I’m no salesperson. In fact, I don’t even play one on TV. I couldn’t sell a dental plan to the NHL. Hell, I couldn’t even sell an Oscar to Leo.
Anyway, it occurs to me after all these years that maybe what you do and what I do isn’t all that different. Better late than never, right?
The way is I see it, everything starts with knowing your audience. You don’t stroll into an McDonalds enrollment and talk to the line workers about C-suite packages. And you sure as hell don’t try to push an HDHP to a Fortune 500 CEO. (I’d also avoid bringing up something like Lifelock with the folks over at Target. Or maybe you do, I don’t know…)
It’s also worth mentioning that this doesn’t include pandering to your audience. Being honest is always worth more than false consensus. And I know as a journalist, I’d much rather have my readers’ respect than their love.
You should start every conversation, question or even dinner, with an open mind. There are few things as embarrassing, or damning, than presuming what a client needs – or what the real story is – and finding out otherwise and falling flat on your face. In my experience, there are two kinds of reporters: those who interview like a DA or a defense attorney. They either want to hear the story or they want to shape the story. The same goes for sales.
Either way, once you get a conversation going, the best thing in the world you can do is shut up. No one wants to be told what they need, especially when they don’t. But they’ll always tell you what it is if you listen long enough. Then they love to hear that you have it.
It’s one of the first things you learn in journalism school: Just shut up and listen. That’s what I hate about TV news – how much they yammer on and talk over their subjects. Every second you spend talking is another second spent not listening.
It sounds simple, but it’s a lot harder than you think to know when to take no – or yes – for an answer. I spent a (long) dinner with a sales rep once who just talked all the way through her list of products. She was so focused on getting through the whole thing that she didn’t notice the client trying to stop her halfway through. The rep nearly had a sale – and talked herself right by it. At least the dessert was good.
Finally, stay away from spreadsheets. Or at least numbers. I know you can’t talk sales without them. But statistics, percentages and prices are no match for a good story. I don’t care if you are writing it, telling it or hearing it.