Growing up, I NEVER would have thought I would be in sales. To me, a “salesperson” was a middle aged man in a bad suit, desperately trying to hock some junker off his used car lot, promising up and down that it was in “great shape” and it’s “not old, it’s a classic!”

However, in today’s business world, it is rare that a company is truly unique and holds a complete monopoly on any given product or service, which would allow a salesperson to get away with being pushy or not personable. There is lots of competition out there, so not only do you need to be able to “close”, but more often than not, you need to be a pro at building relationships. People like to buy from people they like, so you must be knowledgeable about your product AND appealing to your prospects on a personal level.

At my very first full-time job, I was fortunate enough to work for a young entrepreneur, selling ticket-marketing campaigns to NY sports teams and Broadway shows. She started her own company in her studio apartment in Manhattan, after growing tired of working for other people. She built up the company (later to be sold for a sum which I must assume included more than a few 0’s), and has the distinction of being the first person who really taught me about sales. The skills I learned from her (all of which directly contrasted my perception of the used-car salesperson stereotype), and some I’ve picked up along the way, include the following:

  1. Asking questions is essential. My aforementioned first boss would always tell our sales team to find the client’s “pain points”, which then gave us opportunity to conceptualize and provide each client with the right solution – our solution. Always listen before talking. It is a known fact that everyone loves talking about themselves, so let your prospect talk about their business, their role, their life. If you do, they will inherently like you more, and will provide you with valuable information you can use to make your pitch a perfect fit.
  2. Do your homework. Look back and see what, if any, work your company has done with your contact and his/her company before you reach out so you can speak intelligently to your lead. It reflects poorly on an organization when you come off as unorganized, or disconnected from other coworkers who are also hitting the phones. Additionally, know at least the basics of the lead’s business. Having that base knowledge will allow you to ask intelligent questions.
  3. Be organized. Establish a tracking system of all the hits/touches you make with each lead/contact. That list can live in your CRM system, in an Excel document or elsewhere; the only “must” is that your chosen format must enable you to see the full picture at a glance. Hopefully, your company already has a standard method of organization in place that you can adopt.
  4. Set reminders. When I write an email, before I send it, I flag it with a follow up date: 3 days (with a warm lead), a week, 10 days, or two weeks. That way, I can ensure that lead won’t get lost in the shuffle. I also schedule things into my calendar – specific calls, etc. – so they are part of my day that can’t be put off. Another approach I’ve taken in the past with sales teams is to establish a 2 hour window during which EVERYONE is focused on calling at the same time. It makes the process easier, and builds the confidence and morale of the sales team.
  5. Be sure to follow up. If a lead asks for information, send it right away. If you have a positive call, make a task for yourself to follow up soon just to check in, reminding the lead that you’re there as a resource for them.

I’ve heard in the past that 80% of sales happen after the fifth contact. Whether this stat is based in any real facts or not, I would agree that success in sales is all about making contacts, making sure you’re educated and informed, and in the wise words of that first boss, being “professionally persistent”.