We all wish we could go back in time with the things we know today. For one thing, we would all be rich because we could play the stock market based on the trends that we now know became a thing. But as we go throughout our careers, we end up gaining knowledge we wish we once had when we were beginning our careers.
When I look at the type of salesperson I was at the beginning of my career and the type of salesperson I am today, they are two laughably different people. Even if I look at the difference between today at my current employer, Able, and two years ago, at a company called Next Caller, it feels like it is two entirely different mindsets.
In the beginning of my career, I thought selling was about me. I thought it was all about charm, charisma, presentation skills, and of course, effort. As my career developed, I quickly learned that selling had nothing to do with me and had everything to do with my prospective clients. It is their problems that need to be solved, and not all of them even have the problems that I can solve for to begin with. I talk a lot about this in my book and how I developed a more authentic approach to selling.
When it comes to selling, there are some very commonly known “to-do’s” and I often rail about any “to-do” because in general it means that you have to adjust your own character – and therefore, your authenticity – in order to do what you were taught by some sales manager or some sales program. That being said, a lot of these “to-do’s” align with authenticity in specific ways, like being empathetic, example. If you would be empathetic to your best friend or a family member and present an honest version of yourself in your interactions with them, then you should seek to do the same when you are trying to solve a problem for a prospective client.
With that in mind, I want to talk about four of my favorite lesser-known and somewhat counter-intuitive examples of great tips that I try to incorporate into my role with the hope of helping others to achieve success and to have better and more mutually beneficial conversations with prospective clients.
- Slow Down to Speed Up
There are a lot of really bad sales leaders out there who put pressure on their team to sell more and to sell quickly. The net effect here is often that their subordinates end up behaving in unnatural ways that turn off their prospective clients. While applying time pressure can work psychologically, most people find it cheesy when there is some sort of deal or bargain at the end of the month to sign a contract, and what is oft-forgotten in sales is that the selling process has a direct correlation to how the customer feels long-term about the relationship and subsequent renewals. Long story short: you need to play the long game and many times that requires patience.
“Slow down to speed up” works in a couple different ways for me. First and foremost, if I am active in an opportunity with a client, sometimes we literally need to slow down in order to get more done. Most companies follow a specific selling process because they know that it works and they know that it is beneficial for the customer if the vendor deeply understands their pain and can design a solution that aligns to that pain in a customized fashion. There will be moments in a selling process where the customer wants to skip steps. Rookie salespeople take the bait and try to rush towards the contract. Veteran salespeople understand that skipping steps is detrimental to getting the deal done, and more importantly, making that customer successful.
What do I mean? Well, perhaps you have a champion who wants to just race to signing a contract. The problem is, if you have skipped the steps of really understanding their pain, you are going to have a very difficult time getting the executive sponsor to understand why they should move forward, or at least why it should even be a priority. Or, if you do not truly understand how that customer’s current process works, you are putting your company in a position where even if you close the deal, you might run into hurdles in making that customer successful.
This is where you need to step in and use this phrase: “We need to slow down so that we can speed up.” It shows your customer you care about them and not about you.
The second place where this matters is simply in being strategic. Especially in very complex enterprise sales – like the sales I do – you need to understand all of the risk that exists within a potential opportunity. This means you need to be thoughtful about each and every reply and all of the steps involved to “de-risk” the deal. If you work too quickly, you will miss out on accomplishing this.
- “No” is better than “Maybe”
Salespeople usually hate to hear “no.” I love to hear “no.” Why is that?
“No” lets me move on. As long as someone is on the fence or ignoring me, I have no insight into what is going on and I am spending time in a place that may ultimately be a waste of time for everyone.
At the end of the day, I do not view myself as a salesperson as much as I view myself as a provider of a solution. I do not mean to sound arrogant, but I genuinely feel that most customers really stand to benefit from my product. But it’s also not a good fit for everyone. It might not be the right time for someone. And the sooner I can spend less time with those people so I can identify the people for whom it is very clearly a good fit and the right time, the better for everyone.
There are instances where I get “no” where I have the utmost conviction that the answer should be “yes” and I feel that it was a failing on my part to get the customer to that answer. Do I push back in those situations? Actually, despite what I said above, I do push back. And I say exactly what I just said: “I think it was a failing on my part to show you x/y/z. I can certainly take ‘no’ for an answer and I have many times, but I would like to explain my thought process.” As long as you are honest, you can seek to turn ‘no’ into ‘yes,’ but I prefer otherwise not to push a square peg into a round hole. I have found that when you let people say ‘no’ gracefully, they will be more inclined to want to talk to you in the future when the timing and need exist for them.
- Having competition is a good thing
Salespeople generally do not like running into competition, and I think the reasons for that are obvious. But in reality, having competitors is a good thing. Let me explain why.
Think of some of the lamest companies you have ever heard of in your life. Did they have competitors? Probably not. And the reason for that is because competition generally exists in spaces where the market has validated the idea and the market is large enough to serve competition. That is why Uber came about to much fanfare and now has many competitors throughout its entire ecosystem of services.
Generally, if you go to work at a startup and there is no competition, you should be a little nervous. You have absolutely no evidence at that point to say that the market has a need for your product and that the market will allow for sustainable growth for that business. Of course, there are unicorns who go first and happen to be in the right place at the right time. But generally people do not enter markets unless they have conviction (from evidence) that the market will support competition and that they have built a better mousetrap than their competitors.
Here’s another thing you won’t hear often: it’s great when your competitors call on your prospects. I’ll say that again: it’s great when your competitors call on your prospects! Why is that? Well, I have a chapter in my book about how there are two major parts of selling if you really distill it down: educating the customer on their pain, and then showing the customer that you have a solution for their pain. The second part of that equation is usually much easier as long as you have a good product and understand how to sell against your competition. But showing a customer they have pain – especially if they did not come to you organically, which is going to be the case the majority of the time – is incredibly challenging. You may go to the dentist with a toothache and find out you have a cavity. Realistically, the cavity is the much bigger issue than the toothache, but you really only feel the pain of the toothache. It is the dentist’s job to show you why you should solve for the cavity.
When your competitors call on your potential customers, they are helping to educate them on the pain that you solve. In a way, they are doing your dirty work for you. Now the prospect is aware of their pain and if they are smart, they will do their research on what players in the space exist to solve it. Especially in the Enterprise space – like in an RFP – there are requirements to evaluate multiple vendors before aligning on a solution. So your competitor might literally spend a lot of time with a customer only to let you ultimately win the deal. You can thank them later.
- Care less
This is the one that I think surprises people the most.
If you want to be really good at sales, you just need to care less about it.
We all have these deep attachments to what we want for ourselves, and being successful and making money is usually the “thing” we need to happen so that we can obtain that thing. The problem is, when you focus on what you want for you, you really lose sight of doing your job, which is to be useful to someone else. There is this saying that “what goes around, comes around,” and I truly believe that. I have found that when I am not attached to these things that I think I need for myself, I’m able to really help the customer.
Not to get really weird, but we are really specks of dust in the universe and we have no real indication of why we exist or what our purpose is. From that perspective, the minutiae of our everyday lives and these conversations we carry on with customers lose a lot of the luster we might otherwise attach to them. In a way, we take ourselves too seriously.
When you are able to “let go,” you best position yourself to authentically help others. It’s no different than the way you treat your best friends or a close family member. When they come to you with a problem, you generally act in their interest because you really care about them. This is the way you want to treat a customer if you are doing your job right. The problem is, our own selfish desires get in the way. So, care less, realize there was life before that customer conversation and there will be life after that customer conversation, and reap the benefits.