I wish I knew sales skills earlier.
When I worked in a restaurant my parents owned, maybe I could have helped them grow their business. They really only wanted me to count money. And then they got rid of the restaurant.
Another time in elementary school I tried partnering with a neighbor to sell fancy fans and bookmarks from China in front of our house. Little did we know our neighborhood was not a great market for this product.
Then after college, I was gung-ho about sales. I thought “just get in front of a customer and ask a lot of questions and be comfortable asking them to buy.” I thought those were the secrets of how “it all works.”
Who knows where I would be if I learned to sell throughout my teen years instead of working as a busboy/waiter in various restaurants.
I imagine the earlier anyone (myself included) learns the things on this list, the earlier they can start making big changes for themselves.
Enough reflecting on the past. This article is all about moving forward.
If you are reading this, and jumping into sales, or considering it as a career path, here are 11 things I wish I knew about sales earlier. These are not in order of importance.
1. Selling is an amazing career choice
In highschool I didn’t think about how selling works. I worked as a busboy/host/waiter and I just “did my job.” I served tables and they gave us money.
My bosses never explained to me that by “asking customers if they wanted to add a soup to their order.” You might say that is more a “marketing tactic” as opposed to true selling, but it was a lesson that impacts the “sales of the restaurant.”
It is easy to get caught up in the day to day when you have a regular job not realizing the vast opportunities if you start to pursue a sales career.
Then there is the amazing feeling of a close.
2. There is a process
When I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch I only thought about customer experience. My numbers weren’t on the line.
Be a happy, awesome “store model” and greet everyone, and I might get to work extra days and holidays for minimum wage and the chance of having overtime.
If only I knew that this attitude was a part of “their process” and if I had known I was part of some sales process or funnel, I may have been more helpful. I knew the term “cross-sell” and “up-sell” at this point, but I never really knew “how” to do it, and at what point of the interactions.
Looking later in my career when I interned to sell insurance, it would have been nice to know that organizing events at small fairs were a lead generation tactic which was part of a “process” from beginning to close.
Imagine if you could listen to some of the worlds most successful people sharing their stories with you, 10, 15 years ago. Sure my parents were great and instilled values like work ethic, but there is some incredible wisdom you can get from audiotape courses.
4. Consultative selling
I did not learn about this until a couple of jobs after college. I knew about asking questions and helping people find what they were looking for in a store.
It was late that I found out how valuable that skill is in looking for ways to build a business. By uncovering peoples needs and presenting benefits, you can truly help customers get what they need.
This is also a great way to build professional relationships and find business opportunities.
5. Open-ended questions
I was fortunate to build the habit of asking open-ended questions when I worked at a water park. In fact, asking open-ended questions was seen as a matter of a potential traumatic neck injury.
When you are rescuing someone who has a potential neck injury (falling on their head, whiplash, etc…) you want to make sure you don’t ask them yes or no questions to which they will respond by shaking or nodding their heads.
I knew the skill, but I did not know the tremendous potential in becoming a better salesman by improving this skill. And not only a better salesman, but also a better person. You can even transition this skill into consulting or coaching.
And open-ended questions is also a highly effective tactic throughout the end of the sales process too for closing.
6. Tracking metrics
I did not even know what metrics were until I worked at a major Fortune 50 company. When I worked in retail I saw that the store had sold “150 jeans” but never realized this was a measurement that gets tracked all the way to the top.
That would have been an interesting conversation with the managers. They never really told us too much. I guess it was on a need to know basis.
There is incredible potential in setting the right metrics and how it can be used in daily life for personal goals. And today, with all the analytics tools, metrics are a supernova subject.
Looking back before the age of digital media started driving down the prices of audiotapes, I probably would not have been able to afford lectures from the best. I did, however, spend a lot of time in the library as a kid. I did not read the same books I do today though. I preferred fiction and poetry.
Moving on to when I started working… If you are reading this, I urge you to pick up a book about your business or about sales, or success in general. Think and Grow Rich is a good starter.
Early in my career when I started selling I merely just “did what my boss told me.” “Organize events, call this person and report back what they said, my boss would say.” I was so “busy” I did not spend enough time truly learning the skills.
I thought I was selling. So cute.
8. Selling myself
I was a “good employee.” In some place’s I was an exceptional employee.
While I often sold myself on a job role or sold myself in believing in the company, I did not sell myself on the products and what I was doing.
What a difference can be made if I thought:
“This restaurant has the best Chinese food in this town!”
“Our collection of pants will last for years both style and quality-wise. Oh, and these tops will make you look fantastic.”
“This water park is the most well maintained and family-friendly water park in the city!”
9. Objection handling
Objection handling is two parts.
First, it is the automated response psychology of overcoming “no’s” by taking their no’s, and reflecting back without making an argument.
“Yes I can understand why you think that,” then coming back with a response that suits the situation.
Second, there is preparing for objections ahead of time. This is one of the skills that can only be improved over time.
At one point I only knew the term “handling objections” but taking time to plan for the future and having a good answer for everything is a good skill for both life and sales.
10. Benefits, benefits, benefits
When I used to see infomercials, I was merely amused by them. I never had a boat to plug up with a spray nor did I want to spend money on a vacuum when I already had one that still did the job.
I ignored advertising completely.
But if you spend the time to study advertising, marketing campaigns, and sales pitches around the world, you can learn so much.
It doesn’t matter if I don’t want a new SUV.
It doesn’t matter that I don’t plan on buying the fancy overpriced bottle of champagne.
What does matter is someone out there is learning about all the great benefits of how a new product will improve their lives.
And you can learn from the way the person behind the sale does it – often by sharing the benefits to a customer.
11. Success Mindset
An interesting interaction happened to me the day I wrote this article that made me come to a realization.
I reached out to an acquaintance in search of a business partner. This lead to a conversation where I shared with them something personal (albeit positive) I believed about myself.
They happened to not see my point of view and responded with “no you are not.”
It was the first time in a long time where I responded with a child-like “yes I am”.
The funny thing was before she said “no I was not,” I only half-heartedly believed what I said about myself, as I said it jokingly.
It was then that I realized the true power of belief. Belief in yourself. Not only selling yourself but also having a deep-rooted success mindset.
Even if others do not see it yet, and even if you are still working towards what you want to become, you can work every day toward making it a deeply ingrained belief. Adopting a success mindset is something no one can take away from you.
Wish you success in whatever your pursuits are.