The Sales Strength: Do you have it?
Earlier this year I saw a phenomenal production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in New York. Toward the end Miller eloquently sums up the profession, describing a salesperson as “way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine.” To sell, you have to be tenacious. You have to have passion and humor and social intelligence and not a little bit of courage. Google “become a salesperson” and you’ll get a flood of similar claims. My favorite? “Become a leader.” Thanks, it’s on my to-do list.
These strengths are certainly important, and luckily anyone can grow and develop these strengths through effort and engagement. But the most important sales strength is more obscure and ultimately more actionable. To sell, you need a love of learning. Strong sellers learn all the time and in every possible way.
Learn in order to sell
Selling, like just about everything else, is a process. At the margin, a handy joke or firm handshake might make all the difference. But in the aggregate, an empirical understanding of what works drives success. If the buyer understands the value of your product outweighs the costs, you have a sale. The process leading to that understanding is filled with obstacles that you must understand to overcome.
Here is where learning comes in. Selling can be broken down into independent obstacles. You have to target the right group of potential buyers. You have to cut through the noise and competition. You have to interest and focus the buyer. You have to demonstrate the product’s utility. You have to justify the cost. Each successive obstacle presents a new opportunity to test a new tactic and learn.
Experiment and adapt
There is no perfect pitch and no perfect seller, and there never will be. But each pitch gives you an opportunity learn a little more about who you should be selling to and the actual reasons people do and don’t buy. Each pitch is your own little mini-experiment, allowing you to test a hypothesis in the real world. By recording and analyzing the results of each mini-experiment, you can discover what truly works.
This focus on testing is already a norm among tech companies. Google runs some seven thousand A/B tests a year, in which two slightly different versions of the same product are compared for effectiveness. Sentrana offers services allowing sellers to adjust prices for every potential buyer, based on historical sales data. As companies across the world are realizing, testing and learning are essential to effective sales.
The best sellers
… are the best learners. If you love to learn and learn constantly, you can’t help but sell.
Elijah Goldberg works at EmployInsight as a marketing strategist. He is interested in human resources, technology and foreign aid. He co-founded the non-profit Walimu and studies at Yale.