As professionals, if we think about selling at all, we think of it with distaste.
Most of our development has been focused on our craft. We may be masterful coaches or consultants. We may be great at accounting or lawyering. We may excel at design or product development. But we see business development and selling as a whole area of activity that we’re neither skilled in, nor hungry to do.
And yet once the early euphoria of setting up our own business wears off, we sooner or later face a choice: we can either get our heads round the whole sales and marketing thing, or we’re going to be at the mercy of whatever work comes along.
Entrepreneur or freelancer?
Now, don’t get me wrong – a good many of my consulting and coaching colleagues operate that way. While they have limited companies, they’re really well-paid jobbers or freelancers. And I can’t pretend that for some it’s not lucrative. At least while there’s a steady trickle of clients finding their way to their door.
But if one of your reasons for deciding to lead your own business was a burning desire to get your thing out there more clearly, leaving your business development effectively in the hands of the gods ain’t necessarily going to help you achieve that.
I know because this is my own story.
See, I spent the first years of my professional life being a rockstar HR person, crafting a name for myself as someone who could make big change happen. Then I joined a big consulting company where I went and did similar work with cross-functional consulting teams.
When I set out on my own, my original intention was just to do more of the same. I was known as a go-to person for stuff like business transformation, HR strategy development, organization design, and the first few years in were good as I got called in to do that kind of work under my own steam or by drafting in associates.
And that worked for a while, until I began to see that the kind of work I did best, and wanted more to do of was more focused on leaders and their development.
I got at a level that to create more of what I wanted I’d have to be more proactive. But I was really reticent about the prospect of having to open up new doors for myself. That was selling and I was no sales person. Indeed had you asked me, I’d have said till even a few years ago that sales and marketing was not my forte. I had a major limiting belief about it. It was something I really felt I just couldn’t do.
So I avoided the issue until I could no longer deny the lack of integrity in myself between wanting to do work in a certain way, yet taking whatever work came along.
Deciding to learn to love selling
We grow, we change. The more experience we have in running our own show, the clearer and clearer we get about what jives for us and what doesn’t. And more daring about what we’re prepared to take risks on in service of our true genius. And if we want to feel joined up within ourselves and enjoy what we do for a living, we need to morph our businesses so that they keep on aligning with our personal change.
I saw that and I decided that I was going to crack the whole sales thing. I was going to go from being someone who cringed at the prospect of sales conversations to one who was confident of running sales processes end to end.
Over a number of years, I’ve invested tens of thousands of pounds teaching myself a new craft. And I laughed recently when a new assessment questionnaire I did said I was a natural marketer!
It’s a huge area and indeed it’s something that I’m going to be writing and talking about in coming months with Steve. I first met Steve some years back when he was Sales and Marketing Director of the Entrepreneurial Services Practice of EY. Now, he’s someone for whom strategic, high-value selling comes very naturally and from whom I’ve learned an immense amount.
But for now, here are my three biggest insights about selling high value services.
1.There’s no one-size-fits all way to do it
When you start to put a toe into the vast waters of sales and marketing, you’ll quickly find that there’s a ton of “how to” advice out there.
Identify your niche. Have a website with a client magnet. Go to networking events.
Look, I’m not going to pretend that some of the advice doesn’t work, and you can follow it all you want, but its value to you depends on a number of things:
Fear or confidence?
First, from where in yourself are you looking at the advice?
If you look at it from a place of fear, all it does is feed your insecure thinking around selling, and lead you to believe that there’s some silver bullet, some trick you need to learn or technique you need for apply, in order to finally make you feel okay about it. There’s never an end to the things you can try in order to identify prospects or win sales.
If on the other hand you look at all the advice and techniques from a place of confidence, you put yourself in the driving seat of discerning what works for you and your business and what doesn’t.
Your personal sweet spot
Maybe even before that, look at what comes most naturally to you. What gives you your biggest buzz?
Some people write better than others. Some people are naturals when it comes to chatting to others. Some folks love the internet. Others detest it. The point is, if you play to your natural communication advantages, you’re more likely to discover for yourself what your best ways to get yourself and your business out there are.
Need and budget
Cut through all the noise and it comes down to two things: Who needs what you’re offering? And do they have a budget for it.
You know, if you’re running a consulting firm that does some snazzy analytics about your clients’ web visitors, you can identify niches and market segments and all that stuff, but unless the Marketing Director sat in front of you perceives that she has a need for your service, and the budget to come to some agreement with you on fees, you don’t have a sale.
Now, the big trap I see some folks fall into (and, yes, I’ve been in the trenches on this one big time myself), is to take the inevitable “no” that comes from this kind of interaction as some kind of judgement about your product or service. You can spend weeks and months going back to basics on your offering when the real issue was just that, while there may have been interest, there was no need or budget.
2. Selling is about listening
The other thing that can get in the way of selling is to get so wrapped up in thinking about getting a sale that you don’t actually take the time to be present with and listen to the person in front of you.
Meaning that, if they indeed have a need for your product or service, you’re not really hearing what that is.
A lot of this comes back to the fear point above. If you’re sitting there believing that you have to get a sale in order to tick some box and feel good about yourself, there’s going to be so much noise happening in your own head that you’re drowning the other person out.
Imperceptibly, they pick that up from you.
So get out of your own way. Know that you have the knowledge, leadership and expertise around your thing to deal with whatever comes up in the moment and pay attention.
3. It’s all about the conversation
See, it’s all about the conversation. All about the energy in the dialogue you establish with someone; the fundamental rapport you create. That’s what leads them to judge whether you’re someone they can trust or not.
Business is built in and through relationship. And, to quote Susan Scott “the conversation is the relationship”.
Indeed, stop even thinking of people as prospects or clients. Drop the illusion that they’re somehow different from or separate to you. Think of them as people. Business can look like it’s such a rational, intellectual thing. But it’s more about the feeling content than most folks give credit for.
So, drop any illusion you’re holding that you can’t sell and experiment with the possibility that you can; play to your own strengths in building a process that works for you; remember needs and budgets. And listen, listen, listen.
What trips you up when it comes to selling? What works for you and what doesn’t? Share your thoughts and comments below!
Photography credit: www.stevendurbinphotography.com