How To Sell

by Holland-Mark | July 15, 2010

Having a chat with my team tomorrow morning about the most important but under-appreciated skill in business: Selling.

I graduated from Cornell with a degree in advertising, and promptly leveraged my Ivy League credentials into 28 rejection letters from the best agencies in Boston and New York. (I still have them all. Bastards.) My dad convinced me at a truly low point in my life that a marketing guy “who could actually sell something” would be something of a novelty, so I shouldered my pride and took a job selling kitchen knives door-to-door.

I learned more about sales and marketing that summer — knocking on doors and selling knives across kitchen tables — than I ever did in college. When I did land that first gig in New York, a big part of the reason was that very story.

25 years on I’ve graduated to selling things across conference room tables, but little else has changed. Here are the five best pieces of advice I have for people who need to do the same.

1. Invest in Relationships.

Chris always says agency new business leads come from three sources: Breakfasts, Lunches, and Dinners. He’s got a point.

How many new people did you meet this week? How many cards did you collect at the events you attended? How many acquaintances did you check in with, just to say hello? That guy who e-mailed you looking for a job… did you offer to have coffee with him? If not, you should have. When he gets one — and he will — I promise he’ll remember you.

People who sell do all of these things, and the very best do them with genuine altruism and a desire to help others. In the end your ability to surface opportunities is a straight-line function of the number of people who are thinking about you this week, and job one is to make that happen among as large a group as possible, week in and week out.

2. Look for Problems, not Opportunities.

It’s rare to “find” opportunities. Fact is, most opportunities are made, by people who are very good at uncovering problems.

So look for problems. Walk in other people’s shoes. Make their problem yours, and really apply yourself to the problems best suited to your unique talents and experience. It may take some time, but good things will happen. Trust me.

3. Get the First Meeting Right.

The only “sales meeting” you really have is the first meeting. You have five objectives in this meeting, in this order:

  1. Establish warmth – Demonstrate you’re not a dick. To do this, it helps not to be a dick.
  2. Establish competence – The first question on the table in every meeting is “Why should I listen to you?” Bring some content to the dance: a slide or better yet a story that shows you to be someone worthy of attention in your prospect’s busy schedule.
  3. Find and confirm pain – “Pain” is what sales guys call The Problem, as it is perceived by the prospect. Have you asked what the problem is, exactly? Can you restate it, in a way that makes them go, “Yes, exactly!” If not, slide after slide about how great you are wastes everyone’s time.
  4. Gather inputs for buying vision – “Buying Vision” is what sales guys call the mental picture of what your customer wants to buy. This inevitably will be different in small but important ways from what you want to sell. Closing that gap is what sales is all about.
  5. Get a concrete next step – Finally, leave with an action item. I hate when people come back from a pitch meeting and talk about what a “great meeting” it was. What’s the next step, Ziglar? If there’s not a clear one, it was most definitely NOT a great meeting.

4. Close.

I’m not talking about high pressure tactics here, I’m talking about following up to see where things are. Ask for the business. Show in your words and more importantly through the sustained intensity of your interest that you want the gig. If you don’t do that, you don’t want it, and nobody gives their business to someone who’s disinterested in it.

5. Deliver.

Finally, you need to deliver the goods. It’s a small world, and everyone that matters in it is on LinkedIn. Deliver on your promises and do right by people, and one day you’ll turn around and be someone worthy of trust.

And there is no more useful sales tool than that.

That’s all there is to it, folks. Now get out there, and shake it.