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In a past life, I worked at a high-end optical boutique located inside the famed Fred Segal in Santa Monica, Calif. I’d never had a sales job before, and I’d gotten the gig through a connection with an old job as a receptionist at an optometrist’s office.
While I worked at Fred Segal, I didn’t do much. With the exception of our annual sale, I was rarely busy while I was actually working. And it’s that annual sale that I’ve been thinking about.
My first time working the sale was during my first few weeks on the job. In fact, it might have been my first week on the job. I remember when we opened the doors on a weekday night for the sale. It was like something out of a Fellini movie — a parade of the depravities of consumerism, late-stage capitalism and plastic surgery addiction.
But in that first week working the sale, something happened to me: The owner of a hat store in Santa Monica tried to poach me. I’d helped her pick out some glasses, and even though I was still learning how to fit people, she told me why she thought I was a good salesperson. It turns out that I was honest. I didn’t make commission, and so I had no incentive to make a sale. Instead, I was incentivized to ensure people walked out with a great pair of frames, and my boss had told me to discourage people from going with a frame I didn’t think looked good on them.
I didn’t take the job, but it was a valuable lesson on the importance of good sales skills. I’ve seen a lot of people struggle with sales through my various jobs. And I’m not here to say I’m great at it, but I am here to say that the easiest way to sell is to just be yourself. So next time you get nervous before a sales engagement, tell yourself this: I’m supposed to be here.
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The Most Important Sales Skill: Building Trust
In true Yoda fashion, Josh used a story to illustrate the importance of influence in sales. It’s something we’ve all experienced. Imagine it is some time before or long after 2020, and you’re walking through a mall (remember those?). A salesperson at a kiosk asks if you’d like to try some sea scrub for your hands. Your first instinct, most likely, will be to run as far away as you can.
And why is that? It’s not just that you’re not in the sea scrub mood, Josh says. It’s because influence is built on trust, and that’s not something the lonely person at the kiosk has built with you. Being able to bring a personalized touch is one of the most essential sales skills. But sometimes the pressure to make a sale can get in the way. “As salespeople, we often end up sounding more like the mall kiosk person, rather than taking the time to slow down a little bit and build up trust,” says Josh.
So figure out how to position yourself as a person prospective clients can trust. Yes, this is a sales skill. A great way to do that, Josh says, is with your content. Josh’s content leads to multiple inbound contacts every week. Because people have engaged with his content, they feel like they have a relationship with Josh, and they are more inclined to trust his insights. It’s a concept called parasocial relationships, and leveraging those relationships is a crucial sales skill for businesses during this pandemic. “It’s a bond that you have with someone that you’ve listened to on YouTube or through a podcast, but that other person’s unaware of your existence,” he explains. “When you have that, you start to have influence, and people start to trust that you are in it not for your own best interests, but for their best interests.”
“Trust happens over time with consistent behavior.”
Learn to Spin Your Yarn
Brigitte Lyons is the CEO of Podcast Ally, and she spoke to us about something that has become an essential sales skill for many businesses in their marketing: podcast appearances. With conferences and conventions canceled, the opportunity for in-person marketing and networking has diminished, and finding chances to create parasocial relationships is pretty important right now.
But if you’re going to get on a podcast to create those relationships, then you’ve got to learn to tell your story better. Podcasts lend themselves naturally to longer-form storytelling, and they provide guests an opportunity to create a compelling narrative around the brand and its values.
So what can you do to become a better long-form storyteller? First, Brigitte says, forget about relying on stats. While statistics can help make certain things feel more concrete, they can be a hindrance to storytelling — people don’t often remember specific statistics. Instead, find ways to frame your advice as an example or an anecdote. “It’s really about practicing a discipline of saying things like, ‘For example,’” explains Brigitte.
The second thing? No name-dropping. While rattling off some of your biggest clients or accolades might feel good, let your host do that for you. “It’s not always about coming down from this mountaintop and telling everybody that you have everything figured out,” says Brigitte. Instead, emphasize the common ground you have with your audience. Show them that you’re one of them — but also that you have the solutions that can help them, as well.
“There are other ways to have influence on people that aren’t just appeals to authority.”
Give Your New Clients a Money-back Guarantee
Blair Enns is the CEO of Win Without Pitching, a sales training organization. He’s also the author of two books — “The Win Without Pitching Manifesto” and “Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.”
When it comes to pricing creative services, there’s a principle many firms abide by when engaging a prospective client: Give your best ideas away for free. In fact, it’s a bedrock of content marketing in general, but is it really the best way to go about getting a contract?
Blair doesn’t think so. Instead of giving away your thinking for free during a diagnostic, Blair suggests that companies offer a money-back guarantee. Have a client pay you upfront for your work. And if they disagree with your findings, then so be it. Give them their money back and be on your way.
So why don’t we do this? It turns out that many creative firm owners simply have an aversion to loss. Ironically, loss-aversion bias prevents firms from making even more money. “It’s terrifying, the idea of a money-back guarantee,” says Blair. “The idea of giving up money that we already have is horrifying. We value that significantly higher — almost twice as much — as we do gaining something.”
But in our opinion here at Managing Editor, it’s a damn good idea — and one that, in our experience, works pretty well. Give it a shot. You just might do better work, and you just might find your bottom line looking a lot better.
“You routinely give this stuff away for free.”
People Featured in This Episode
- Josh Braun: LinkedIn and Twitter
- Brigitte Lyons: LinkedIn and Twitter
- Blair Enns: LinkedIn and Twitter
- Harvard Business Review: “Seven Personality Traits of Top Salespeople”
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