploy to other platforms from the LinkedIn base.
If you are new to LinkedIn, you may want to opt for another alternative until you have established a large group of followers.
4) Curate a Newsletter
There are any number of tools out there that will make this task virtually painless. You set up your interests and subjects and the tool gathers articles, videos, blog pieces and other media about your subject. You post the newsletter and do some basic promotion. Before you know it, you have a following and readers for your periodical.
It is easy to get started in this area. Check out Scoop.it or Paper.li services online. Both offer automated aggregation services for content that you specify. They also offer several different publication frequencies. This you can start doing tomorrow.
5) Promote your Knowledge
The more you write, talk and read about a subject the more knowledgeable you will become about that subject. Promote your knowledge. This is far more effective than promoting your name alone. Consider how your Twitter handle, Facebook page and so forth promote you.
If you are identified as something like @joejones you should remember that it means nothing to anyone who does not already know you. But using something like @joetheexpert says something about you that people will find interesting and memorable. Obviously if you are an expert in bulldozers, build that specialty into your handle. @joethebulldozerguru or even @joethedozerman carries meaning and aligns you with your message.
Social media, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the rest are the best places to start building your online identity. You will want to link these entities as your outlets so when you post on one service, they all carry your outbound content. Again, look at opening separate iterations for personal versus professional content. Facebook is a great vehicle, but keep in mind that your at-work persona may be at odds with your after-hours persona.
Over the course of a year or so, you will build a following that is genuinely interested in what you have to say. Along the way, you can start forwarding pieces, articles, videos of interest and other knowledge-based material to your followers. You can interact with your followers as a group or individually. There is nothing wrong with adding a personal note to an article or other content offering to discuss or perhaps asking for an opinion. This makes you an expert and turns you into a trusted source instead of a commission-driven rainmaker.
When the time comes to think about buying a product, who are they going to turn to? You are the expert, you are the trusted information source. You are no longer Joe the guy that sells stuff; now you are Joe the guy who knows about stuff.