A stranger you see through the peep-hole in your door trying to get you to change electricity plans...
The immaculately presented real estate lady asking you for your phone number at an open home....
(Insert Jaws theme song!)
This is what most people think of when they hear the word "sales", but the reality is that very few sales people fit this mould, and thankfully very few of them continue with the "hard sell" techniques of yesteryear.
I've always believed that pretty much every job has an element of sales. In some small way, we are all sales people.
Think about corporate service roles (Finance, WHS, IT, HR etc.). Those who do really well in these service functions sell themselves and their function. Rather than just providing service A in response to request B, these service professionals first develop rapport and relationships with key stakeholders and look at ways they can provide a service to those stakeholders. They anticipate their needs and provide solutions the stakeholder didn't even realise they needed.
For example, one of the best IT Managers I knew set time in her calendar every week to connect with different functional heads in the organisation. These could just be informal "drop ins" ; or could be a set meeting to discuss possible IT needs over the following period. During those meetings she would ask probing questions to really understand that stakeholder's function and then use that information to reflect on how IT could support those initiatives. She would use her professional expertise to make suggestions of products/services, use her understanding of their needs to influence the stakeholders as to why these products/services would help them, and then provide these. In this process she was providing excellent customer service, and yes, selling, IT to that stakeholder. This gives the whole IT function credibility and value to the business and therefore makes it less likely to be seen as a candidate for outsourcing. It arguably also gives the IT people higher job satisfaction and helps to continually develop them and increase their skills.
Recently someone posted in one of the business groups I am a member of that she wanted a part time role where she could work at home that wouldn't involve sales. Most of the suggestions given were for her to consider being a Virtual Assistant (VA). This is a good suggestion, but how does she develop her business as a VA if she doesn't want to develop and use sales skills? Now to be clear, I’m not talking about Marketing, because although this can often form part of the sales cycle, most people are fairly comfortable with the idea of marketing their services. But just because you’ve attracted a client with a good marketing effort does not mean they will buy from you! This is where I think that the preconceived notions of sales prevent people from truly thinking about their role as salespeople and the enormous value this could bring to their job or business.
I put the question “What is Sales” to Pritam Sarkar, Director of SearchCraft Sales Recruitment:
“In essence, sales is influence. So, all of us who work towards achieving an outcome - will influence someone. There are great examples like Mandela or terrible ones like Hitler, who influenced a nation. But each one saw a need, came up with their solution and then influenced people towards a desired outcome. Sounds like the same process we label "sales".
Essentially sales is a subset of influence, where money changes hands for goods or services provided. Often, I meet people who want to 'start their business'.... and my first question is "are you willing to sell?" because it doesn't matter what you know or what you make until someone is willing to pay for it. You can not have a business unless you want to learn how to sell. In most cases for small start-up businesses, it is 97% sales efforts and 3% domain experience.
Secondly, sales takes on the character of the individual wielding the influence. So, people who have weak characters and the wrong motives will give sales a bad name. But the problem is not sales, it is about the person using the influence. The challenge is that in a profession with low barriers to entry, low salaries and high incentives for achieving goals, negative stereotypes abound. Essentially, people with good character and integrity can be very good sales people who can help customers achieve their goals whilst earning themselves and their companies the right fees for their time and effort. So, if you have integrity, you should learn how to become a master of influence and enjoy the benefits sales can add to your life and business.”
So where to start?
If you are working in a business, start to think about how Sales can form part of your role. Essentially, you are planning to understand your customers (internal or external), building relationships, finding solutions for their needs and influencing them to want those solutions.
If you are running your own business, then you will need to learn how to sell. Pritam suggests these books for those willing to dive further into the world of sales: Influence by Robert Cialdini and 'E'- Myth - Michael Gerber.