Disclaimer # 1: This might be the longest post I will ever make. So if you already hated my earlier long posts, don’t even bother reading this. This is more than 1200 words long.
Still here? OK then, you’ve been warned.
My biggest apprehension when I jumped out of corporate world can be summed up in one word – SALES.
I never held a sales role before. I hate selling. I knew I was bad at it.
But I also knew I had no choice. If I REALLY wanted to give life outside the corporate world a shot, I had to learn how to sell. So, “Time to suck it up, Ivan”. It was once again time to learn something outside my comfort zone.
Disclaimer # 2: I feel very uncomfortable posting about sales because I am a newbie. I have just been doing this for 4 months – but given that I was able to close multiple consulting agreements already (YEY!), surprisingly faster than I expected, I feel like I am doing a few things right.
Here are four concepts that I hope can also help those of you who are non-sales people like me.
1. Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
If you want to sell anything, you need to know what makes you (or your thing) unique enough that you should be chosen over other options. Don’t even bother selling if you can’t figure this out. You need to be able to simplify your USP to 1-3 sentences. Anything longer will confuse your prospects.
Here’s mine for the consulting part of my business:
“Instead of hiring four consultants (1 for HR, 1 for IT, 1 for Data Analytics, and 1 for Process Re-engineering) who probably won’t get along with each other, just hire me to professionalize your company. I do all four without any headache for you to manage multiple consultants. And btw, I will not charge you for four people.”
Sometimes I use this instead:
“I offer consultancy mentoring which is not the same as standard consulting where you only receive advice from me. My approach is to build relationships with your people so that I can mentor and coach them to be star players in your company. My work is done only when our projects have been implemented and your people have reached their potential.”
I try to ensure my messaging (USP) is clear before connecting with clients.
So before you start selling, write down your USP. Why you? Why your product? Why your service? Do not skip this step.
2. Business Development Process
I thought the selling process was:
Ivan meets client -> Ivan bugs client -> Client gets worn down until he buys.
I felt so stressed thinking this was how I was supposed to do it.
Enter Business Development Process. Apparently, you can break down the “selling goal” into mini goals and just focus on delivering each mini goal. This sequence of mini goals is called the Business Development process. Here’s my selling process now after I meet a client:
Mini Goal 1: Talk to client to get to know them and understand their problems/concerns. Never sell anything. The only goal is to get the client’s email. Not so hard right?
Mini Goal 2: Give something of value to client via email (an article or an idea or a best practice that is of actual value to them). Again, never sell anything – but ask if you can drop by their office for a visit. The only goal here is to get invited to the client’s office. Easy!
Mini Goal 3: Once in client’s office, REALLY listen – understand what they need and what their problems are. Listen more and talk less. For the problems that you can’t solve yourself, link your clients to people or solutions that can help them (again you are giving them value). For the problems that you can solve, explain your Unique Selling proposition. If you already have a USP, then this will not be hard. Do not try to get your client to buy from you at this time. The only goal here is to get your client to ask for a proposal/quote from you.
Mini Goal 4: Send proposal to client within 2-3 days. Frame the proposal based on your client’s problem. This should be easy since you REALLY listened to them in step 3. Your only goal at this time is to create a really professional and well thought-out proposal so that your clients will, at minimum, ask questions about your proposal or negotiate the price / scope of work. Reply immediately. If your clients don’t even have the decency to reply to you even after you gave them a really good proposal, don’t fret – you just dodged a client from hell.
Mini Goal 5: Give clients time to decide. Be patient. Do not try to pressure your client by giving them artificial deadlines. Nobody enjoys being pressured. Your client is human too. In their own time, they will close the deal. It’s a matter of timing. If you have been disciplined enough to reach this point and your prospect still hasn’t hired you, it’s their loss for not appreciating you. Don’t take it personally. But really, by this time, you have given your prospect client so much value already – they would be crazy not to hire someone as proactive as you.
By breaking down the sales journey into this series of mini goals, selling becomes very doable. And most important of all, not at all icky. You actually are helping and giving value.
3. Target Clients
Do not sell to everyone. Avoid clients that are not aligned with your values. Be clear on who you want to target. Understand deeply their pains and wishes.
4. Mindset Matters
There are lots of people in sales whose only objective is to make money. If that is your only goal, you will eventually hate selling, or worse, hate yourself. I realized that this is the reason why I hated selling. I somehow equated selling to bluffing people. I equated selling to tricking people into buying something they don’t really want.
So I had to change my mindset. Instead of having the objective to sell products, I focused instead on discovering the client’s problems and proposing solutions for them. Instead of selling services, I thought of ways so that my client’s fears, concerns, and goals can be addressed.
Net, I stopped trying to be a salesman, and started becoming a problem solver. And it turns out, clients are willing to buy from or pay for problem solvers.
I know these are probably very basic stuff for those seasoned in selling. But I’m just starting. If you have more selling tips, please share them here. I would really appreciate it (and I think a lot of other people will appreciate it too).
In the meantime, I’m happy I’ve somehow learned how to sell. This was a skill I never had before.
Before, I only knew how to do awesome work when given the opportunity. Now, I’ve learned to sell to get those opportunities. And that, has made a world of difference.