In my personal opinion, the number one skill you need in business is the ability to sell. I am not aware of any business school that teaches sales as a separate course, or series of courses, and I think that's a shame. Even though salespeople are often the highest paid people at a company, and have the most direct contact with the end consumer, sales is often looked upon with contempt compared to strategy, leadership, finance, and other business skills and ideas. Nonetheless, if you want to be successful as an entrepreneur, a CEO, or even an entry level corporate lackey, you need to learn to sell.
Don't give me that crap about why you shouldn't learn to sell. You are always selling, whether you like it or not. You are selling yourself to an employer, your boss on a raise or promotion, your co-workers on a new idea, your investors on a business plan, your subordinates on a change in strategy. Even if you never interact directly with a customer, you still need to sell yourself and your ideas to all kinds of people.
Now I admit, upfront, I hate selling. I've been in positions where I had to make cold calls, and within 5 minutes my shirt is soaked with sweat from the awkward stumbling I do on the phone. But it really doesn't matter what I like or don't like – what matters is whatever needs to be done. So if you are like me, introverted, preferring to spend time alone, easily bored by chit-chat and small talk, but you want to learn to sell, this post is for you. Over the years I have learned a few things, and while I am not by any means a good salesperson, I'm not a total klutz at it either. Save this post, and use it as a survival guide for an unpleasant task that you must learn to do.
Change Your Attitude About Sales
Part of my problem is I tend to associate sales with "convincing someone to buy something they don't want or need." I think it's a common problem for introverts, because we are focused on our internal thoughts and ideas and aren't used to pushing them out at other people. But convincing someone to buy what they don't need isn't sales, it's stupidity. Selling things to the wrong people is a sure way to make sure you end up with a bad reputation and eventually go out of business.
Think of sales as providing a service. You are meeting the needs of someone, but it may be a need the person doesn't realize they have. Think of sales as teaching, educating, and helping prospective buyers get to the root of their problems and realize how your solution is beneficial to them. Think of yourself as an informational guide. Think of yourself as a valuable resource. That one attitude shift can make a huge difference in your sales success.
Do Your Research
Whether you are sourcing leads for a regular sales job or pitching your boss on a new idea, do your research before hand. Selling is easier when you are prepared. If you like cold calling, it might be efficient to just start pounding the phone and accepting the fact that most of the people you talk to will say no but that you will get a handful of good leads. But if each call is something that you intensely dislike, don't waste your time on calls with a low probability of success. Do your research first and figure out who best needs your product or service, and who the right person is to talk to at the target company.
Warm Up With Informational Calls
It is soooo much easier to get through gatekeepers when you ask for someone by name, instead of asking for "whoever is in charge of your I.T. budget." Sometimes I call and say that I want to mail something, and ask who to mail it to so that I can get the right name when I call back. Sometimes I make several calls to companies to ask various questions and gather useful information before I call to make my pitch for a meeting.
Focus on the Intent of the Call
You want to keep the call short, so don't try to close the sale on the phone. Just get to the meeting. If your sales goal is to pitch someone internally on an idea, don't try to sell them in one meeting. Spark an interest with a teaser version of your idea, then work on selling more thoroughly later.
Treat it Like an Experiment
Introverts are internally focused, so treat the calls as an experiment that you can use to increase your long-term efficiency. Set up multiple phone scripts, and work through them in a more abstract way, tallying the success rates of each one. It's a more introvert friendly approach to cold calls.
Use Warm Leads
The best strategy though, regardless of your score on the introvert-extrovert scale, is to use warm leads. Figure out who knows the person you need to talk to, and how you can get a warm introduction so the person will take your call and be at least mildly interested in what you have to say.
It sounds cheesy and a bit awkward, but I think it helps. Have your spouse pretend to be a prospect, and work through you pitch so that it becomes more automatic. Then it requires less thinking on the phone.
I don't want to be a salesperson, and probably most of you don't either. But that isn't a reason to never learn to sell. It's a valuable skill, even if you don't do it on a daily basis. I hope these tips have been useful to you, and if you have some to add, please leave something in the comments section for other readers.