Selling can be a financially and psychically rewarding profession. It can also be a miserable slog. How you experience it is entirely up to you. Combining what is uniquely you with some decent content knowledge, sales process, and interaction skills is the key to your personal success.
There are over 13 million people employed in the United States in “sales and related occupations.” Some make minimum wage and do little more than enter orders and take money. Others work on car lots or dial for dollars during your dinnertime. Others go to work every day in fancy cars and nice suits and make pots of money. And that’s just some of them.
I haven’t met even most of those 13 million people—but I’ve met and trained some thousands of them—and I’m willing to bet a month’s paycheck that the following statements are true:
- Almost none of them grew up thinking they were going to go into sales.
- Almost none of them had any schooling or training that prepared them for a job in sales.
- Almost none of them got the training they needed to succeed at their first job. (Reading a telemarketing script doesn’t count as proper training.)
- 80% of them could enjoy selling a whole lot more—and would sell more—if they found a style, tool set, and discipline that worked for them.
I’ve spent nearly forty years selling, and nearly as much time consulting with sales organizations and training sales people. I’ve worked with some of the biggest and best-known companies in the world, and some of the smallest. I’ve trained, or written programs that others have trained, that tens of thousands of people have used. If I could say just one thing about what I’ve learned it would be this:
Lesson 1: Be the best version of yourself that you can be. The rest takes care of itself.
If you can figure out how to do that every day you go out to sell, you will profoundly change nearly everything you do and experience as you go about engaging with clients. What does “be the best version of yourself” mean? If you have perfect technique and hate what you’re doing, you won’t be successful.
If you have terrible technique but believe passionately in something, anything, and you communicate that passion and conviction to your customer, you will be successful more times than not.
Passion and commitment can be fleeting qualities, so it makes sense that the best answer would be the whole package: Great skills, knowledge, and process along with confidence and positive energy. On the days you’re feeling off, your skill can often keep you in the game. On the days you’re all thumbs and elbows, your conviction can do the same. On the days you bring it all to work, there’s nothing that can get in your way. I can’t help if that sounds like inspirational goop. It’s true.
So which comes first?
It begins with finding some rock of self-confidence you can stand on. Everything else builds from there. Everything else is second place. You have to believe in something, something that’s relevant and related to what you’re getting paid to do, or you should do something else. The good news is that you get to choose your rock: You get to make the links between what you do and who you are. You are the source of your own relevance.
Some time back I had a chance to work with a group of young (well they were younger than me), smart, highly educated people who were just informed that they were now expected to forage for themselves. They now had to sell and they didn’t have a clue how to go about it. They were scared, and scared means they were going to be ineffective. It means they weren’t going to be the best versions of themselves that they could be.
Like so many other people new to sales, they got thrown into the pool with the expectation that somehow they’d figure out how to swim. Most of them won’t make it to the deep end. They won’t even know where and how to start. And to the extent that their failure at selling makes them feel like failures as people, they’ll be chipping away the foundation they most need to be successful, which is . . . to be the best version of themselves that they can be.
Write down at least ten words that capture what you love about the work you do (or want to do). Look at that list before you talk to every client or prospect.