I’ve had the chance to be directly involved in sales, and, eventually, train salespeople at different stages of my long career as a marketer. I was a consultant/rep for many years at Pearson at the beginning of my publishing days, so I experienced firsthand what it’s like to spend the whole day visiting clients and presenting products. I covered the whole country. At McGraw-Hill, years later, I was lucky to work alongside reps (salespeople) in many countries of Latin America and the Middle East. Not only did I train them on the sales methodology of the company, but also learned a lot from good, intuitive reps, or natural salespeople, as we like to call them. These are very charismatic people that build close relationships with their customers, and, therefore, would be the ones that most benefited from formal training, as they already had the right kind of personality.
Formal sales training
Of course you can train anyone to be a rep as far as techniques go, even if they lack the natural charisma typical of great salespeople. The sales process methodology used by different companies may vary in terminology, but they are basically the same: asking the customer the right questions; selecting which features of the product to present, based on their answers; giving a skillful presentation with emphasis on benefits; and closing the deal. It all comes down to structuring a sales call, finding out what the customers’ problems are, and finally offering a solution that fixes it. However, if one can do without layers of natural charm, not many people have what it takes to soldier on in this hard line of work, where you get NO for an answer as the norm when you try to close a deal, despite all the work you put in following carefully the phases of the sales process.
Salespeople need to have a very high level of self-esteem to be able to manage all this rejection, understand that it’s not personal (in most cases), and start the process all over again the following day. For those who have the drive and persistency to carry on and keep honing their skills through (self-)training and practice, the rewards to reap can be more than worth it.
However, in these days of inbound marketing and social media, where we expect the client to come looking for the product as they need it, it takes more than excelling at the sales process for reps to succeed. The client is in control more than ever and that changes everything. Reps need to learn to emulate the charisma some people naturally have by building an online relationship with prospects and clients. They need to incorporate marketing skills to their sales tool kit and start promoting their own personal brand.
The marketing department of the company they work for should be able to provide them with the necessary leads. But we all know that is not enough. Successful salespeople will never rely solely on the leads provided by Marketing to do their job. They must create a professional persona and promote it heavily, using the same tactics available to Marketing. The objective is to get closer to a client, initiate and keep the conversation with them, before finally closing the deal.
Salespeople as marketers of their own personal brand
Salespeople can replicate the proven tactics of content marketing and the use of social media channels to promote themselves as a brand to reach customers they may not have the chance to meet otherwise. Therefore, salespeople had better start thinking and acting like marketers. Get closer to the marketing team in your company and, with their authorization, start personalizing the content already made available to generate leads (one simple way to do this would be just to share this kind of communication on the real state of your own Facebook profile, for example, rather than the company’s). Salespeople will also need to begin building their own community and fans on the Internet. Remember, though, that content marketing needs to be subtle. You will need to genuinely engage with your audience by providing a lot of useful free content (invitation to webinars, how-to videos, explanations about the product, relevant articles to their business, ebooks etc.) and dutifully interact with them (by answering their queries, for example) before you gain the right to sell anything.
Building a community and working on promoting your personal brand is the best guarantee that you will keep your a job in these unstable and changing times.