Real Faces of Sales: How Amy Slater Plans to Train the Next Wave of Selling Stars
Amy Slater shares her thoughts on the role of empathy in modern-day sales, and what her daughters think of the trail she has blazed over her 25-year career.
October 26, 2017
To the outside world, salespeople are those who knock on your door and try to sell you a vacuum. Amy Slater knows better. After more than 25 years in the sales industry, she broke out on her own last year, launching a sales and executive coaching consultancy firm that lets her share her professional insights with a new wave of businesses and sales professionals.
We sat down with Slater to discuss her views on the role of empathy in modern-day sales, the troubling perception that sales is “easy,” and the powerful moment she shared with her oldest daughter, now a sales pro herself.
LinkedIn: When you describe yourself as being in sales, how do you think people perceive your profession and your role?
Amy Slater: I’ve noticed people talking about sales professionals as a general term, instead of using labels like Sales Executive or Account Manager or Sales Rep. I’d say over the course of the last five years, people in the sales profession are trying to elevate its reputation because they understand that everyone sells. If you’re a doctor, if you’re a lawyer, whatever it is that you do, every day you’re selling whatever it is that you do. Sales is about relationships, it’s about human connection.
LinkedIn: Can you describe that human connection in greater detail?
AS: Sure. I like to call myself a connector of people. People will come to me and ask, “Do you know this person or do you know that person? Could you make an introduction?” That’s what it’s about: paying it forward. The more you work with others in establishing relationships, and the more you can help them, the more this will come back to help you in the long run.
My belief is that, if you go into something for somebody else, you reap far greater benefits than you would if you went into that situation for selfish reasons.
LinkedIn: Why has sales suffered from an image problem, in terms of public perception?
AS: If you think about it historically, like in the play, “Death of a Salesman,” I think people had an image of salespeople as being intrusive, knocking on your door, interrupting your dinner, telemarketers calling in the middle of your meal. And so it was something that people saw as getting in the way of their lives, or trying to twist their arms into doing something they shouldn’t, like buying a knife set or a used car with problems under the hood.
But modern-day sales is about developing a relationship with somebody and helping them create value in what it is that you’re offering. It may not be a sale that you do overnight: Sometimes, sales take years to close because you’re developing a relationship over time. The advice I’ve given to people who have worked on my teams or have been my clients is to establish the relationship first, and don’t be in such a hurry to close the deal. That’s why I think sales has gotten a bad rap: People are too quick to try to force the sale.
LinkedIn: How would you characterize modern-day salespeople in a positive way that contradicts those negative stereotypes?
AS: I would say today’s salespeople are generally very good people. They have empathy and understanding, they care, they spend more time listening than speaking. I had an old boss and a trainer who used to say, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason, you need to spend more time listening.” Those are the kinds of stories that I like to share with people. If you’re thoughtful and caring and you listen to what somebody’s telling you, you can provide value. Those are the kinds of salespeople that I think are coming around more, and that’s how I hope to train others.
Another aspect of modern-day sales is technology. I do a lot of speaking about how we can use technology in sales today. Don’t use it as something that’s going to create a barrier between you and your client. Use it as another method of engagement.
LinkedIn: What do you consider your proudest achievement in sales?
AS: One of my proudest achievements came when I was selling for Cisco. I was managing an account, which was known to be sort of a dreadful, big account that was very difficult at the time. I was able to sell a brand-new video technology with a 20-site deal, and it was a pretty big deal at the time. It was probably two years in the making when the deal came through.
LinkedIn: Was that sale significant because of the relationship you had built with the client, or because of the size of the deal?
AS: Honestly, it was significant because of the time we had invested into the relationship. We were trying to understand what kind of business value we could bring with the video. It wasn’t just about telemedicine, it was about reducing travel: They did a lot of travel back and forth between Burbank and Oakland, and we reduced their travel and were able to save them money.
But we wouldn’t have known that without asking a lot of questions and getting to know the company, which is why the sale took more than two years. It really hinged on getting to know them and making sure it was the right time for them.
LinkedIn: What about this job gets you out of bed in the morning?
AS: I know people probably think I’m crazy, but I love getting up in the morning, aside from the birds that are chirping outside my window at like 4:30 in the morning. I get up because I don’t know what each day will bring. Every day is different, and I’m excited about making connections and seeing what the day holds. I drive in Ubers or I drive and meet with clients, and I always make a connection whenever I’m meeting people. That’s what gets me up.
LinkedIn: You have three daughters. What’s their impression of the work you do?
AS: You know, it’s funny that you say that, because yesterday I spent some time with my oldest daughter who is almost 23, and she’s in her first career job and works in sales. She had to write something the other day about why she went into sales, and who made the biggest impression on her. I’m happy to say that she said it was me, and it was really nice that she said that. She’s always watched me working hard and making a difference.
That makes me feel pretty good that I got that answer unsolicited from her yesterday. I want my daughters to see that you can do whatever you put your mind to. What I’ve noticed with all three of my daughters is that, when they set their mind to something, it doesn’t mean it’s not without struggle. The times where you learn the most is when you fail, because then you have to get back up again and try and try again. I think that’s what they’ve seen with me, is that I make a decision to do something and then I do it.
LinkedIn: Who do you turn to for advice?
AS: I used to turn to my dad for advice. He’s since passed away, but he was an amazing business leader, so I used to go to him for advice. I hired my own business coach several years ago and we’re still friends even though he’s no longer my coach. But often times I’ll reach out to him and ask him what he thinks, or I’ll ask him, “Do you think I’m doing the right thing?” I also have a really rich network of people, friends, that I can turn to when I have a question.
LinkedIn: What sort of changes would you like to see in terms of how sales roles are understood and defined?
AS: I think it’s really important for people to realize that selling isn’t easy. So often, the profession can be put down and people can be demeaning about sales. And it’s funny because in the business that I’ve been in, high technology, a lot of times you have brilliant engineers you’re working with, and in many cases you can’t sell without them because they really understand the technology.
I have a few friends who have said, “I wish I had your job, it seems so easy.” Then I have a few who have migrated from engineering to sales, and they say, “Wow, I never realized all that you have to do and the pressure to carry a quota.” I mean, all jobs are hard, but when you’re a salesperson you have to carry a quota, it’s a lot of pressure to think that you need to meet that to make your money and to make your living.
LinkedIn: In your long, productive career, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
AS: As I reflect on a long career of about 25 years in sales, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s all about the relationships you build. That includes internal relationships in the companies you work for as well as your prospects and clients. It’s important to be real: Don’t try to be somebody else, don’t try to sell like somebody else, because people can see right through it.
It’s really about being authentic. I know from experience: When I first started selling, I wanted to be just like the best salesperson, and I tried to emulate them. It’s a good practice for learning, but it’s much better if your approach comes from the heart. So over the years, I’ve realized that I don’t always have to work from my head. I can also work from my heart.