Today’s post is by Lynne Zaledonis, senior director, marketing, sales cloud at Salesforce.
Are you considering pursuing a career in a sales role? Whether you’re fresh out of college or contemplating a mid-career change, sales can be a great career choice for many. You’ll learn presentation and negotiation skills, how to communicate effectively, and how to navigate pressure-filled situations. Even if you’re just starting out, sales gives you ample opportunity and you’ll learn quickly whether it’s the right career choice for you.
I worked in sales roles for more than 15 years and it was a rewarding, exhilarating career. But I had a bit of a learning curve when I was just starting out. Below are five things I wish I’d known:
Warm Up to Cold Calling
Cold calling isn’t just hard to get up the nerve to do – it’s also hard to do well and it’s really hard to get someone to take your call. And you don’t want to end up talking to just anyone – you want to talk to the right person, right?
It’s daunting at first, but it’s an essential skill to building pipeline. When I entered sales, I had taken a class and had read books on how to leave an effective voicemail to get someone’s attention. But putting it into practice was different. I stumbled during my first few months of cold calling. Finally, I locked myself in a room with co-worker who’d been in sales for years, and asked her to listen and provide feedback. Doing cold calls with an audience was nerve wracking, but, through constructive criticism and a lot of practice, I started to get better. Once I found my groove, I could start developing my own style – and doing cold calls soon became second nature.
Focus on the Big Picture
Time management is a key differentiator between effective salespeople. I learned to be ruthless in prioritizing tasks. It’s easy to get distracted responding to customer requests that aren’t urgent, attending non-essential meetings, and doing industry research – soon, you realize the day is over and you didn’t get to the list of calls you needed to do. Start each day knowing the most important tasks you need to get done and focus on those.
Master Your Tools, but Also Know Your Resources
Used properly, the right CRM system keeps you organized and reduces your administrative tasks. But, aside from mastering tech tools, you’ll also want to benefit from leveraging your internal and extended team to close your deals. Sometimes the best people to tap are obvious – know who the company pricing expert is or be able to quickly connect with the product guru when you need to get your customer answers in a pinch. But you should also have a network of peers with skills that are essential but not always obvious, such as a person who drafts amazing customer event emails or a person who quickly creates dynamic PowerPoint decks. If you borrow from the skills in your network while sharing your successes as well, you’ll create a continuous learning loop that will inevitably help you sell more.
Be Prepared for a Smart Buyer
Think about the last time you bought a car. Did you just go directly to the car lot without doing any online research? Probably not. You probably spent some time online looking at the options, models, and pricing. It’s the savvy thing to do and – with so much information readily available online – there’s no reason not to.
This is increasingly what buyers are doing – whether they’re buying a car, a TV, or software. In fact, the average B2B buyer is 57 percent through the buying cycle before they reach out to a salesperson. This changes the buying cycle – a lot.
When you first meet with a prospect, they want to hear about pricing and packaging, whereas you want to talk about capabilities and their needs. This can be tricky to navigate because the prospect may have assumptions that aren’t necessarily true, but you don’t want to challenge them and their research. My advice? Be flexible. Be prepared to abandon your standard pitch deck. Instead, ask questions to get them talking about what they learned and what they think they need. Listen actively so you can adjust your counsel to them in real time. And, if they have misconceptions or are relying on the wrong information, nicely correct them in a way that adds value and shows that you understand their needs.
Know Your Audience so You Can Relate to Them
At its core, selling is about forming a connection and understanding what someone needs to be successful. In an industry made up of a wide range of personalities and backgrounds, you need to be adaptable to the given environment. Depending on a customer’s company size, region, and industry, you’ll find that you will have to adjust your style of presenting, negotiating, communicating, dressing, etc., so you’re relatable and well received. For example, to close a deal with a small tech company, I had my decision maker negotiate over text and we always kept the dress code informal (channeling Zuckerberg’s hoodie and jeans) for our business meetings. However, when doing business on the East Coast, I was required to wear a tailored jacket and we had to be prepared for direct questions or decisions. I always knew where we stood after leaving a meeting in that region. Essentially, knowing what makes each customer, region, and company unique allowed me to approach my audiences with a better understanding of how to meet their business challenges and goals.
Sales is both exhilarating and challenging – and I loved every minute of it. Keep this advice in mind during your first few months in sales, and you’ll be on the fast track as a successful salesperson in no time.