An Open Letter to Every Young Salesperson

An call center professional wearing white corporate attire
This salesperson is not young: he knows how to close a sale. Please, please, please... learn from him.

Sales: it’s about what you can do for me.

I get a lot of sales calls. A lot. I don’t know how the rumour started that I’m made of cash, but apparently that happened. Sometimes I find an experienced salesperson on the other end of the line, someone who understands prospective clients, what motivates them, and their needs. 80% of the time I find someone relatively new to the business of selling, someone with much to learn. Here are ten pieces of advice for just such whippersnappers, collected from my years of being on the other end of the line:

  1. I don’t want to hear about your company, nor should I want to; it doesn’t interest any prospective customers. How long you’ve been in business, the size of your client base, your annual gross revenue, whether you smell minty fresh, can cure Ebola or have live dolphins on display in an aquarium in your lobby… all these things are irrelevant to prospective customers. The only thing we care (and should care) about is what you can do for us and what problem(s) you can solve: those are the only two points any prospective client should hear you chat about at any length. If you’re not talking about one of those two things, you’re not talking the language of clients.
  2. Don’t chew gum on a sales call. Ever.
  3. My name is Mark, not Mike. That’s important.
  4. Do your homework. When you start telling me how great your product is and that it only costs $35,000 / year, I don’t want to have to tell you that my industry is facing year-over-year declines in its “customer base,” and that many – if not most – organizations in my vertical are facing budget deficits. If you had done even the most basic Googling prior to the call, you would have known that.
  5. Don’t read from a script. You’re a 25-year-old salesperson on a cold call. I’m a 45-year-old manager with 20 years’ experience listening to sales pitches: I can smell your script a mile away.
  6. If you don’t know what country I’m in and have to ask, you’ve already lost the sale. See “do your homework” in point #4 above.
  7. Even if I had the budget to do so, I’m not going to splash out $35,000 on your software solution without a trial. Would I walk into a luxury car dealership and buy a new Mercedes-Benz on the spot without even sitting my butt down in the driver’s seat? No. I’m not talking about a demo, I’m talking about a full multi-week trial, a chance to thoroughly kick the tires and evaluate the risk to me for sticking my neck out on a large purchase. No trial, no chance.
  8. It’s nice that you want to break the ice. I understand the necessity for that: The Sales Bible and a dozen other tomes clearly state that conversion goes up when people feel a personal connection to the person doing the selling. You and the last four guys that have contacted me so far this week have all tried to be my friend on the phone. None of them are, and not because I’m an insensitive jerk, but because I’m very busy and I know that you’re being chummy not because you took a look at my Facebook profile and decided we’d hit it off, but because you’re trying to warm me up for a sales pitch. I respect the need for small talk as a social lubricant, but please keep it to a minimum and get to the part where you tell me how you’ll solve a problem I have, within the first 45 seconds of the call.
  9. If you don’t have an elevator pitch, you have nothing. Einstein’s theory of general relativity can be distilled down to its bare essentials in about 45 seconds by a reasonably lucid educator, journalist or physicist. Your product – as wonderful as it may be – is not nearly as impressive as the theory of general relativity. Therefore, trying to convince me that what it does can’t be distilled into a 45-second description is not going to work; it just means you haven’t thought about your elevator pitch hard enough, or (much worse) your product really doesn’t have a strong value proposition.
  10. Don’t use cheap VOIP: you’re already working hard enough to keep my attention without the hindrance of a crappy connection that keeps dropping out or that makes you sound like a garbled version of Darth Vader.

There you have it. There’s actually a lot more advice I could give, and I’ll share another ten tips another day. Happy calling.

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