A Bright Future in Sales

Have you ever heard someone say, “I never want to work in sales”? While we know what that means – not wanting to have to hit sales quotas and relying on commissions to pay the mortgage – every one of us is selling all the time. Rather than sales, we call it persuasion or influence or woo or something else, but the fact is that we all have at least one thing to sell: ourselves.

Think about the other ways that you need to influence people in your life. You have to get your kids to eat healthful foods. You have to present a project proposal and persuade your boss (and her bosses) to give you the approval and the budget to make it happen. If you are single and looking for a partner, you have to sell yourself in ways I won’t cover here. And if you are looking for a job, you have to sell yourself as a solution to a problem. There is work to be done, profits to be earned and we need the right person who will give the best return on payroll and benefits costs expended. Are you that person?

Understanding some basics of sales can help you understand how to market yourself and close the sale by getting the job offer.

First, understand your skills and experience (Sales Lingo: Product Knowledge) and how they are relevant in the employment marketplace. You need to be the expert on you, so if you can’t describe what you do and what you offer, you need to get to work and become the subject matter expert. Now.

Second, understand the needs of potential employers and understand the challenges that they face (Qualifying). Nobody buys anything that they don’t perceive as meeting some need. You must be able to show how you are the solution to whatever problem or opportunity your next employer faces. Do your homework before the interview so you can speak your interviewer’s internal company language.

Third, be prepared to show your interviewer how you understand their needs and show how your profile is a perfect match (Presentation). You will demonstrate this through your experience, accomplishments, understanding of the employer’s needs and your attitude as displayed in the interview.

Fourth, be ready to ask questions that will demonstrate that you are already visualizing yourself in the organization and that you are engaged in thinking about how you can be a new, valuable part of the team (Trial Close/Transferring Possession).

Finally, be ready to ask for the sale (Close!). Practice a summary statement that conveys this: You need someone who can do X, Y and Z. I have the experience, training and track record that clearly demonstrates that I can do X, Y, and Z. When can I get started helping you solve these problems and maximizing on these opportunities?

Take the time to prepare yourself and have a strategy as you get ready to sell yourself in the jobs marketplace. This time and effort will pay off and place you well above many of your competitors who just will not do the hard work. Now go close the sale!

(And yes, the title is a reference to the Fountains of Wayne song)

Face to Face

You have a great résumé and you have found a job listing that sounds like it was written just for you. You send off a perfect cover letter and the best possible thing happens: you get the call and a recruiter wants to schedule an interview.

Now what? Are you ready to sit for an interview and follow up?

First, how much time have you spent preparing for easily anticipated questions? When the recruiter, HR manager or hiring manager sits with you, how will you respond to these questions?

  • Please, tell me about yourself and your career.
  • What accomplishments from the last 12 months are you most proud about?
  • Give me details on how you grew sales/reduced expenses/improved profitability as you claim on your résumé.
  • What is your greatest strength? How about your biggest weakness?

Are you going to be ready for these questions, or will you just hope for the best and see what happens? Your competition will prepare and practice and have a portfolio of answers in mind to answer these and other questions. How well do you know yourself and how well can you tell your story in a compelling way that will make the interviewer want to hire you?

Here are a couple of ideas to help you get ready:

  • Research the company you are hoping to join. Complete an Internet search for “(Company Name) interview questions.” That may give you some insight into the questions you will face. Glassdoor is a potential resource to check.
  • Write out your answers to common questions and read them out loud. Do they sound convincing? Try recording your voice – your smartphone probably has a voice recorder – and listen for enthusiasm, energy and conviction. Is it there? No? Try again.
  • Know your résumé from top to bottom. Even if you paid someone to write it for you, this is your life and your career. You need to get committed. (An aside: You can either be involved or committed. When it comes to a bacon and eggs breakfast, the chicken is involved. The pig is committed. You want to be the pig).

If this still leaves you feeling unprepared, get some help. You have come this far. Making an investment in interview coaching can help. Whatever you decide, get ready, because your time to sell yourself face to face is coming.

Just in Case

As the economy recovers and more news stories bubble up with messages about new jobs and opportunities – as opposed to the tales of despair to which we have become accustomed – more people are thinking about change. Rather than white-knuckled grips on their current gigs, no matter how miserable the conditions, some are allowing themselves to think that there are alternatives. Must I stay at this job because I need the benefits? I haven’t had a raise in two years, but what choice do I have? Those questions are being overshadowed by hope and dalliances to consider better choices. Green shoots, anyone?

So what happens when you get a call, text, tweet, email or invitation over lunch to send your resume? As in: “I know some people who are looking for someone with your skill set.” Do you shoot it over from your Android, ping them from your iPhone, or just mumble something like, “Yeah, so, I need to refresh it, so I will get it to you soon…”? Then you scramble, writing and editing through the night, ultimately serving up something that looks like yesterday’s leftovers.

Professionals who are serious about career growth are getting ready. They are preparing to market themselves in a way that reflects well on them and their accomplishments. They are ready just in case that next great opportunity comes their way. Are you?

Maximize Yield

I met with a brilliant scientist last week who took time from her schedule to explain her work to me and some of her success measures. An important measure is the yield realized from the various steps in her processes. Each step needs to deliver the most usable product for the next, so there is something valuable at the end of the chain. Avoiding explosions is good, too.

This effort is very similar to the work the people do when they are looking for new jobs. The seeker’s mission is to increase the probability that she will make it through the long and painstaking hiring process by maximizing the yield of everything she does. This means taking nothing for granted and working harder than everyone else to secure a job offer. Here are a few reminders on how to do this.

Customize your Communication. Every job opportunity needs communication that is tailored to the message’s recipient. If you will not take the time to customize your cover letter, resume and all other correspondence, someone else who is willing to do the hard work will get the offer while you stare at your not-ringing telephone.

Network in Person. LinkedIn is great, but it doesn’t replace face-to-face relationships. If you can’t meet in person, make a quick phone call. Have a pre-written message to deliver to voice mail.

Thank You. Mom taught you to say it. Do it every time someone is generous enough to give you some time. Did a contact take your call? Follow up with a thank you email. Did you get an interview? Send a well written thank you note or letter by snail mail. Don’t overlook this step. It shows that you follow through and pay attention to the details. Many of your competitors will not do this.

Ask for Feedback. Should you be fortunate enough to get an interview but not the job, and you talk with a person about the decision, ask for feedback about your interview and what the hiring decision makers thought were your strengths and weaknesses. You may learn something that will help you next time.

Just as my scientist friend works to maximize yield at every step of the way, think about how you can maximize the yield of the work that you are doing. Are you doing everything possible to increase your chances of success? Or are you taking shortcuts and inviting a potential job search blow-up?