As I’m writing, I’m fondly remembering last weekend. I spent it with six of my best friends from university (safe to say we all look rather different now!). What’s remarkable to me is that, although we all left over 20 years ago now, and we don’t see each other that often, the friendships we made are still as strong as ever. When we do all get the chance to spend time together, it’s brilliant.
It reinforces one of my life philosophies – if something is worth holding on to then you must invest the time and effort in looking after it. It would be too easy to have let something go that’s now such a good part of all of our lives. Plus it’s fantastic to share in person the successes (and sometimes failures) of each other’s lives, careers and aspirations.
So, in order to meet up somewhere a bit more central for everyone I’ve put yet more miles into the M4. You’ll remember that last week I was talking about all the big infrastructure developments going on in London. One of these was Crossrail (to be called the Elizabeth Line when it’s finally complete). As I went passed Reading in Berkshire I remembered that soon you’ll be able to jump on a train here, and travel all the way to Shenfield in Essex via central London and Canary Wharf in new tunnels under London, without changing trains. Remarkable.
It was at this point that I was overtaken by a Tesla – amazing looking car. And while I can’t be certain, I’m pretty sure the driver was using the self-driving “autopilot” mode. The fact that this is now available on production cars still bowls me over. I can remember as a kid seeing this sort of thing in science fiction movies! The pace of technology is such that there are probably many jobs that will soon be routinely done by computers and robots.
But one career that’s going to be secure against automation for many years is sales. Google, Amazon and Tesla are good, but it will be a very long time indeed before we no longer need people to make that human connection that’s required to sell.
So what can you do to make sure you’re not going to be replaced by an android (or more likely, a more successful human) any time soon? Here are six core skills or traits that you need to have and hone if you want to be a great sales human.
There’s a reason I put this one at the top of the list. Most people fail because they give up, not because they aren’t actually capable of achieving the outcome. No one accidentally drifts into success in any field – sports, business, the arts.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” which he wrote in 1937. It’s one of the best books out there to help you get into this mindset.
Learning to spot the subtle signals that we humans give out when we’re interacting is another key skill for successful salespeople. And not just at the moment you ask for business. You need to develop into a “people reader” and practice it all the time. Even during a first meeting, you should be watching for reactions and then adjusting your interactions to suit.
This is one of the most difficult areas to learn if you don’t have this ability naturally. If that’s you, and you need some help in this area, drop me a line.
Investigating. That’s another thing the best salespeople are good at. Not only asking the right questions at the right time but actively seeking out the “why” that lies beneath a prospect’s objection, concern or problem.
Of course, acting like you’re in an episode of The Bill and interrogating people is not going to get you very far! Asking questions should feel friendly and natural to a prospect. It should make them feel pleased that you’re interested in them and their problems and that you want to help.
In other words, can you think on your feet? In sales, situations can change, meetings can suddenly start to go off the rails. Are you cool under pressure? Have you planned well enough for your meeting and practised your objection handling enough that it’s second nature?
If you struggle with handling objections in this way, here’s a video I made a while back on how to handle objections more effectively.
No, I don’t mean have a good cry in front of your prospects! The best salespeople go out of their way to engage with prospects on an emotional level. If your prospect feel that you really understand then and the problem they are trying to solve, you’re so far ahead of the competition already that the sale becomes yours to lose.
It’s a simple fact, people prefer to do business (and more business) with those they feel “get” them and their situation. There’s a whole toolbox here that includes questioning, body language, empathy, and more. Let me know if you’d like me to go into more detail about the power of emotion in sales.
This goes hand-in-hand with determination. Sales, probably more than any other career, is about highs and lows – usually on a weekly if not daily basis! The highs are awesome, but you must be able to deal with the lows and ride them out.
Resilience is one of the most difficult things to develop if you’re not lucky enough to be one of nature’s tough cookies. As salespeople, we all need to be like that toy from the 1970s and 1980s, the Weeble. “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down” was the tag line!
Having a mentor can be the best way to develop resilience. Someone who can help you to step back, take a look at the bigger picture, and remind you of the destination. Some of my most rewarding work comes from mentoring salespeople and business owners and helping them to build resilience and determination.
So, which of these 6 core skills or traits do you struggle with the most? Which are you best at, and why? What experiences do you have that we could all benefit from hearing about?
As always, I love hearing from you about your stories and about what topics you’d like me to cover in these posts or in videos on the YouTube channel. As ever, you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find me on social networks – YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn – just search for “jameswhitesales” and you’ll find me.
Wrap up warm, and stay dry. Have a great week, and I’ll speak to you again soon.