Sales. The word alone just makes my buttocks clench. I'm happy sending a few emails and doing a bit of writing. But here's the thing: I'm not a sales person. But who actually is?
Many years ago when I started my career as a roving reporter at a local rag, my boss decided I needed to venture into sales. (Great.) He couldn't afford (didn't want to) pay me any money, so he told me to sell ads to fund my beautiful writing career.
The downside of this was the fact that the whole office (all five of us) were now doing sales. The upside was the big fat 25% commission.
Not wanting to disclose my age, but this was a sales office before the invention of email and the internet - so phoning was our thang. But it was a rare thing to hear a phone ring more than twice in that office because it was like a Wild West gunfight to get that phone answered and make that sale. I never seemed to be quick enough.
My cold calling was a disaster. I worked my way through the Yellow Pages and often had the phone put down on me, or told the magazine was a pile of old tripe (...maybe). I just wanted to be writing.
My lucky break came one day when everyone was out for lunch. Not me - I was too skint to eat out. And then the phone rang.
I answered. Heart beating a little faster:
"Good afternoon Local Rag Magazine, how can I help you?"
The woman on the end of the phone sounded green. She'd never encountered the blackened soul of a magazine sales exec before:
"Hiya! I've just started a dog grooming business and I want to take out a quarter page advert. How much does that cost?"
I paused for a second. What's this? She's telling me what she wants. She wants to know the price. Now, I'd been told the price for a quarter page advert was £250, but you could go down to £100, just to fill the space. Most advertisers squirmed at the list prices. You'd have to negotiate and negotiate to get them in the magazine - virtually begging most of the time.
"Okay, that's £250 for a quarter page advert."
Is she going to baulk? Will she go to the competitors? Will she want a smaller ad?
"Great, I'll do that please."
I was in shock. That was just too easy. I just made £62.50 in a two minute conversation! Part of me felt great (I was skint), and part of me felt like I'd conned her. She could have got it cheaper if she'd put the screws on me. I would have caved in and given it cheaper.
Needless to say, I didn't make many more sales. My evil boss moved me to a desk next to him to make sure I was constantly dialling digits. Then it came to the point where he fired me. He told me I was a rubbish sales person and my life was rubbish too - what was I going to do without a job, without any money and without a boyfriend (his words)? I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd got a proper full-time writing job with his competition and sworn enemy - I just let him have his little moment. No more feeling like I was conning and cheating people for a living.
With hindsight, I wasn't conning people. I wasn't cheating people - it's just that I didn't see the value in what the advertisers were buying into. I didn't believe in the product, so I found it very difficult to don the sales exec hat and sell my soul to the devil.
And that's what a lot of people think sales people are like. I hear a lot: "I'm just not a sales person - it's not in me to sell."
The Wolf of Wall Street is one of my all-time favourite films - but this is the perception of sales - tricking customers into handing over their hard-earned cash; capable of committing fraud and corruption. A salesperson will do anything for money - they will go to any lengths to gain money. They have little moral fibre and are materialistic and shallow. A salesperson is aggressive and pushy - and certainly untrustworthy. Also, there is an inverted snobbery that a salesperson must be intellectually inferior because they can do these sort of things because they were never any good at anything else.
But times have changed. I'm sure there are still some sales dinosaurs out there - but if you don't embrace sales and marketing - your business is going to fail. You must have heard the old saying: if you're in business, then you're in sales? Well it's very true. But growing your business can be hard when you're super busy doing what you do best.
NEW AGE SALES
I'm not talking about lighting a candle and doing some yoga - I see sales very differently now. Long gone are the days of no internet and cold calling. Customers and businesses are intelligent and savvy. They have the resources at their fingertips to find whatever they need within seconds.
They will already have saturated themselves with research and information before they even reach your business. Your customer needs an intelligent and expert advisor - not a salesperson.
You are not selling something - you are solving your customer's problems with your amazing product or service. You are helping them be better and be more efficient and effective.
And remember, you are not selling to everyone. I've already talked about the importance of knowing your current customer with segmentation: Why Segmentation Really Matters. Your product or service may be educating, entertaining or problem solving, but finding your next customer is all about knowing the customers you already have.
Research is a new key area in the sales process. You can find out a lot about your prospect by doing a bit of cyber stalking. This may be time consuming but can pay dividends when it comes to pitching and closing. Adapting your approach and not having a one-size-fits-all.
We used to think the salesperson was a professional talker - not anymore - listening is key. Find out about your customer's problems and pain points and find a way to solve them. Add value and then add more value. After all, you are their solution.
Don't get stuck behind the old sales stereotypes. If your are a small business owner - you are the best advocate for your business - you clearly are a salesperson - and so am I!