Over my decades in business, I've noticed a baffling trend: "Sales" has become a dirty word. I'm on a lifelong campaign to change that.
In fact, many companies no longer call salespeople salespeople. They have account executives or account specialists, business developers, client advisers, relationship consultants, territory managers and numerous other monikers. I even received an email from a radio station saying that they call their salespeople business improvement planners.
I'm not sure why the word "sales" seems to have such a negative connotation. I still have "Envelope Salesman" on my business cards -- and am proud of it. Companies cannot succeed without salespeople bringing the business through the front door. It's that simple.
You don't even have to be writing up orders to be in sales, because everyone in the company is selling something -- ideas, customer service, reputation.
You already believe in your products -- or you should -- so that ought to be the least of your challenges. Sales is really about selling yourself! You may not have a formal sales quota to fill, or get paid on commission, but a good knowledge of how to sell can be very useful to your success, no matter what your career goals are.
Here are some sales tips that apply to any endeavor:
-- Manage your time wisely. Keep track of how much time you spend on your sales process. Identify the activities with the greatest payoff and maximize them, while delegating or cutting down on any that don't add value. Remember the 80/20 rule: In many cases, 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers. Focus on the 20 percent first.
-- Do your research. Whether you're selling a book or just trying to get a job, start by learning as much as you can about your industry and the people in it. The more you know, the better you'll be able to present your product when the time comes. And don't forget that knowing something about your customer is just as important as knowing your product.
-- Get in front of prospects. Every sale starts with a prospect: a potential customer with an interest in what you've got to sell. Identify those who need what you're offering. Find out where they are so you can target your sales efforts effectively.
-- Listen more than you talk. Don't think of sales as the art of pressuring a reluctant customer into buying something he or she doesn't want. You'll get better results by asking questions about your prospect's problems and really listening to his or her needs. Then it will be easier to position yourself effectively.
-- Get into the customer's mind. You've got to tailor your approach to match individual buyers, not take a one-size-fits-all attitude. Once you've targeted specific prospects, spend some time getting to know their personal priorities, professional preferences and what they're looking for when they consider products like yours.
-- Create the demand. It's not how much it's worth, it's how much people think it's worth. Customers often buy products if they can be sure that product will help them solve a problem, and do it quickly and easily. Show how your product or service will make life easier for the person whose support you need.
-- Stop selling and let them buy. Most people like to buy things, but we really dislike being pushed into a purchase. Don't be overly aggressive. Be ready to answer questions and present your product as an opportunity. Never ask a person a yes-or-no question when it could be yes-or-yes instead.
-- Eliminate the risk. Money-back guarantees and other sales tactics limit the customer's risk of making a mistake. You can't offer a "warranty" on your ideas, but know the risks of your product or service ahead of time, and have solutions ready when you are questioned.
-- Develop your sense of humor. You don't have to memorize a string of stale jokes, but you should learn how to see the humor in every situation. If you can make a customer smile, your job is halfway complete.
-- Follow up. Persistence pays. Don't make a pest of yourself, but check in regularly with your customers and prospects to find out what they need. You don't want them to forget about you.
-- Accept rejection gracefully. Rejection is, and always will be, part of business. The sooner you move on, the sooner you'll make another sale.
Mackay's Moral: Whatever you're selling, you're selling yourself first.