Do you love your profession, believe passionately in your product or service, but hate having to sell it? Did you qualify as a professional; develop your skills and expertise, only to discover that professional expertise is no longer enough, now you have to actually acquire clients?
If so, you are probably what I call a reluctant sales person. Someone who woke up one day and realised they have to sell first before they can work, make money, or do the very thing they qualified to do.
How did this happen?
There are three main reasons why you're having to do more selling in your job:
- Economic pressures: When economic times are good, selling more closely resembles order taking. If your business is taking a hit in the downturn you have to step up your selling to close the gap.
- The information explosion: Google CEO Eric Schmidt said three years ago that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. This means firstly that professional service providers now have to compete with a lot of free information available online. Secondly, competition has massively increased. Everyone can now locate multiple suppliers at multiple price points around the world rather than just checking out one or two local businesses and making a choice.
- The next generation of business professionals: Due, in part, to the other two factors the age of doing business through old school networks and members' clubs has ended. Our parents never had to attend 'networking events'; there were a limited number of suppliers, they were all local, and your clients knew you (or about you) through personal connections. Today we have to find clients and convince them to work through us with virtually no 'social currency' to help us get ahead. [This is why using social media has become so popular in business too.]
And you are not alone. About three million or one in ten workers in the UK is involved in Sales. And that figures doesn't take into account what author and research Daniel Pink calls 'The rise of non-sales selling'. He undertook research that shows that people are now spending about 40% of their time at work in non-sales selling - persuading, influencing, and convincing others in ways that don't result in a purchase (Powerpoint anyone?)
So even if you're thinking of leaving your job or retraining chances are you'll still have to sell.
What can you do about it?
Once you accept you have to sell as part of your job there are a few things you can do to make it a more satisfying, and successful, experience:
- Stop Procrastinating: It's all too easy to avoid calling a potential client or skip a networking event but let's face it, you'll never 'feel' like selling, you just need to do it. Which leads me to my next suggestion...
- Create a sales system: You might be surprised to find that if you work out the metrics carefully (how much of each activity leads to a sale) you can predict fairly accurately what you need to do to achieve sales e.g. 4 networking events per month, call 10 potential prospects a week, upsell 1 existing client etc. Set yourself the activity targets and just do it to meet sales targets
- Put emotion aside: Reluctant Sales people are often caught up in their product or service and feel emotionally attached to it. This leads them to start selling features and benefits rather than listen to the needs of the potential buyer. Put your emotions to one side in order to ask better questions and stop telling people how great you/your product/your service is.
- Don't let net working become not working: Networking is the one area of business development by professional practices that is considered legitimate. Unfortunately familiarity and relative comfort (you might not like it but it beats making calls) can mean that a lot of time is spent on this activity with little return. Evaluate which events provide a result or create mutually beneficial relationships and ditch the rest.
- Ask for referrals: Have you agreed with your current clients to ask for referrals at regular intervals? If not, this is something you need to put in place. Referrals from happy clients who know you and have benefitted from working with you are your best source of new business. Try setting yourself a weekly target for the number of referrals you will give - and ask for.
- Take control of the sales process: People have been buying for as long as people have been selling. Over time they have developed a system for dealing with salespeople. If you're hearing these things - "Sorry I'm in a meeting", "Send me an email/proposal" "That sounds expensive will you do me a discount?" "I don't have budget" - you are trapped in the Buyers System and need to take control. You're entitled to be treated fairly in the sales process, not given the run around. Focus on facilitating their business decision and don't get caught up in game playing.
Reluctant salespeople recognise that in order to acquire clients they need to sell; the trick is to sell in a way that maintains their self-respect and dignity. Achieve this and it becomes much easier.