Christmas 2008 is less than a week away and soon we’ll be celebrating the New Year, 2009. Of course, its a tradition with many to make “New Year’s Resolutions”. And, with nearly as many, its somewhat of a tradition to break their “New Year’s Resolutions”not long after they’re made. In either case, this may not seem like much of a topic for a sales oriented business blog. For me, though, it seems like a good opportunity to be a bit more pragmatic and less philosophical than I usually am, as I strive to “share my rich experience, to produce Top Sales Performers and Top Performing Sales Organizations.” Specifically, it seems a good way to share lessons I’ve learned on how I could’ve done things differently and better in developing my career, as a Sales Professional.
I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a Sales Professional. I don’t think many do. My becoming a Sales Professional, in fact, was pretty serendipitous. Much like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s character Topsy, to a great degree and especially early on, “I just growed.” In other words, I wasn’t very “intentional” and this is the first area I think of when I consider that “I could’ve done things differently and better”. So, the first New Year’s Resolution I recommend for an aspiring Sales Person is …
BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT IT!
In order to provide a better understanding of the steps I’m going to encourage, in being “intentional”, I think it will help to give a few details on the early days of my career and related shortcomings, as I see them:
Regardless of the point in time I pick to start telling you about my development, its important to acknowledge that my circumstances are unique. That’s true of us all. One of my best friends is a top Subject Matter Expert in Cross-Cultural Communication and he says there are over 6 billion cultures on the face of the planet – i.e., one culture per person. And, he says that a key element to what makes each of us different is what are called Cultural Formers. There are many types of Cultural Formers. Some can be as obvious as ethnicity and some may be more subtle, like being left-handed. And, with the role that Cultural Formers play in making each of us unique, some are more noteworthy than others. I can easily identify that my most important Cultural Former was being raised without a Father, from the age of three. For some reason, it seemed that no one ever really stepped into that void where I needed a role model and Mentor. I don’t point this out so readers will say, “Oh, poor Gary!” My purpose in drawing attention to this is my recognition that having a Mentor could have made a dramatic difference in my career development. With that said, then, the first step I recommend, in being more “intentional” is …
HAVE A MENTOR!
If, unlike me, you have a Mentor, great! If not, go get one! Whether you’re a Student, considering a career in Sales or you’re a fledgling Sales Person, having a Mentor can be invaluable. In seeking out a Mentor, look closest to you first … family, church, school, work. After that, check out local business groups and service organizations e.g., Rotary, Toastmasters, Chamber of Commerce, etc. In the process of connecting with prospective Mentors, you’ll expand your network of contacts and you’ll be exposed to learning opportunities that will help you contribute to your career, your community and to your life, in general.
The idea, with a Mentor, is not to find someone who will run your life for you. Mentors should serve as Counselors. So, the best Mentor won’t necessarily be someone who comes off as being “superior”. In fact, the best attribute to look for, in a Mentor, is someone who seems to have “a servant’s heart” – i.e., a person who is looking to share their experience in ways that benefit others. Once you’ve found the right Mentor for you, you’ll want to get their counsel on everything from completing your formal education to getting your first job to your relationships with colleagues to getting promotions and so on.
In Part Two of “New Year’s Resolutions for the Aspiring Sales Person”, I want to tackle a couple more areas where, looking back, I recognize that I could’ve done things differently and better in developing my career, as a Sales Professional. Areas where a Mentor could’ve fit in, to make a significant and positive difference. But I think this posting provides enough to consider for now.
If you’re an experienced Sales Professional, what would you like to go back and change for the better, in developing your career? If you are an Aspiring Sales Person, what else would you like to hear about in this regard, that you’re thinking and feeling would be helpful to you? Please let us know your thoughts along these lines.
Sean Harry Says:
December 24, 2008 at 4:55 am edit
Good post Gary. Isn’t it also true that we can have different mentors for different parts of our lives? Even for different parts of our professional lives? For instance, as a sales person I may want a mentor who will coach me in the sales process, helping me to focus on and improve in the areas where I have the most potential for growth. AND, as a sales person, I may also want to find a mentor at my Toastmasters group who can help guide me through the manuals.
Have you thought about participating in Sales 2.0? It would be another place where you could post your blog so you could “share my rich experience, to produce Top Sales Performers and Top Performing Sales Organizations.” Check them out at: http://www.salesmanagement20.com/. I think some of the folks over there would be interested in hearing what you have to say and learning from your MANY years of experience.
In Part One of New Year's Resolutions for the Aspiring Sales Person, I began an overview aimed to be "... a good way to share lessons I’ve learned on how I could’ve done things differently and better in developing my career, as a Sales Professional." The steps I'm encouraging in doing this fall under the general recommendation to "BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT IT!" And, my first specific suggestion under that heading was to "HAVE A MENTOR!" As I proceed to address specific aspects of my career development, I think it's obvious where being more "intentional" and having a "Mentor" could’ve fit in, to make a significant and positive difference. With that said, let me proceed with the next area I'd like to discuss:
Have A Proper Formal Education, As A Foundation!
