Sales – My Take
Think about this – you are at a party or with a group of friends. Someone asks what you do for a living. The moment you mention that you are a salesperson, do they all smile at you and immediately start disbelieving 80% of what you say?
As I see it, sales has lost its dignity. Somehow, this perception of salesmen being very close to conmen has become very strong. People see sales as an aggressive, take-no-prisoners field of work, where any tactic is fair as long as it brings in money and customers.
However, I feel that sales is a challenging and rewarding career, which requires strength, commitment, and confidence from those who choose it. For those of you who are not aware, I have no formal training in sales. I am a scientist by education, but the only job I have done all my life is sell general insurance. Whatever I know of sales, I have learned through hard experience. I would like to share some of these experiences with you.
Let us begin with the hardest and most basic perception to beat – is a salesman a conman? No. It is impossible for a real salesperson to be any such thing. The reason is simple – you can con your way for a few sales but you cannot do it for long-term sales and customer building.
When I used to meet a customer, I always put all the cards on the table, as they were. I believed in placing myself in the customer’s shoes and giving him the best advice from that perspective. Now to do that, I had to know my subject well. So if I went to a customer unprepared without knowing my subject and the customer asked me questions, I would inevitably get stuck. I could lie my way out of such a situation, but if I did so, I don’t think the customer would trust me ever.
Thus, ‘know your product well’ quickly became my first sales motto.
This does not mean that even after the best of preparations I have always been able to answer all the questions a customer asked. But whenever I got stuck, I have always told the customer I’ll get back, given a time frame, and then I got back to him.
Over a period of time, I found that my customers started trusting that if I advised something, it would be for their good and I knew what I was talking about. Did this result in sales at all times? No. Quite a few times, they actually went somewhere else. But even then I made sure I gave all the honest pros and cons of what they were going for. Sometimes they would believe me and sometimes they wouldn’t. But what I did observe was that they eventually came back to me because they liked my honesty and scrupulousness in putting down all the facts before them clearly. And once they came back, they stayed with me forever.
This is for those of you who are just starting out in sales. It is competitive and tough with high stress levels. There will be many times when you fail to close a sale and feel frustrated. I want you to know that you are not alone. We all have to start somewhere, and this where I started too. Today I am capable of closing nine calls out of ten. But when I was in your situation, I was happy if I managed to close even one call out of ten.
What I’m trying to say is that it is okay to fail. Accepting rejection and learning from it will make you a good salesperson. But it is not okay to not learn from failure.
When you go back home, analyse why the sale did not happen. Think about what you could have done differently and next time, try the new method. Perhaps it will work and perhaps not. My experience allows me to tell you that it may take you a good 5-6 months before you crack the code of making a successful sale. Sales is like an art; it takes a lot of hard work and dedication before you get that flair and pitch right, but it will work only if it carries the weight of honesty and openness behind it.
There is a trick to this. Before you make your pitch, ask yourself – will you buy the product? If the answer is no, don’t even think about making the pitch. Get back to the underwriters, to your seniors. Understand why the product would be good for the customer. Sell the product only after you have the answer to this question.
I feel it is also my duty to warn you that the road will not be easy. This perception of salespeople being slick talkers, liars who will tell you anything to sell you something is not easy to beat. You will face rejection, disdain, even outright refusal to treat anything you say with respect. You will find that sales is one of the most humanising jobs there is – nowhere else can you be in close contact with so much human perspective and be affected by it.
And this is the mark of a good salesperson. The ability to gauge your customer’s needs and place him first. Spend a few years in sales and I promise you, you will emerge as a better human being. You will be more sensitive towards other people. You will be able to handle rejections and lows in life more strongly. Somewhere along the line, all the people you meet, their desires and sorrows and joys, will integrate in your world view.
Take pride in your work and follow these simple edicts: know your subject, tell the truth, and genuinely try to do well by your customers. You will become a good salesperson, and more than that, you will become a human being who naturally commands respect and trust.
Working in sales has been the most enriching experience of my life. I trust that it will be the same for you.