When I was a teenager, I worked as a cleaner before I went into door-to-door sales and retail sales before I finally served my national service and got into the IT education industry as an IT Trainer. I like to talk to people, understand them, their challenges in life and at work, ask them questions about their aspirations – because of that, many people said to me, “You should be in Sales!”
I always said, “I’d do any job except to become a sales man.” I thought selling was scary! I thought that to be successful in sales, I had to be very aggressive. I didn’t like my experience in retail sales as I was trained to sell to my customers even though they don’t have a need for my products. I didn’t like that, and I left the retail sales industry.
One of my previous bosses said, “Moonshi, you’d be a natural sales man! You listened attentively, and often you share ideas that helps people to solve their problems!”
I was horrified to hear that. I thought selling was something only pushy sales people and other loud and fast talking charismatic people do. I was negatively influenced by my experiences with bad sales people and my retail sales manager who trained me, and I didn’t have a clue what good selling is like.
In reality, many years later I realized that I have been selling myself over and over during my careers. I have been selling my ideas, capabilities and experiences and sell my passion and my enthusiasm.
In fact, you sell yourself every day on the job — not just when you’re job-hunting. Your boss and the rest of the people you work with don’t form an initial opinion of you and leave it at that. You sell yourself at every interaction.
You sell your ideas when you propose a solution or pitch a plan to your boss or to a colleague. When you say, “Hey Rachel, want to work on the new-product numbering scheme with me?” you’re in sales mode.
Like a lot of people, I had the wrong belief that selling meant “beating people over their head, forcing them to bend to my will and parting with their money”. That’s completely wrong! Oh boy, how misguided was I.
Good selling is the opposite of pushing people to buy things from you. Good selling requires listening and aligning yourself with another person’s needs, pains, challenges and aspirations.
Great sales people don’t feel they have to push anybody to do or buy anything. They solve problems for their customers. You can do the same thing. You can sell your boss on your ideas, and you can sell yourself to anybody who needs to know what you can deliver – on a job search, or on the job.
Sooner or later you’re going to want to sell your boss on something. Maybe you’re looking fora promotion or a raise. Maybe you want to sell your boss on changing the way you handle acertain situation in a project. Maybe you want your boss to buy into your vision for a newproduct or to allow you to focus and sell on a few specific industries only. It doesn’t matterwhat you’re trying to sell. The process is the same in every case.
You’re going to start with one of our favorite concepts — pain. We love to talk about“Business Pains” at CommGate because we sell business software solutions that empowerbusinesses to grow, profit and succeed. Our four favorite topics are pain, challenges, needsand aspirations. You’re going to incorporate these into your sales technique.
Selling an Idea to Your Boss
Let’s imagine your boss is called Ivan. What does Ivan care about? That’s where you’ll start.Don’t attempt to sell Ivan on your great idea until you know how your idea fits into Ivan’s needs, challenges, pain or aspirations.
You should be asking:
- What’s bugging Ivan?
- What keeps him on his desk all-day and awake at night?
- What makes him worry about his team sales targets in the company?
- What isn’t working correctly?
Once you spot the connection between your big idea and Ivan’s “Business Pain” or “BusinessAspirations”, you’re already way ahead of the game!
Most people attempting to sell ideas up-stream don’t stop and think much about their boss’s needs, pains, challenges or aspirations. They don’t take their customer’s perspective, and that’s where they go wrong.
In this sales situation, Ivan is your customer. You can sit around and complain that Ivan isstupid to appreciate the brilliance of your idea or you can dig in and take the time to see theworld through Ivan’s glasses. When you do that, you can make Ivan buy your idea.
Make a list of Ivan’s priorities for this financial year. What does he care about? Let’s say Ivanhas three goals. He wants to increase sales profitability, develop his regional sales managers and reduce the number of incoming customer support calls.
Now, let’s translate Ivan’s priority list into “Business Pain” language. As long as Ivan’s threegoals remain unmet, Ivan has three kinds of “Business Pain” bothering him:
- He’ll be behind on his sales goals – that’s his biggest Business Pain.
- He’ll have green, untrained regional sales managers who make mistakes in the field,
which then affects profitability.
- He’ll have a sky-high customer support issues with lots of staff overtime and unhappy customers.
We can say that Ivan has three priorities, or we can say that Ivan has three kinds of “BusinessPains” he needs to alleviate fast!
As you think and analyze the situation, you realized that sales are slow because the experienced sales professionals are not located where the greatest need is. If the experiencedsales professionals were located near the customers most in need of sales help, some of Ivan’spain could dissipate. Orders will come in quicker. There’s someone expert serving these few industries, profitability will go up and there’ll be lesser or no customer complaints.