Here, again, it may be helpful to share information about my beginnings and the flaws I now see, looking back. Here's how things went:
I was a National Honor Society High School Graduate, with five Majors - English, French, Math, Science and Social Science - and no Minors. Although I recall being advised to go on to college and to have a Major selected by the time I got to college, I don't recall getting any counsel on applying for scholarships or what to consider in selecting a Major. Thankfully, there was a State University in my hometown, so I could live at home and there were enough jobs around to be able to earn the money needed for books and tuition. Since the local State University had evolved from a State Teacher's College, I decided to Major in Education. I spent 4 1/2 years in college, trying one Education discipline after another. During that time, I dropped out and returned twice. In my third attempt at a Junior year, I finally got to do some lesson plans and got to try them out in the University's Lab School. Guess what?! I found out that I didn't like being a School Teacher. So, I dropped out for the final time and went out to get a job. I'm grateful for the successful Sales career that led to. However, though most recognize my experience as equivalent to a Bachelor's Degree and an MBA in Sales, even these decades later, not having completed my formal education still comes up.
With the benefit of hindsight, here's how I would do things differently:
I'd look at alternatives for financing my college education. A National Honor Society High School Graduate should be able to qualify for some form of scholarship or, at least, favorable terms for a student loan.
Finding sources for counsel on selecting my major courses of study, obviously, would've been helpful. Just as obviously, they didn't find me in those days.
It would've been good to look beyond my local horizons too. I've been blessed to work and travel in most of the Northern Hemisphere but getting some of this exposure earlier would've been beneficial.
Though a scholarship or a student loan would have provided me with more latitude, I still would have worked while going to school but I'd have done it more selectively. Specifically, I would've tried to find work associated with my field of study. As an example of one benefit in doing this, if I'd taken a job as a Custodian in a public school instead of as an hourly laborer in a warehouse, I might have, at least, recognized a bit earlier that I wasn't cut out to spend my working life in a public school. On the other hand, if it turned out that I was well suited for work in that field, perhaps it would have led to a job more in line with my ultimate career path, resulting in better preparedness and a bolstered resume.
Taking steps 1 through 4 would have made it more likely for me to not drop out of college. Since I did end up dropping out though, it would have been better if, during the first decade or two, I had completed my Bachelor's while continuing my career.
In Part Three of “New Year’s Resolutions for the Aspiring Sales Person”, I want to tackle one more specific area where, looking back, I recognize that I could’ve done things differently and better in developing my career, as a Sales Professional. Then, with that added to the other steps I've addressed, I'll conclude with a general discussion of more productively leveraging those foundational changes throughout my career. For now, I think that's enough from me. But what about you? If you’re an experienced Sales Professional, what would you like to go back and change for the better, in developing your career? If you are an Aspiring Sales Person, what else would you like to hear about in this regard, that you’re thinking and feeling would be helpful to you? Please let us know your thoughts along these lines. Then, check back for Part Three, as I wrap up this "more pragmatic and less philosophical" discussion, meant to “share my rich experience, to produce Top Sales Performers and Top Performing Sales Organizations.”
This is the final chapter in my three-part overview, aimed at being “… a good way to share lessons I’ve learned on how I could’ve done things differently and better in developing my career, as a Sales Professional.” In Part One, I discussed the general recommendation, to “BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT IT!” From there, I went on to make the specific suggestion to “HAVE A MENTOR!” In Part Two, I offered a more detailed proposal to "Have A Proper Formal Education, As A Foundation!"
Of course, its difficult to be complete on the sort of topic this three-part series is meant to address. Probably with anyone who's in a position to look back over the decades of a a career, there are many changes you'd make, if you could go back to do so. And, changes in one area can easily lead to changes in other areas. However, in keeping with the theme I've set, to deal with just a few foundational issues, I'll conclude with just one more:
Have A Structured Continuing Development Plan!
In a way, this is an extension of my topic in Part Two, "Have A Proper Formal Education, As A Foundation!" And, once again, it may be helpful to examine my beginnings in this regard:
My first Sales job was with a company offering document management systems. I was hired by a VP, whose background was in Engineering and I reported to a Branch Manager, whose background was in Finance ... neither of them were Sales Professionals. I guess the fact that I was able to land the job in the first place is an indication that I was gifted with some Sales instincts. However, just a few months into that job, the Branch Manager was replaced by a guy with a successful Sales background. In working with the new guy, several startling realities became very clear in fairly short order. These were: (1) I was accomplishing as much as could be expected, with my gifted skills. (2) I wasn't meeting Quota. (3) I had no clue what to do about it. At that point, my new boss made a decision that was truly a watershed event for my working life. If he had decided differently, its likely that I'd be writing this blog on something other than Sales. But his decision was to send me off to a Fortune 500 company's Training Center, to take their course in Professional Selling Skills.
