My biggest sales lesson came from a good friend who is now our head of Canadian business development (a fancy term for sales), Robin Tator. Robin taught me that sales is not about what you are selling, but about making friends and about getting someone to see the world the way you do. If you do that, everything else will take care of itself.
Sales can be a melancholy job. On one hand, many people (especially nonsales people) feel that it’s sleazy and lowbrow. On the other hand, it can be the most important function of a business. Until there’s a sale, there is no business. Personally, I’ve gone from thinking the former to believing the latter and honing my skills over a decade to where today I am effectively the chief sales officer of TerraCycle. I don’t know exactly when this transition happened, but it took me a few years to embrace the power of sales the way I do today.
I recently wrote a friend who is starting a nonprofit and suggested that the role of a company leader is to become the chief convincing officer. In the end these two titles are synonymous, because selling is really the art of convincing someone to believe and buy into your concept, whether by buying your product or service or by investing in your company or by working for your company.
Here are my top 10 sales tips, all of which have served me and our staff — including Jo Opot, pictured above — for years:
- You can sell only if you yourself are convinced: If you are not sold on the product or service, it will be an uphill battle to sell someone on else. Your lack of conviction will scream through.
- Be clear and direct: When pitching do not use complicated diction. Pride yourself instead on being able to explain the concept as quickly, clearly and simply as possible. This is important because the biggest problem in sales is client confusion. Confusion does not lead to a Yes.
- Pressure is an art: Creating FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) in your client’s mind can be a good thing because it will lead to serious consideration of your concept. In the TerraCycle world, we award brand exclusivity by country and by category. I often need to tell potential clients that their competition is also talking with us. The trick is to mention this once and to NOT rub it in, which is likely to anger them. No one who is angered into saying Yes.
- Know your client: Make sure to research your potential clients, know their challenges and their needs. One size hardly ever fits all, and you look much stronger if you care about the business enough to invest in the research. I can’t tell you how many times I get cold calls from sales people who don’t even know what TerraCycle does.
- It’s all about the presentation: Building an amazing deck is critical to the sales process. Practice it, memorize it and be prepared to shift your emphasis based on how the energy changes when you give the presentation. Internally, we always ask ourselves: “Is the flow of this deck right? Will it convince?”
- Be passionate and exciting: Most presentations are BORING! So create a show and make it exciting. Excitement is contagious – just like a yawn.
- If you don’t know the answer, do not guess: People will ask you tough questions, and you may not always know the answer. The person asking you may be testing you, knowing the answer full well. And if you fumble, it’s very hard to rebuild credibility. Do not guess.
- Answer questions directly and clearly: If you are asked a question and you give a “politician’s answer” – in other words, if you don’t answer the question – your credibility will decline, and you will hurt your chances of making the sale.
- Humor is a great lubricator: Funny stories always break the ice. Instead of using business cards, everyone in our company uses stamps (see right) to leave our contact info. It’s eco-friendly, it never runs out and it makes for a nice ice-breaker at the beginning of every meeting.
- You can always be better: Sales is an art, not a science. Which means it’s never perfect and can always improve. TerraCycle has a standard sales deck most of our associates use. We’ve gone through 94 versions in the last three years and version 95 is around the corner.
Bottom line: sales is a critical function that is more art than science, so hone your art. And please share any of the sales tips you’ve learned.