My name is Richard Chrisos and I am a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts – Amherst (Isenberg School of Business). Initially, I began my academic career as an accounting major, however, I quickly realized that this was not the correct path for someone with my particular skill set. I’ve always been a “people person”, so I switched to marketing with the intention of diving into a career in sales after graduation. I am currently employed as an Account Development Representative at a VAR in the IT industry. Although UMASS proudly hosts over 15,000 undergrad students, meeting Kareem Agha is almost an unavoidable occurrence which is testament to his networking and relationship building skills. It only takes a few seconds in speaking with Mr. Aghanomics himself to realize that he’s not a typical college student due to his drive, passion, and vision.
Sales can be one of the most rewarding (both monetarily & self-gratifying) career choices a particularly skilled person can make. The reason I use the phrase ‘particularly skilled’ insinuates at the simple notion that sales is not for everyone. Sales people are a particular breed of working professionals. Their drive is self-motivated and motivated by the proposition of heightened earning potential based directly on performance. Which brings up another red flag regarding this profession, inconsistency. Knowingly entering into the realm of sales means many things, but one fact remains, you will have ups and downs. The difference between a great salesman and one who finds himself missing his quota and jobless is what you do during slump periods. Being afraid to fail is never an option in life and the same advice correlates strongly to sales. Take a period of decline as a learning opportunity. Ask yourself, ‘What am I doing differently? Am I making the best use of the resources that have been provided to me? What steps can I take to rectify the situation?’ It is often helpful to remove yourself from a problem, clear you head, and re-strategize an attack plan. If nothing else, reach out for assistance from your peers. Take a look into the mind of one of your counterparts who is hitting his/her number quarter after quarter. I can personally guarantee that they have traits which can be immediately emulated and implemented into your day to day behaviors.
So, what does it takes to be a successful professional in the sales industry?
1. Competitors Only.
Sales is not a place for the easily rattled. In fact, there is a strong relation between successful salesman and a history of competitive sports. Think of sales as a competition in which you are competing against everyone around you. You can guarantee that any opportunity that had been fed down your pipeline is being actively pursued by an opposing company. Everyone wants a slice of the cake and nothing will be simply handed over to you.
2. Work SMART, not HARD.
My director of sales has this written on his whiteboard. Working in an efficient manner is an ideal trait in a salesperson. It doesn’t matter how many hours you put into something if it is not an effective use of your time. Avoid doing ‘busy work’ which won’t bring you closer to generating a sale. Generate an effective game plan, constantly adjust it based on the results you find, and continue hammering away.
3. Follow Through.
In the business world, following through is one of the most important characteristics. If you tell a client that you will have a quote or report to them at a specified time, you better make sure you have it to them by or before then. There are no more excuses, this isn’t college anymore where professors will adhere to your methodically explained excuses.
4. Can’t Be Afraid To Fail.
If you are afraid to fail, you’ve already lost. Think of baseball, Ted Williams is perceived by many as the greatest hitter to ever play on the diamond. Yet, in his best season ever, he was getting a hit approximately 4 out of 10 times. This means he was failing 6 out of 10 times. Sales is similar to baseball in that regard. Odds are you will fail far more frequently than succeed. However, it’s all about maintaining your composure because when you do get that hit, the cognitive dissonance in your choice to become a salesman immediately vanishes.
5. Self-Motivated. One of the major appeals of the sales professional is the flexibility it allows you. Many companies, including my own, do not require you to be in the office much and even stress the fact that they would rather have you out of the office in meetings, with clients, etc. This takes a certain degree of discipline and self-motivation. At the end of the day, you don’t have someone providing you with a linear path of what your day will consist of. Instead, you must construct a schedule which maximizes the use of your time. Do not take the freedom for granted, rather, think of it as an agreement of trust between you and your employer.
Stop trying to sell your customers with a pitch or what you think they want to hear. Close your mouth and open your ears. When on a conference call or at a meeting, a prospective client will often tell you EXACTLY what problem they are facing and WHAT THEY WANT to solve it. While having a 15 second elevator pitch is always handy in quick encounters, the most important habit is becoming a strong listener. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and take a true interest in what the person you are speaking to is verbalizing.
7. Network, Network, Network.
Building up your pipeline is the most valuable tool a salesperson has. When interviewing with companies, they will often ask you if you have a target account list or list of pre-existing accounts that you have done business with. These accounts / contacts add value to you as a person. Your personal network adds value to a company potentially interested in hiring you. This is why taking advantage of sites like Linked In and local networking groups are an absolute MUST in sales. Nowadays, following up with a client is not simply an email anymore, adding them on Linked In is a huge advantage readily available. By connecting with that person, you now have access to their network. Continue this process and in a matter of months, your connections will dramatically increase and hopefully yield increased sales as well.
The list of characteristics could surely go on with no apparent end, but those are a few which stand out in my mind. Don’t take my writing as a deterrent to entering the sales professional because as I previously stated, it can be one of the most rewarding jobs out there. The flexibility and freedom, combined with the limitless earning potential makes it an attractive option to anyone that has the properly aligned salesman skillset. In wrapping up this post for Aghanomics, I will provide you with one final recommendation; always remain informed and aware of what’s going on in the business world around you. Take advantage of sites like Forbes.com / INC.com / businessinsider.com / etc. Spend at least a few minutes each day sifting through the articles, it will only help you in the long run in creating a more highly sharpened business professional.