I don’t mean that weekend job you had at college, where you were trained how to use the till in a supermarket – I mean real sales training, where you learn how to sell your product to your customers.
It dismays me to find that for many business owners and entrepreneurs, the answer to that question is no – and they wonder why their company is not growing.
Sales training is far and away the most important thing you can invest in. Without an ability to sell, without that purchase order in your hand, you have no business and therefore no need for any of those other things you might think of investing in.
You don’t need a business card; you don’t need a fancy, shiny website; you don’t need a CRM; you don’t need an office; you don’t need anything at all for your business, if you don’t have a customer. And how do you get a customer? You learn to sell.
Sales training is so much more than just learning to say “that’ll be £500 please” and then organising an invoice. Selling is a professional part of your business and in order to succeed you will need to be at least understand the sales process and be able to sell.
At the very least, go out and invest in a book on sales. After twenty years in business, I still read books about sales because there are still things I can learn. I have a reading list here on my site which has several brilliant books to help you get started, and I would say as a bare minimum you should read the excellent How to Become a Rainmaker by Jeffrey J Fox which is the book I always recommend. There are also lots of brilliant, free resources on the Company Shortcuts site which can help you to get the ball rolling.
This is usually the point where some clever soul will tell me that their particular business model does not require selling because they don’t have a physical product, or because customers just come to them, or because all their business is conducted online. That is absolute rubbish. Whatever and however you’re selling, whether it’s products or services, online or in person, you need to know how to do it. You might have a little success without formal training, but in my opinion that will be largely down to fluke and luck. You will never reach your full potential if you don’t learn how to sell properly. And don’t tell me, “oh, I run the business with my partner and they take care of the selling” – that just means you’re missing out on 50% of your sales, and that you’re ultimately reliant on someone else to keep your business afloat.
When I first started out with Pacific Direct, I would sit at my desk with a rollodex and a phone, and I would target myself with making 100 calls before I could get up and get myself a cup of tea. When is the last time you made a hundred sales calls in a morning? The thing about cold calling is that it can be really daunting when you first start out, and taking knock backs can be tough and discouraging – but if you know you have to make a hundred calls before you get a cup of tea, you just get your head down and get on with it.
I built an amazing amount of resilience through doing this which stood me in good stead for everything else I have done, both with Pacific Direct and since. In the early 1990s I made 872 calls to Forte Granada before I got a sales meeting with someone who could actually make the decision and buy my product. That wasn’t 872 calls to the same person – though lots of them were (poor Melanie) – I called different hotels in the chain; I called the purchasing department, the finance department, anyone who could help me to better understand how they worked, and more importantly how I could help them. And eventually I got the meeting, and I got the sale. Can you honestly say that you would have made 872 calls to the same company in pursuit of your sale?
The only way that you will grow your business is by practising your sales pitch, and you do that by doing it over and over again. We all know Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that we become an expert in something by practising for 10,000 hours; I believe you become great at sales by making 10,000 calls!
A hundred calls in a morning might seem excessive, but the truth is that you start out feeling unsure of what to say, and feel your way as you go – so that by the time you get to call number 98 you start to think “actually, what I said in that call was really great, I’ll use that again!” So many people will allow their day to be knocked off course by one bad call, and that’s something none of us can afford. You need to throw yourself in at the deep end and get turned down a hundred times so that you can build that thick skin, take it on the chin and get back on the phone to the next person. I got up every morning and made those calls, whether I felt like it or not. For nine months at the start of Pacific Direct I had no purchase order; it was a daily experience of refining my sales pitch, of listening to my prospective customers, of finding out the name of the person I needed to speak to, of figuring out what to say with that next call.
When it comes to what you should actually say on the phone, that’s where your sales training really comes in. Things like researching the background of your prospective client, knowing who you need to speak to in your chosen organisation, knowing how to pronounce their name properly, listening to how that person responds to you, discussing the features, advantages and benefits of your product – these are all things you need to learn, and learn well.
The first two years of Pacific Direct were the hardest of my life. They were spent mostly on my own, sitting in a cottage at a desk making phone calls. If I hadn’t had any sales training I might still be sitting there now – or I might have given up and gone out to find a proper job.
You are likely carrying on with your business because you don’t want to go out and get a proper job. You believe in your business and your product, and in order to succeed and not end up on the scrap heap you need to be able to sell. When you’re running a small business you need to be as in love with selling your product as you are with creating it. There is absolutely no point in spending time and money developing a magnificent product if you can’t go out and sell it.
There are hundreds, thousands, if not millions of failed businesses out there, who all had fantastic, outstanding products but failed to sell them. Don’t make yours one of them. If you truly believe that yours is a viable business model, that the product you are selling can make someone’s life better, easier, more productive, more enjoyable – then for goodness’ sake, learn how to sell it!