The Best Sales Advice You'll Ever Hear

June 4, 2014

Andy-Paul-if-i-were-22

About six or seven years after I started my career in sales, my boss at the time took me aside and said “Andy, you’re doing a great job. But you don’t look like you’re having any fun. More than anything sales should be fun. After all, where else can you get paid to learn all about these incredible technologies and products that we sell? And where else can you get paid to travel around the country and the world and learn about our customers, their successful companies as well as their business challenges and requirements? And to top it off you get to become acquainted with and learn the stories of a wide range of interesting people each day that we do our jobs. If learning isn’t fun for you, then you’re in the wrong profession.”

This was among the best career advice I received. A career in sales should be a voyage of discovery. If you aren’t curious about the things you don’t know and if you don’t possess an unquenchable appetite for learning, then you are going to limit your ability to succeed.

We are all familiar with the tired old adage about sales: Always Be Closing. I found that to be pretty useless advice for a brand new 22-year old salesperson that knew nothing about selling. It told me nothing about how a salesperson should serve their prospects to help them make good purchase decisions quickly. Fortunately my boss pointed me the right direction with advice that has been much more useful during my sales career: Always Be Learning.

In sales, I found that Always Be Learning has four main elements to it. As a salesperson you must always:

  1. Broaden and deepen your knowledge of the products and services you sell;
  2. Invest your time and effort to thoroughly learn the industry and requirements of the companies that are your customers;
  3. Develop a detailed understanding of how your customers use your products (and services) in their business and the value that they receive from them
  4. Learn to how to improve how you sell by measuring the effectiveness of your sales processes and making the necessary adjustments to elevate your performance.

I am constantly surprised in my work by how frequently I encounter sales managers and salespeople who have closed themselves off to learning. Or to any knowledge that challenges the status quo in how they sell. You might think that some of this is due to a generational divide but my experience with client sales teams shows that this lack of curiosity spans the age gap.

I talk to salespeople who claim that in this era of the educated and empowered prospect that they would never follow-up on marketing generated leads. I read industry surveys of salespeople that find an overwhelming majority who claim that social selling is a waste of their time. (Of course, they probably have never tried to methodically use social selling but it is rejected nonetheless.) I’ve read an analyst research report that found that IT buyers want to shorten the length of their buying process by 40%. But the buyers are held back by salespeople who lack the necessary knowledge, insights and responsiveness to help them gather the information they need to make good decisions quickly.

You have to ask yourself these questions.

  • "How can I maintain my relevance as a sales professional if I’m not keeping up with the business trends and technology developments in the markets I serve?"
  • "How can I deliver value to my prospects if I’m not continually expanding my knowledge of the products and services I sell, as well as deepening my understanding of how my customers are using my products to transform their own business?"

I was a History major who upon graduating had not given much thought to a career, let alone a career in sales. Hired by a major computer manufacturer. I was, like most 22 year olds, completely clueless as a brand new salesperson. I did well in my first sales job but I felt like I was just muddling along. I didn’t have a sense of what I could achieve, professionally and personally, in sales.

But that changed once I embraced the idea of sales as a unique, lifelong learning opportunity. My own career took flight. I diligently studied what the top performers at each company I worked were doing and consciously incorporated elements from each into my own selling. I worked for a series of tech start-ups in Silicon Valley and Southern California where each job required a steep learning curve in terms of the complexity of the products I sold and my own job responsibilities.

Prior to starting my own company, my 20+ year sales career traced an arc from selling $250 desktop adding machines to complex multi-million dollar satellite communications networks.  As a History major what did I know about satellite communications or the requirements of the large telecommunications companies that were my customers? Not much. But I learned. I read widely about the technology. I spent endless amounts of time with the engineers who developed the products. I traveled extensively to talk with customers about their requirements and how they hoped to use products like ours.

When I started my sales consulting company I again had to learn a whole new set of skills and technologies in becoming an award-winning author, sales strategist and sales speaker working with large multinational companies. I went from being someone whose career began well before email existed to becoming recognized in Forbes for being a leading global expert in social selling. I have broadened my own possibilities for sales success by being committed to learning.

And you can too. You don’t need to be the smartest person to learn how to be a great salesperson. It just takes a commitment to always be learning.

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