In Europe (and especially France), sales is a pretty taboo topic. If someone says you’re acting like a salesperson, it’s an insult, like you’re trying to screw them over. Compare that to the US, where “That was a great sales job” is a compliment.
Our big problem here is that we’ve got great products that nobody’s ever heard about. We have a really hard time turning our solutions into the next big thing because we have a weak sales culture. As an entrepreneur, though, your job is to sell: starting with the people around you, including your investors, your employees, your banker, everybody.
The one rule for being a good salesperson is to understand how the act of buying the product will be a good thing for the buyer. That’s why all those negative images of sales are missing the point. Great salespeople listen, they understand the person in front of them. This isn’t listening quietly like a psychiatrist, it’s listening actively like a cop: you’re trying to understand how the person works so that you can see where to push in order to have an impact. Sales is about opening doors by first figuring out where the key is and then reaching out to grab it. If you aren’t pulling together as much information as you can, you’re not going to succeed.
To know why your product will be a good thing for the buyer, you need to know if buyers are being driven by an emotional reaction or a rational one. That’s what so many people didn’t understand with the iPod. It wasn’t about being rational — there were other mp3 players, you could go to any electronics store and have salespeople talking about all the technical details of those other players, how many songs they could store, compression rates, prices…
And Apple beat them all, because it was cool. Apple knew how to create a certain emotion, with a product that just did what you wanted. Today, 20 years later, that’s why people who buy Android will still spend hours trying to convince you why it’s better than Apple. But that’s the difference between reason and emotion. As a salesperson, you need to understand how those two reactions relate to the product you’re trying to sell.
So how can you get better as a salesperson? 3 big things:
- Match the buyer’s state of being.
The best salespeople can change their register and adapt their personality for the person they’re talking to. It’s not about being something you aren’t, it’s about knowing how to extend your boundaries. We all do this already in our personal lives — when you go on a first date, you don’t start talking about what you’ll name our first child, that would freak the other person out. Figure out the right steps to take at the right time, because that’s how you build a relationship.
2. Rate your leads
When you’re selling, you need to know whether your lead is ready to buy or not.
If you go to a meeting with an investor and they say, “Startups never earn money, they’ll never make a profit,” just leave, the meeting’s over — you can’t convince people of something they don’t believe. If your friend doesn’t eat pork, it’s because they believe they shouldn’t, and belief is a fundamental right. If I then say that aliens visited me last week and said we shouldn’t eat gummy bears, you aren’t going to stop eating gummy bears. But I will.
Don’t waste time with a bad prospect. Increase the number of people you speak with, and aim at the most likely to buy. Closing 10% of your leads fast is better than spending hours and hours trying to convince 20%. Bad salespeople let their ego come into it — they want to be right, you need to lose, they need to win. But it’s much better to just double the number of people you speak with, and figure out quickly who’s a good prospect.
Plus, that’s a tangible goal: you can get up earlier, speak faster, optimize your process. Good salespeople work hard. And sales are magic because it’s one place where there’s a direct correlation between how hard you work and your results. To become the best salesperson, you’ll end up spending more time selling than anybody else. It’s like a muscle, it gets stronger with time. And it doesn’t hurt that there’s the dopamine of succeeding too, which in great salespeople ends up basically putting them into an “always on” sales mode. If you talk with Olivier Ramel of Kymono about his vacation, you’re going to feel inspired to go buy that exact same vacation yourself, right now, because he’s always naturally selling.
3. Love your product
Today, you really can’t be a great salesperson if you don’t believe in your product. First, it’s because you’re dealing with a generation raised on Disney: uncynical films that present positive role models and messages. If you think about sales like The Wolf of Wall Street, you’ll go wrong, because now we’re living in a world where that generation is leaving user reviews. 800 people talking about their experience with you on the internet has a real impact.
And second, we’re all constantly searching for meaning in what we do. Being a good salesperson also means feeling good about yourself when you make a sale.
If you master those, the rest is easy — it’s all a question of effort:
- Sales are about repetition. Go watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi and you’ll get it. The guy says it takes between 9–12 years to learn how to cook rice properly (not to make sushi — just to get the rice). It’s about continually repeating the process. Sales is the same — if you aren’t feeling sick of your pitch, you haven’t done it enough. And when you do feel sick of it, you have to keep going, because that’s when you get to a whole new level of it being natural. There’s a direct link between practice and result. (And that’s another key reason why it’s important to love what you’re selling.)
- Intensity matters. Why is the Colosseum still mostly intact and most Greek temples are in ruins? Because the Romans were less worried about theory and more worried about doing it. People who learn by first doing and then figuring out the theory behind it will end up building something great. Your goal is to sell at all times, every moment is an opportunity to make a sale. Do that and you’ll get better fast.
- Get out of your bubble and see the big picture. Too many people think, “I know how to do that better”, but they don’t understand that lots of people have already thought that. And there’s a reason why things are like they are. Why are we still waiting for a taxi association to take over from Uber? Because it’s not that easy. A good rule is to always think that your competition is better than you, that they’ve understood something you haven’t. And if your competition isn’t doing things one way, it’s most likely not because they didn’t think of it, it’s because they tried and it didn’t work.
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