While I personally don’t consider myself cut out for a sales career, in the conventional sense, I’ve always been in awe of such professionals – and their ability to go out into the unknown, each day, and convince people that their product (usually in the face of numerous competing products) is the one that the customer just has to have, beyond any doubt.
What’s more, as I was mentored throughout the nineties by a top sales leader, I found myself sponging up every little tidbit he’d share about how “the game was played” and what it took to close deals at the highest levels. Initially, I’d assumed sales was just all about natural charisma, confidence, and the ability to talk out of your you-know-what when circumstances required it. But the more my mentor shared, the more I realized how much preparation and technique was involved in mastering the discipline.
So for what it’s worth, here are five proven sales concepts that were drilled into me early in my career – and how they translate effectively into the job hunting process when you’re selling yourself!
1) It’s a Numbers Game: While it might be somewhat self-evident, I feel that any discussion on the “salesmanship” of job hunting should start by reminding people that most great salespeople – just like virtually all job hunters — don’t win them all and might only generate a 3%-5% response rate to their ongoing outreach efforts. Rejection and radio silence is an unavoidable part of the process. As a result, savvy self-promoters focus on constantly planting new seeds and reaching out to a large volume of relevant contacts, companies, and recruiters each week in order to have the best odds of success. Simply put, the more lines you have in the water, the better your odds of the timing being right and a positive development taking place. So make the math work in your favor by not getting bogged down or overthinking things: build a robust pipeline for yourself via a daily regimen of sending out at least 5, or 10, or 15 new communications to appropriate parties.
2) The More You Tell, The Less You Sell: Generally, great salespeople are exceptional listeners, not rapid-fire talkers. They listen carefully to the customer’s needs, ask probing questions, and seek to figure out the primary pain points of the person across the desk before they rattle off every possible feature their product can offer. In light of this, I always urge job seekers to follow the approach I’ve written about previously here where they place their focus equally as much on listening — versus talking — during the interview process. Don’t approach an interview like it’s a “performance” where your job is to dazzle the employer with elegant, scripted answers to each question. Instead, view each hiring opportunity as a problem-solving conversation where your mission is to build rapport with the hiring manager and glean the best possible understanding of what they need done and the ideal candidate they’re seeking.
3) Sell Benefits, Not Features: This age-old sales mantra is another one that should be routinely practiced by job hunters when they interview. When you think about it, companies really don’t care that you have an MBA, are a wizard at Excel software, and have always been great at multi-tasking. What they care about is whether you can actually solve their problems. So instead of just reading your resume back to the employer, or talking about your skills and capabilities in an abstract way, actually describe the results and outcomes you’re confident you can achieve for the hiring party. How you can make their life easier, if hired? What can you take off their plate? How can you be the “aspirin to their headache” so to speak?
For example, if you truly are good at using Excel, don’t just state this fact – say something like “If I understand correctly that you’re looking to get a better handle on the margins you’re achieving on each project, I could definitely handle that for you. I’ve built numerous spreadsheets in the past that examine all the different variables/costs of projects and provide an incredibly accurate picture as to whether each engagement is making or losing money. So give me a few weeks to learn the ropes of your business and I’d be able to give you exactly the numbers you’re looking for…”
4) Objections are Buying Signals: While counter-intuitive, this sales slogan points to the reality that when employers (or customers) ask tough questions in a meeting, it’s not normally just to make you feel bad or give you a hard time. Instead, they’re putting out a “cry for help” and asking you to assist them in understanding why a perceived weakness of yours won’t be a deal breaker. After all, if the qualification you’re missing was truly essential, and you don’t have it, why did they invite you in to the meeting in the first place? So rather than get defensive when asked a pointed question in an interview, embrace the objection. Turn the situation around by first telling them you totally understand where they’re coming from and what they’re worried about – establishing rapport and agreement – then calmly walk through a few specific reasons why the issue in question won’t be a big deal in your particular case.
An example of this? “I’m glad you brought that issue up, Jenny, since you’re right, I actually don’t have a college degree and was hoping that we’d get the chance to talk about that. And if a degree is absolutely critical to success in this job, then I’m likely not the right candidate. Why I don’t think this issue would be a major sticking point in my particular case, however, is that I truly love to learn and have spent the last 20 years not only acquiring a ton of on-the-job experience, but also taking constant classes related to the latest developments in my field. I also feel I’ve developed superior “street smarts” from the extra years I spent working my way up the ladder, early on, during the time that most people were attending school. So again, if a degree is an absolutely mandatory requirement, I’ll be happy to bow out of the process. But throughout the years, as you can see from my resume, it’s never been an issue in terms of my ability to generate results or make a major impact in each place I’ve worked…”
5) Don’t Sell Past the Close: Last but not least, any grizzled sales veteran will tell you that it’s imperative not to “sell past the close” once you’ve reached the outcome you were hoping for with the customer/employer. For example, if you’re on a phone call with a recruiter trying to get them to invite you in for a face-to-face meeting — and they do so — don’t keep talking. Wrap the call up in short order, since any additional information you provide at that stage could only rock the boat and/or hurt your chances. In similar fashion, if an employer asks you for your salary range and seems content with the ballpark you provide, consider the matter settled and move on as quickly as possible. Don’t dwell on it, backpedal, emphasize your flexibility, or share any further information at that stage. So while this concept is tricky at first, especially for non-sales people, try to recognize when an employer is already content with a particular answer you’ve given and resist the urge to nervously keep talking about it. Again, you have nothing to gain in such situations. You’ve already “closed” them and any further information you share will only risk changing the employer’s mind.