That’s why you want to re-align the sales plan and focus on a few specific industries you know best. If you want Ivan to take your idea seriously, you have to show Ivan how your newplan solves some of his pain. You have to make sure Ivan knows how his life gets better whenyour plan gets implemented. This is where you paint a new reality to him, show him the brightness of the future and how you can help him solve his problems and achieve his aspirations!
Don’t assume that Ivan, or any busy and overstressed boss, will see the connection between his pain and your solution. If you stride into Ivan’s office and say, “I want to re-align my sales plan” Ivan may say “No distractions or changes! We have a sales target to hit. Go back toyour desk and start calling customers for appointments!”
You have to make the connection between Ivan’s pain and your solution very clear. Set your context first by sharing your past sales wins, the industries you have been serving, why you are the best person to serve the few specific industries and show the facts based on your sales orders that you have received — that you are the best person to serve the few specific industries.
You have to share all that information based on facts and data. Then, present it in a pre-school version instead of a technical explanation.
If you don’t spell out the connection between Ivan’s pain and your idea, he’s likely to miss the relationship. He’s likely to say, “Don’t suggest any new ideas until we hit our sales target.”
Selling on a Job Interview
On a job interview, you’re selling yourself and your ideas, too. The last thing you want to dois push. You want to go the other way — to draw out the interviewer; to get (and keep) him or her talking about what’s going on in the department and what isn’t working perfectly. You have no agenda except to learn everything you can about the “Business Pain” affecting your hiring manager, and then let him or her know that you’ve solved that sort of pain before.
Are you thinking, “Surely, I’m going to tell my hiring manager how to solve the pain, too,right?” That’s not a good idea. It’s not the best approach.
Rather than telling the hiring manager what he or she should do, you’re going to explain your process for solving the hiring manager’s problem. That way, the hiring manager is focused onyou and the quality of your thinking rather than on scribbling notes about the solution you’reproposing. You won’t take the chance that the hiring manager has already heard your idea and rejected it, or worse yet, already tested a variation of it without success.
When you have something to sell, it’s time to start asking questions. On a job interview, youhave something to sell. You’re selling the notion of you as a great new hire. You can’t talkabout why you’d be a great employee, because you don’t know that you’d be the perfect hire.You don’t know enough about the manager’s pain. You have to find out!
Here’s an example:
MANAGER: So, why should I hire you? I’ve talked to a lot of people.
YOU: That’s a great question. You know the environment here, and what you’re looking for inyour next hire. I haven’t met the other candidates, of course. There may be someone bettersuited to the job than me. I’m not trying to be humble; I’m just answering your question literally.
MANAGER: That’s an interesting answer. Never heard that before. So you don’t want the job?
YOU: That’s definitely not accurate. I’m learning more and more about the job as we talk. The part that interests me the most in what I’ve heard so far is the Needs Analysis process documentation part.
MANAGER: Are you a process documentation expert?
YOU: Thank you for asking. I’ve only documented processes for our own department in my two past jobs, but I love it and I can see where my documentation has made a positivedifference and impact. Can I ask you a few questions about that?
YOU: Why are you thinking about documenting processes now Documentation takes time.You must have other priorities. (You’re probing for Business Pain.)
MANAGER: Some of our team leads have asked for process documentation.
YOU: Why is that?
MANAGER: Some of the employees in their departments don’t understand our established processes.
YOU: So your team leads want the processes documented for training purposes?
MANAGER: They don’t have time to demonstrate every process over and over again.
YOU: Are some of your processes documented now, or would the process documentation be starting from scratch?
MANAGER: We have process descriptions, but they’re out of date.
(You’re not going to launch into a monologue about your success documenting procedures. You’re still in Pain-Spotting mode!)
YOU: And how does the absence of documentation affect you in the department?
MANAGER: There’s confusion. People don’t know how to proceed.
YOU: That causes mistakes?
MANAGER: Yes. Customers get upset.
YOU: That’s a headache for you. (This is where you empathize with his situation.)
YOU: Process documentation is one solution. The problem is that you can almost never catch up. In some ways documenting every process is like trying to live your life and write it alldown at the same time. It’s nearly impossible to stay current, and the job is huge.
MANAGER: So what would you do instead?
YOU: Have you ever thought about peer mentoring? You put the more experienced folks alongside newcomers and let the veterans help the newbies.
MANAGER: How does that work exactly?
(This is where you’ll decide how much detail to share. Remember – don’t give away the store!You’re not selling the boss on implementing peer mentoring. You’re selling him on hiring you, and that’s exactly what he does!)
When you show up for your first day of work, your new boss says, “Every other candidate talked about documenting processes. I knew in my gut we’d never be able to stay current thatway. We’d be drowning in process documentation after a month or two, and our teammembers still wouldn’t know what was going on. You were the only person who suggested something different.”
So, don’t be afraid to sell. It’s fun and rewarding to help people solve their problems and maketheir pain go away. If you stay in listening mode and ask a lot of questions, you’ll never haveto pressure anyone to do anything they don’t like.