When my business partner Emira announced that she was expecting a baby, my delight at her good news was accompanied by a creeping feeling of dread about taking on some of her key responsibilities at work while she went on maternity leave. See, we’d always divided the workload between us so that while I handled all of our studio’s design work, she tackled all of the sales. And sales work has never been high on my list of favourite things.
We briefly considered hiring a salesperson to help out in her absence, but as a web development agency, our sales process is highly consultative and technical, and we knew that training someone to take over sales would be far more challenging than hiring help on the design side. So it made far more sense for me to set aside my designer’s hat and put on the sales mantle.
Although I knew it was the most logical solution, I wasn’t sure I was cut out for my new gig. While I love the client-facing side of my work, I’ve always cherished the odd workday when I can turn off the phone, ignore email, and just cozy up to my computer to design something new. I’ve always considered myself to be 50/50 introvert/extrovert… but sales felt like an extrovert’s game. Would my phone-free days be a thing of the past?
Well, as it turns out, they are. But I’ve learned a great deal about my business in my first six weeks as a salesperson. And I’ve picked up a few things about sales, too — though I definitely have lots to learn in that department.
It’s become much clearer to me that sales work — at least, the kind of sales we have to do — is not so much about pitching your services to people as it is about asking and answering questions. I know that’s what sales gurus have been saying since the dawn of time, but I’m late to the party and just figured it out. When someone comes to me asking about a new website (or social media strategy, or whatever), more often than not they have decided on a tool before they’ve decided what their goals are, and it’s critical for me to dig deeper to find out what’s behind their decision-making process.
So I ask a lot of questions – and not just “What’s your budget?” and “What’s your timeline?” (although those are both important). I ask them to tell me about their organization and their goals – to tell me what led up to them getting in touch with us. Their response typically conveys information about the size and structure of their organization, as well as their motivators.
It turns out listening, and asking good questions, is a huge part of what I now do for a living. And I’ve got a lot of experience doing that, because it’s also a big part of what I do as a designer and web strategist.
This probably all sounds pretty elementary, and I know it is — it’s just that as a sales newbie, I’m finding it a novel concept that I might already have many of the skills I need in order to do my new job well. I’ve realized that the biggest source of my fear of sales was a presumption that I would need a major personality transplant. I thought I’d need to become magically super-gregarious, able to spin a sales pitch like a spider spins a web, and spot a business opportunity at a hundred paces.
But I discovered that you can be half-introverted and do sales work, so long as you have two key qualities:
- You take an interest in people, and
- You enjoy being helpful.
I’d love to hear from other reluctant salespeople – what surprised you about sales work? And what lessons have you learned about selling? Share them in the comments.