Before I started my first job, I was biased against sales, and would have associated a word such as “sleazeball” to the stereotype of a salesperson. Sales, I thought, was not a very honest profession. How can do sleep at night when you push unwanted products or services onto poor, naive customers? Fast-talking, greasy, insincere were all traits I associated with sales roles.
My first corporate job was working in a media company in San Francisco, selling media space (print, online and event) advertising to tech companies. My next move after that was to become a proposal writer for a pharmaceutical services company — we sold software to pharmaceutical companies who run clinical trials.
Through these experiences, I learned how wrong I was.
Working firsthand doing sales support, a few sales calls myself, proposal writing and spending a ton of time with salespeople, I got to see a variety of successful salespeople who had a range of personality types from the typical used-car-salesman personality to thoughtful, caring, sincere colleagues. I’ve had the opportunity to watch success happen in various ways through observing the 20 plus sales and business development directors I’ve worked with over the course of 5 years.
What are the top takeaways about sales that I’ve learned in working in the B2B sales world for 5 years?
(1) Being successful in sales is based on relationships. Especially true with B2B marketing or sales for which a salesperson relies on repeat customers (i.e. the majority of selling), sales can be largely influenced towards the positive or negative based on the relationship the salesperson has with (potential) customers.
This is why it’s important for salespeople to break bread or otherwise spend time with clients outside of an office context. Imagine you’re a salesperson, at day 2 of a big out-of-town conference. It’s 10 pm. Your client invites you to come with him and his colleagues to go to a bar, but you have second thoughts because you have to get up early the next day.
Think twice before declining the invitation; nurturing a relationship with clients through informal social channels are a great way for salespeople to create trust and develop an authentic relationship with clients that is not just based on the fact that they want want you to buy something.
(2) Successful sales is about a true exchange of money and the goods. In a good sale, a buyer is giving money for a service or product that they actually want. Working with a good salesperson who wants to build a long term relationship and see repeat business, they can’t sell someone something to a buyer which doesn’t give the buyer the value they thought they were paying for. That will only ensure that the buyer doesn’t come back.
(3) Sales don’t happen overnight. Developing relationships, educating your customers about your products, showing the value of your product and getting through the various levels and managers within an organization takes time. Planning ahead in sales is known as the sales cycle – meaning you have to acknowledge that, especially with B2B sales, a decision will not happen immediately, given that various individuals may be involved in making the ultimate decision.
So, for all you non-salespeople out there, before being quick to judge the salespeople you see, try to assess — are they actually engaging in good sales, or perhaps the sales that makes you squirm in your seat is an example of poorly targeted, unskilled selling?
Keep an open mind – good salespeople come in all different types and personalities.
Have you had a similar experience? Have you ever had preconceived notions of individuals you’ve worked with based on their profession or function? How does this help or hurt you?