By George Righter
My daughter recently graduated from college, and we were discussing the benefits of starting out in sales. She replied “salespeople are too pushy. I had two of them contact me this week.” As it turns out, she is an introvert who recently became a job recruiter which involves a lot of consultative selling.
A Personality Built for Selling
Much like George Washington, being a shy introvert has always been a part of my life. Never one for attention, both of us had a burning desire to seek approval from most everyone to avoid criticism. Washington was criticized a lot as a boy, and the rest of his life was spent trying to avoid that; he tried his best not to fail. He was an introvert, not a rabblerouser, who led others by his actions. He was also a good listener. Selling requires us to get out of our shell and reach out to prospects and clients in a friendly manner. In most cases, we simply need to listen politely, be authentic, show respect, and be at least mildly assertive.
Learn to Leave Your Comfort Zone
If someone is overly shy and introverted, how can they learn to leave their comfort zone? With practice. Even beyond my college years I would have never guessed I would be a salesperson. Back in the day my weakness was my lack of interpersonal skills, but as I forced myself to reach out to more and more prospects, I became more and more comfortable.
There are a ton of books and seminars that can help improve interpersonal skills. Two of my favorites by Leil Lowndes are “How to Talk to Anyone”, and “Goodbye to Shy.” With that said, you don’t have to be a social butterfly to sell. You just need to listen, be polite, know your offering inside and out, and show your prospects and customers gratitude and respect. Maybe you won’t get the order you were hoping for today; but hopefully you built a bridge with that prospect for future opportunities. Try to build a rapport with as many folks as possible. In time, building rapport quickly will come naturally.
Back in the day, I would have to do a lot of cold calling. You know, walk in, or call a prospect and try to find the proper contact. Yes, I was hung up on several times. But that typically happened during the first 5 seconds, so after a while there was no reason to take anything personal. Folks are busy, and timing is key too. After a while, cold calls were never made on Mondays or Friday afternoons. Note that I don’t like being disturbed while working, so cold calling was the hardest bump in the road for me to get past.
Up until just a few years ago, I had heavy butterflies in my stomach before every sales meeting. Note that some degree of nervousness is ok as it helps us perform better; it keeps us on our toes. I used to demonstrate bar code software and label printing systems for companies. The demos would be really tailored to the prospect and their requirements. In fact, I would have to do a bit of development to show them how they could benefit from certain software features, and its user-friendliness. Potential questions were played back in my head as I visualized being at the meetings days prior. I knew my competition was presenting more generic solutions that couldn’t be quickly customized for the prospect. They were not going the extra mile to prepare, whereas prospects saw how I invested time up front to cater to their needs.
For software demonstrations, the difference was dramatic. Label printers had the same premise. For example, I would create a custom label format and link it to a database on the spot. Then I would show the prospect how it solved his problem. We didn’t call these apps back in the day. Again, prospects saw that the demo presentations were well prepared. Of course, the downside to this was investing a lot of up-front time, that could have end up being wasted. For example, there were some along the way that liked the solution and that I was able to show them exactly how it would work. Even so, some would go online and buy from the box moving companies selling at extremely low margins. It was frustrating, but there was nothing I could do about that.
The hardest part for me on some days was making sure I was in a positive mood. Eating right and exercising are important for mood and energy level. Have a big meeting today? Maybe take a walk beforehand. Maybe refrain from having a heavy meal and/or alcohol prior.
Back Off a Bit
Talking a lot was never my game. Asking prospects personal questions to build rapport would never happen during the first sales call. I never wanted to come across as being pushy. Sure, I could have done a better job of following up with prospects along the way. The tradeoff being, “George Righter seems to know his stuff and showed us what we needed to see. He was not pushy and was respectful and polite.” Who would YOU want to award the sale to?
Sometimes being too assertive or aggressive, particularly at an inopportune time, creates unnecessary friction. Two examples: I had an ink supplier email me one day asking if I had a chance to run his sample yet, and if so when he could expect a follow up order. I had to explain that we were amid a global pandemic, so time frames were murky. That is an example of poor timing. Also, have you ever had a conversation with someone who repeats your name every 30 seconds? Or they call you four times in 30 minutes without leaving a voicemail? Nobody wants to deal with obnoxious, rude behavior. And no physical touching with customers and prospects, at least until you get to know them. Even prior to COVID that would be creepy. Also, if their name is James don’t call them Jimmy. If they introduce themselves as Michael, don’t call them Mike. I still feel strange addressing a prospect by their first name in an email if I’ve never spoken with them. It’s all about showing the other person respect.
Enhance Your Communication Skills
For you young chaps, the days of cold calling are pretty much over. The marketing has changed dramatically from push to pull. In other words, prospects go online to find what they need, when they need it. Mass marketing has been replaced with micro marketing; our browsing history permits digital marketers to focus and target their message. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will most likely be the end of cold calling and most on-site visits – at least for a while. Even so, speaking on the phone and learning how to develop a rapport will go a long way. Email can also be used. There are a ton of books that can help with conversing over the phone. Basics: consider the timing of your call; what’s in it for the prospect; introduce yourself and ask if it is a good time; learn how to leave “cliffhangers” on voicemails; project confidence.
Our culture keeps changing, but dealing with people will always be a big part of sales. It will require humans. Be well prepared, listen, work on your plan, and be respectful and the chips will fall in place. There is a book called “True Grit”, which scientifically proves that hard work, passion, and perseverance are bigger markers of success than talent. Please read that sentence again. If you are shy or introverted, this doesn’t mean you are not cut out for sales; on the contrary, with some perseverance and time spent honing your skills, sales may be a great fit for you. I encourage you to give sales a chance; it may be the best life decision you’ll ever make. I’m here if you need to reach out with any questions or feedback and would love to hear from you.