Over the course of my 37-year career, I morphed from reclusive introverted scientist to extroverted (well, ostensibly extroverted) effective salesperson. That's fortunate indeed, as I was laid off in June (thanks, Bain & Company, nothing like being cast out at age 59) and launched my own firm over the summer. Being able to approach former customers and work with them to help them carry out their mission is a make-or-break skill for a small business.
My first job out of college was working as [gasp!] a telemarketer for a scientific products company. As a Shy Person, this was a serious mismatch for my temperament. However, this was during the recession of 1973-75, I was grateful for any employment. There were ten of us in the "fishbowl", all hired from different technical fields with the thought that customers would rather speak to someone who could relate to their work. We were given telemarketing training by AT&T, and watched motivational films by Vince Lombardi. Seriously.
Off we went, telephoning prospects, learning about their operations, touting the features and benefits of our products, overcoming their objections, and getting to that all important "may I send you a price quote?" outcome. After four months, I was laid off from that job (along with the rest of the crew) as our well-intentioned sales efforts crashed into the stark reality of the recession, and our prospective customers found their budgets and grant money slashed.
It took another four months to land my next job, one where I spent all day in a cubicle poring over technical data. Not exactly riveting, but in a recession, I was glad to have a job at all. Upward mobility options involved three paths: line management, project management, and sales, none of which sparked my interest. No, I was going to be a purely technical person. Let others pursue those options; others with more moxie than I had.
Over the course of my career, I ended up pursuing all these options, and to my astonishment, the one where I had the most success and satisfaction was in sales. Helping customers determine what they needed, working with them to explore how I amd my colleagues could add value, and moving from warm, fuzzy feelings to a closed sale enabled me to leverage my technical knowledge. It also helped me differentiate myself from my peers as a rainmaker.
It wasn't until about ten years ago that I had any formal "sales training" beyond my telemarketing indoctrination. Much of what I learned came through shadowing people who were very effective salespeople, then developing my own style. There were, however, some "givens" that pervaded all our efforts, as follows:
Thou Shalt Not Diss Thy Competitors
As tempting as it might be to say derogatory things about our competitors (especially when they were true!), this was strictly off limits, and with good reason. Often, our customers "spread the wealth", giving work to several prequalified firms. Secondly, we might wind up working at the firm we dissed, either as a result of changing jobs in our industry, or through mergers and acquisitions.
Thou Shalt Not Make False Claims
Our aim was to develop long-term relationships with our clients based on trust, not to shake them down for a single opportunity, scam them, and lose them next time around. Promising overly-optimistic outcomes or unrealistic pricing with the idea of "change-ordering" the project to death later was not an acceptable approach to doing business.
Thou Shalt Listen To Thy Customer
There's a reason that nature provided us with two eyes, two ears, yet only one mouth. Effective salespeople get the customer to open up about their interests, their hopes, their fears, and their expectations. They ask good questions, and watch and listen as the customer opens up in a truly trusting relationship where interests align.
Thou Shalt Follow Through, Pronto
Whatever we promised - an answer to a technical question, scheduling a follow-up visit, submitting a price quote - we made sure we took care of, quickly and effectively. Every interaction is an opportunity to show (not just "tell") the customer that they mattered to us, and that we were the folks best suited to helping them.
Thou Shalt Show Thy Interest and Express Thy Gratitude
While it might seem silly, we always made it a point to thank the customer for the opportunity, and to ask for the job. In our summary remarks, we highlighted why we thought that our team was best suited to meeting their needs. When we were selected, we thanked everyone in the customer's organization involved in the deliberations. We thanked them in our invoice letters every month, and we showed our appreciation by doing a good job from start to finish.
Some have said that Mitt's the consummate "closer", but watching his pandering and meandering performance last night, I'd say that he was 0 for 5 in meeting these commandments.
It's hard for me to imagine him making a compelling sales pitch to a potential Bain
mark client, convincing them to part with millions of dollars to subsidize his latest scheme, when he himself wasn't risking any of his own ill-gotten hard-earned wealth. It's hard for me to picture him listening respectfully to a campaign donor to understand their concerns.
If his debate performances are any indication, Mitt loathes the idea of having to sell himself to the voters, having to respond to questions from people so far beneath his level, having to explain his elusive positions on the issues. Mitt's impatient. Desperate. He wants to go right to the close. Get that endorsement. Get that photo-op. Get that five- or six-figure check, hop on his private jet and get the hell out of there, returning to his Western White House With Car Elevator.
What Mitt doesn't grasp is that we're the customers... and we're not buying his shtick. His only selling point is that he's not... Obama. He's willing to make any false claim imaginable, even refuting his prior claims. He doesn't listen to anyone, and takes every opportunity to interrupt and talk over others with bullying bluntness. His promises to provide the "details" are a running joke. Gratitude? That's a one way street as far as Mitt and Ann are concerned. We're the ones who are supposed to be groveling in gratitude that this amazing
cyborg version 6.66 human being is willing to lead us to a dystopian world of suffering the Promised Land.
Too bad "you people" just can't understand his sales pitch.