I'm thankful for my old boss' decision to enroll me in that "PSS 101" course. Likewise, I'm thankful that, since then, I've been blessed with Sales education including Miller Heiman, Zig Ziglar, Strategic Selling, Selling to VITO, etc. as well as Fortune 500 employer's internal selling curricula. Along with this, I've gained from learning provided by employers and professional associations in Leadership, Management, Relationships, etc. Just recently, though, a prospective Client asked me a question that reminded me of an ongoing flaw I have in this area. The question was, simply, "What business book have you read recently?" I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I was stumped, momentarily. After stopping to consider this for a moment, I realized that the business book I was currently reading was just under the notepad I was using. Its entitled, "Biz Blog Marketing". Then, I turned to look at the bookshelves in my home-office and saw the two books I'd recently finished, "How Did You Do It Truett?" (The story of the Founder of Chick-Fil-A) and "Becoming A Coaching Leader". And, as I looked back to my PC monitor, I thought of the significant volume of reading I do daily, on-line, just to keep up with my business and to support the three blogs I write. So, why the embarrassment and where is the flaw? Its in the very same place that I mentioned in Part One of this series ... "My becoming a Sales Professional, in fact, was pretty serendipitous. Much like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s character Topsy, to a great degree and especially early on, “I just growed.” In other words, I wasn’t very “intentional” . And, with this, there's still room for improvement. With this in mind, I want to make these concluding recommendations:
Lay out your own plan for the business-related courses you want to take over the next several years. Perhaps an employer or a professional association will provide these for you but you should have your own plan for a curriculum that you think will best serve your interests and attaining your goals. When its time to take the next course on your list, see to it that you complete it, regardless of who will provide it.
Keep a record of the courses you've completed. In most cases, you'll get some sort of certificate. Its easy enough to keep these in a 3 ring binder. Don't let yourself fall into the trap I've fallen into where I'm looking at my resume and saying, "Oh, yeah. I remember, going to San Francisco, when I worked for Minolta, to take that AMA course in "Dealing With Challenging Personalities".
Have a formal reading plan for each year- i.e. Specific titles you will read, with specific completion dates assigned to each title. Back in the days prior to laptop PCs, when I used to do a lot of air travel, I relied on that "downtime" to keep my reading caught up. Those circumstances changed. So, I recommend laying out a plan that you will carry out regardless of changing circumstances.
Keep a record of the reading you've done too. Its not practical for me to note every article I read on-line but, if I had prepared the sort of reading plan detailed above, it would be fairly simple to use it to note the actual completion dates. At the end of the year, that completed plan could be stashed away in the same 3 ring binder used to store the certificates from the business courses I'd completed.
So, that pretty much wraps up this year-end exercise in somewhat baring by business soul. But, as always, you're welcome to add to it. If, like me, you're an "old hand", please add your experience and your views by leaving a Comment. And, especially if you're in the early stages of a Sales career, I'd welcome hearing from you. As I say on the "About Gary Wiram" page of this blog: "My hope is that this blog will be beneficial to other Sales and Sales Management Professionals." That is my central purpose - i.e., I don't get paid for this. So, I hope you'll know that I'm most sincere, with that page going on to say, "I welcome hearing from you, via your Comments. If you'd like to hear more from me, contact me today, via this blog's Email link!"
Sales Training & Management Says:
July 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm edit
Here’s another sales-related tip to further your success:
Experience is a wonderful teacher, but only if you pay attention and draw the right lessons from your experience. It pays to document certain portions of your company’s sales process—and the most successful practices that you and your fellow salespeople have found for handling common challenges. Salespeople who do this maximize the use of their time, shorten sell cycles, make more sales, and cash bigger paychecks.
To learn from what works, document what works.
What parts of your sales process should you document?
First, identify the milestones in your sales cycle. What are the necessary steps that lead from your initial contact with a prospect to a completed sale? What commitment must you gain from the customer at each milestone that will lead to the next step? For example, does your sales cycle usually require an initial meeting with several decision makers followed by another meeting at which you present a formal proposal? Both of those meetings are milestones.
Write down your 10 strongest sales features—the features of your products or services that have the strongest appeal to most customers. Include a benefits statement for each feature. Remember that benefits usually have dollar signs attached.
Next, write down the expected customer needs associated with those 10 features and benefits. Customers will only buy if a benefit represents a solution to a perceived need. So what needs must you look for? Write some open-ended questions that help you draw out needs for which your 10 strongest features offer solutions.
Write the best questions that you can use to determine what your sales strategy must be for a particular client. Your sales strategy is determined by the competition you face, the buyer’s time frame, and the buying influences that will play a role in the sale. What are the best questions with which to draw out information about those factors?
Document a crisp (30-second) and powerful company story that you can tell in all first-call selling situations.
Ask your peers about each of these topics, and compare their approaches with yours. If somebody else has a great question for drawing out needs, for example, by all means write it down and use it. Create reminder lists for yourself, and review them before every sales call. Then you can stop making the same expensive mistakes.
To Your Success
Verkooptraining & Commerciele training Says:
October 20, 2010 at 3:22 pm edit
Training and courses can help you to get the skills you could not get just with experience. It will provide you the tools to do your job properly and improving you self confidence.