Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Selling is for everyone

I began my career with sales (while still in college), and have since moved on to different roles. But, selling has continued to dominate my professional life. I have realized that no matter who you are, what you do and where you work selling is darn important. Which is why I encourage young grads to begin their careers with a stint in sales, at least part time. It hones you as a professional, eradicates many bad traits like shyness and hesitation (but may introduce new ones like greed and smart-assed-ness), teaches you to respect time and generally makes you organized. Okay, all this is not guaranteed but one thing is certain- you will get them ten times quicker in sales than in any other job.

But, I am a techie dude
In a typical software development role, what role does selling play? Well, a lot.
  1. Even if you aren't part of your marketing department, you might be asked to make a technical presentation of your product/service to a prospective client
  2. You might have an idea that you want others in the team, department or to accept and adopt
  3. You might be interviewing someone really good and you want to convince him/ her that your company is better than the competition. You might even be giving a campus presentation, which is a pure sales pitch
  4. Last, but not the least, appraisal is a time when even the most unlikely fellow will become a top notch salesperson. Or at least makes a decent attempt. And for good reason- you need to be a good salesperson to be noticed and move up the org chart
It can be imparted...even to techies
Despite the importance that selling has in everybody's life and career, a typical software development organization gives almost no training in sales to its employees. Its technologists may move across projects, work in SEPG or SQA but are hardly ever "rotated" into the marketing and sales department (or HR, which is sad too).
Typical sales training programs I have seen fall under three categories:
  1. Boring and useless: The worse trainers in this space are those that give long lectures, throw theories at you and expect you to imbibe it all sitting motionless and bored in an air-conditioned hall. These sessions hardly last longer than a day (and if they do, the audience doesn't).
  2. "Here's the map; go find your route": Slightly better ones introduce you to the concepts (here is a good reference), show you how to practice the skills and leaves you with some good material (books, CDs, worksheets etc.) for reference. This kind of training typically lasts two full days.
  3. "Let me help you find the route": The best kind of training goes beyond concepts, guidelines and reference material. It makes you do stuff. It forces you to let go of your inhibitions. It shows you how to empathize and synergize. It typically takes a portion of your day, and goes on for a week or two. And in my personal opinion, it is best delivered by an external trainer along with a senior manager from within the organization

Enthralling. Amusing. Hypnotizing. Endearing. Magical. Romantic. Showman. You may use any number of adjectives to describe an ideal salesperson. But, salesmanship is not just about these. It is about understanding your customer as an individual; his/her stated and unstated needs and goals; knowing that people buy with their emotions; realizing that good salespeople aim at building relationships and not merely selling products. Patience and Emotional Intelligence are therefore vital virtues. Talking of salesmanship, don't miss the small article by Jack Carroll called "The Art of Salesmanship is the Absence of Salesmanship".

And lastly...
Selling, whether externally or internally, involves lots of planning, discipline and vision. J. C. Penney once said “Give me a stock clerk that has a goal and I’ll show you an individual who will make history. Give me a salesperson without goals and I’ll show you a stock clerk”.