Though a business degree will certainly help you get your foot in the door for a sales career, there’s not much that can prepare you for your first cold call. We’ve compiled a list of lesser-known sales tips that every veteran has learned somewhere along their post-business-school journey.
1. It’s more important to be a good listener than a good presenter.
You may have learned that sales is all about establishing rapport, exercising your charisma, and being a confident and compelling public speaker. That’s all well and good; however, it ignores one of the most vital selling skills: listening. Not just listening for a good conversation break in which to insert yourself. I mean listening with the intent of truly understanding.
At the end of the day, we appreciate being heard more than being talked at. It should come as no surprise that listening helps foster more open and engaged relationships. Studies also show that listening is directly linked to interpersonal influence. In short, the better listener you are, the more persuasive you’re apt to be.
2. The best solution is often the simplest.
Oftentimes, we feel that we need to make things more complex in order to prove our expertise and demonstrate our worth. The back-and-forth of sales can feel like a game and there’s an undeniable beauty to executing intricate plays; however, greater complexity doesn’t always translate into greater value. If a simple solution exists, don’t overthink it. In addition to being effective, keeping things simple is often less stressful and more efficient than trying to skirt the obvious.
3. The correct answer isn’t always the right answer.
Ask any married couple and they’ll tell you that all strong relationships require compromise. That shouldn’t mean going against your core values or better judgment, but it does mean being flexible and knowing when to hold your ground and when to meet in the middle.
Sales is no different. There are bound to be instances when you present all the facts and make prudent recommendations, and your prospect still fails to see what you see. Maybe they have their sights set on a different solution that you feel is not as perfect as the option you presented. In those instances, it can be hard to accept that there could be anything more influential to a purchasing decision than hard facts and logic. Although logic plays a role in our buying considerations, emotion often has a more immediate and persuasive effect.
At the end of the day, we all deserve the freedom to make our own informed, yet intuitive, decisions. While you shouldn’t encourage someone to purchase something you know they’ll be unhappy with, it’s important to acknowledge and respect their preferences even if you don’t quite understand them. If you truly think their emotional compass is steering them off course, come up with some similar, but favorable, options, rather than insisting on a solution they’ve already rejected.
4. It’s okay to say no to unrealistic requests.
Where compromise is beneficial, blind appeasement is dangerous. Somewhere along the line, “the customer’s always right” became so ingrained into culture that salespeople started to think they could never say no. Although agreeing to unrealistic requests may make prospects feel satisfied in the short term, it will ultimately hurt both parties. It’s vital to set realistic expectations during the sales process—that includes being upfront and honest about things like key deliverables, outcomes, timelines, and costs.
For context, think about the restaurant industry. You walk into a busy restaurant and ask the host how long the wait will be. A good host will be friendly and accommodating but set realistic expectations. If the wait for a table is an hour, they’ll say so. It’s certainly not what you want to hear and the restaurant risks losing your business; however, it also awards you, the prospective customer, the opportunity to make a deliberate and informed choice. This frankness inevitably leads to higher customer satisfaction, retention, and trust. If the host were to tell you that the wait was shorter because they feared upsetting you or losing your business, they’d ultimately set you up for dissatisfaction and decrease the likelihood of your return—no matter how good the meal ended up being.
5. It’s better to have five good connections than 50 mediocre ones.
It’s a misconception that productive salespeople are always working a variety of deals. Casting a wide and undiscerning net is both exhausting and ineffective. Ultimately, lead quality matters more than quantity. If you focus your time and attention on a few, highly qualified leads and tailor your approach accordingly, you’ll build stronger connections and your sales efforts will be more likely to pay off. In addition, focusing on a few connections will help you establish realistic expectations that set customers up for success and lead to more cross-sells, upsells, and repeat business.
In school, there’s usually one right answer that will earn you points on a test. In life, there are often many equally valid ways to accomplish a goal. Don’t be afraid to be your own authority and use your experience and judgment to tweak what you’ve learned. Finding a sales approach that works for you doesn’t necessarily mean adhering to a step-by-step methodology—it means continuing to learn and optimize as you go.