Sales, the unrespected British profession that individuals shy away from. Some hide from admitting they are even in sales, instead preferring to call themselves Business Development Managers or other random titles. Yet being a good, honest, world-class sales person is the one of the only careers where the great art enables greater earnings and I think a better lifestyle than most people’s wildest dreams. Not to mention a role that is not fixed to a desk, the opportunity to travel and great experiences to gain from all sorts of cultural opportunities.

There is this idea that some of us are just “born” salespeople, while others “just can’t do it.” Added to this there is the ridiculous notion that selling is somehow dishonest and involves pressuring or misleading an unsuspecting victim into a purchase just so that we can hit our sales targets. Whilst I don’t doubt that this does go on in some organisations, it’s not something I have ever encouraged or subscribed to myself. For me, selling is enjoyable. It makes me money while also solving a problem for my customer. I have no interest in pressuring someone to buy from me just so that I can hit a target; if what I am selling is not what they need, they won’t be a happy customer and won’t be back for more later down the line.

In my time in business I have brokered deals with customers all over the world. Pacific Direct sold to 110 countries by the time I sold my share in 2008. I believe that good salesmanship is more about getting to know your customer. With research, good conversations and empathy I believe we can create a relationship with our customers that goes well beyond that first sale. Selling is looking for a point of pain and then offering a solution to that pain that is affordable, delivered in the right timescale and removes that pain.

We all make mistakes in sales; I’ve made them all myself and lived to learn from them. It is so easy to get so caught up in the latest new thing in our business that we forget about the basics of running a company. Whatever your product or service, I am sure you love it and are proud of it, and you might be getting lots of retweets on Twitter and likes on Facebook. That’s great, and it’s always good to spread the word – but does any of this translate into actual sales? I understand that these days we all need to have a presence on social media but we also need to remember that without direct sales, our business will not excel, no matter how great the product or how many Twitter followers we have.

It is so easy to get distracted by praise and people’s kindness. It’s nice to feel loved and social media really taps into that in a major way – but we must remember to sell as well! It’s so important to strike a balance between being sociable and “seen” and actual sales meetings and asking for the sale. Why try and sell a product that has a particular service to a random audience when if you really create an audience fit for a product your chances of conversion go through the roof. Our product offers a range of therapeutic blends in 100% natural balms that are highly portable but if someone literally has no sense of smell then alas I might be wasting my time. Gate8-luggage sells the best ever suit carrier which allows suit wearing, uniformed people to travel with kit that arrives crease free and saves time, but if an individual has no need to travel, we would be wasting our time.

I am a passionate sales person, and I’ve sold numerous different products over the years. But while I can probably sell anything I put my mind to, I will always sell most effectively if I believe in my product. I have worked hard to learn the skills (I still read sales books to remind me of things I have forgotten), but what is really critical is that in selling you have to establish the product value and be able to pitch it right. I will make sure you need my product (called qualification) before I try and sell it to you, otherwise I am wasting both of our time. Today most companies and clients pre-qualify themselves using the internet so the old fashioned time we used to get to introduce ourselves, our companies and then our products has much changed. Are your tools that funnel the opportunities to sell serving you well? Today selling is much different in some ways but equally the relationship built through networking may still well be your fastest route to a decision.

I am very proud that people I sold to twenty or more years ago are still happy to hear from me; they know that if I’m selling something to them it’s because I genuinely believe it can improve their lives in some way, not just because I need to sell it. I pride myself on never having screwed someone over just to hit a target or make more sales. I have no interest in selling something which will be useless to them. This is how you build and maintain a good relationship and ultimately a good reputation. This is how you win repeat business and referrals. Add genuine value and people come back again and again. Represent a great product that delivers on the promise you make and you will build a brand that grows. A feature of a product may well be a talking point but it is the benefit of the product that makes the real difference. Talk in benefits to the end user; continually highlight the way the products bring value and always look for the added value by thinking ahead to service the whole client requirement. (This will happen more and more as susbcription selling for real convenience grows)

When you show a prospective buyer a product, it’s about more than just “features and benefits.” It’s about introducing your product as a value proposition, and having a proper conversation – not a chat – about what you believe your product can do for them. That doesn’t mean trotting out the same practised speech you’ve used in your last ten meetings; it means listening to client needs, really hearing what they are looking for. Advanced researching this particular person and their business, and looking at how your product is relevant and beneficial to their particular needs.

You might think I am good at sales because I am “a born salesperson” – I would disagree. I am a good salesperson because I have worked hard to learn a valuable skill – and I am never done learning. There is always something more I can learn; I read books on sales all the time and pick up useful tips wherever I can. I have learned over time that whether a person needs what I am selling has nothing to do with how I present it to them. Instead, it’s more about what I know about them, and what I think they are looking for as a potential customer of mine.

When I first started out in sales, I was 18 and thankfully at least smart enough to know that I knew nothing. I was given a list of the top 500 businesses in Hong Kong and told to go and sell them some promotional giveaways, and what I basically did was sit and listen. I knew I didn’t know enough to tell them anything, so I listened to their challenges, and thought about how I could solve them. This is what sales should be about: problem solving. Just like with anything else in life, if you start out assuming you know it all already, you’ll fall flat on your face. There is no harm at all in admitting you know nothing; in fact, it can work in your favour to just sit and listen to the people who are a little further ahead than you.

Some people are probably “born salespeople” but if you’re not one of them, that doesn’t mean you can’t sell. Invest in some training – even if that’s just a book on sales; that’s how I started! Take some time to learn your craft, and keep going to sales meetings until you have perfected it. Shadow great sales people, learn negotiation sills, perfect your effectiveness and efficiency through excellent time management learning and always make promises that you can keep. Don’t avoid it just because you find it hard, or because society has a stereotypical image of sales being “icky” – it’s only “icky” if it’s done badly, and the only way to avoid this is to learn how to do it well. As the saying goes: practise makes perfect, and actually once you start it is far easier to keep selling and learning new skills than it is hard to sell from cold for even the best.

Written by Vicky Charles

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