Lessons I Wish I Had Learned Earlier in My Sales Career
I’ve been in sales for decades, I’ve done sales training with literally thousands of people across a variety of industries, and I was fortunate enough to have been successful in sales. I started in sales with a recruiting firm that I believed in consistent and frequent sales training. They taught me a lot and I have used much of what they taught me throughout my career, and when I teach sales techniques to others.
There are, however, a number of lessons I wish I had learned earlier in my sales career. They would have helped me and I will share them with you in this article. I know they can help you.
- It takes more than someone who wants to buy to make a sale. Just because a prospect has a need and may even be ready to buy does not mean you will make a sale. Besides completion, pricing and features you may or may not have that the prospect wants, the sales process is a slow dance from initial contact to close.
- Sales just don’t happen. When I started in sales I believed that sales just happened. They happened because I was in the right place at the right time, or I had what the prospect needed, or if I showed up and looked and acted professional the sale would happen. Not true. Closed deals sometimes happen because you are in the right place at the right time, but more often they happen because you did what was necessary to massage the process and move the potential customer along.
- You will lose deals regardless of how good you are. I would look around at others in my office and think the other sales people had some secret they weren’t sharing with me, because it seemed they closed every deal. I came to learn this wasn’t remotely close to the truth. My first sales manager told me (a quote I use in my product Stop Think Sell) there are 20% of the potential deals you will never close even if you are the messiah of the sales business. Something will prevent it from happening that has nothing to do with you. Had I known this earlier on, I would have spent less time fretting about the deals that seemed to just get away. Or I would have spent more time creating more opportunities because I realized there were those 20% I was never going to get anyhow.
- Comparing yourself to others is a waste of time and energy. Every single person has some gifts and talents that you don’t have. Maybe they get lucky. Perhaps they have a network you don’t. It doesn’t matter if they close more deals, if they have been in sales less time than you…if, if, if. Comparing yourself to them consumes your time and creates negative energy that doesn’t serve you in any way. Stop it!
- Focusing on the deals you lose is a waste of time. Every time I lost a deal it would send me into this deep, dark place where I questioned myself and my abilities. I revisited every aspect and tried to figure out what went wrong and where I had missed something. I’d share my story with anyone who listened to me. All this did was keep me stuck and prevented me from creating new opportunities sooner. Yes, it’s fine to spend a bit of time grieving for the loss, and determining if you missed a step or a clue, but 10 or 15 minutes is enough, and hour is too long, and more than that is destructive.
- Closing a deal early on in your career means almost nothing. Of course it’s a good thing, but everyone gets lucky some times. In fact, it’s almost worse to close a deal out of the gate than having to work for the first win. You think you know everything, it comes easily, and it all goes to your head. Sales is work and patience and commitment and tenacity and so much more. I wish I had learned that my colleague who closed a deal in the first couple of weeks was likely not to be with the company six months later because they didn’t do the work necessary for continued success. It would have helped my ego.
- You can create a need, even if the prospect thinks they don’t have one. I always thought you could only close a deal if there was a need the prospect had already defined. Not true. Often they simply don’t realize they have a need and it’s our job to ask enough questions and listen deeply so that a need surfaces they weren’t aware they had. If I had known this early on, I would have spent more time probing and being curious about them and their company instead of trying to identify how my product or service fit.
Early on in my sales career, I learned a lot of sales techniques. I was taught how to handle objections. My manager was a huge proponent of planning and I became knowledgeable about monthly, daily, weekly and even yearly planning. I never made a closing call without my manager sitting beside me, coaching and even giving me exact words to say. We had thirty minutes of sales training every morning before our day got started on every imaginable sales skill you could think of.
I made literally hundreds of cold calls every week and often was thankful the person I called likely didn’t remember my name I was so awful. My sense of who was a realistic prospect and who was stringing me along improved over time. And while I never loved cold calling, my call reluctance diminished over time.
What I missed in my sales training was the seven points I listed above. Whether you are just starting in sales, considering a career in sales, or have been in sales for a while, these lessons are important for you to consider. Had someone shared these insights rather than left me to learn on my own, I would have had fewer sleepless nights, more productive days, and many, many less days my confidence and ego were dragging on the floor.
Want the formula for successful selling? Find out what you need in Stop Think Sell.
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