I started my career as a sales representative and can attest to the fact that it is not for the fainthearted. While product pitches were fun as was the thrill of a sale, I didn’t do so well with rejections. And in sales you face rejections far more than wins. Ultimately, I found my calling in marketing but have often wondered what makes for a rock star sales representative?
In my mind, there are three key attributes that count towards success in sales: persistence, ability to overcome rejection, and empathy.
Expert sales strategist and award-winning author Jill Konrath had an interesting take on handling rejection. In a 2013 video posted on her website, she said, “I reframed rejection entirely. In my mind what was happening became market research – no more and no less. When people wouldn’t meet with me, it was simply data, and when you analyzed it, you could see that there were many factors that could have caused this reaction. This allowed me to go into testing mode, to see if I could create a different response, by changing any one or more of those variables.”
This reminds me of a friend of mine who worked with an independent research firm that also provided financial services. She once tried to approach her target customer, the chief financial officer of a large company, but he was not interested in meeting her, as he did not see a good fit. When she called him, he was curt and refused to receive her calls.
Realizing that a phone conversation would be futile, she dropped by the CFO’s office a month later. But this time, she altered her pitch. She used data that showed how her firm’s valuation services had benefited her clients. The CFO was still not impressed.
Two months later, my friend approached him again. She started by talking about internal stakeholders such as employees and business partners and then steered the conversation towards improving the company’s credit worthiness – a sore point for the organization, as she had found out through her research. This immediately grabbed the CFO’s attention, and after a few weeks of follow-up meetings and phone calls, my friend eventually closed the deal.
It is stories like this that make me respect sales representatives who steadfastly chase their target customer without any hesitation. By that I do not mean those who call their prospects several times a day; rather those who do their homework.
Overcoming rejection and being persistent may get a salesperson closer to her goal, but one needs empathy and an ability to listen and observe to win a customer’s confidence.
A year ago, a few of us stepped into a pub and my friend, who had just recovered from a bad bout of the flu, preferred to stick to coffee. We were all comfortably seated by the time the server broke the news to us that they no longer served coffee. There were many groans, in response to our imminent departure, and I could see that my friend was getting a tad uncomfortable. The server noticed it too. He immediately went to speak to the manager and came back with the news that my friend’s coffee would be brought over from a café next door. Not only did he persuade us to stay and make use of the happy hour, he was flexible enough to cater to the needs of each of his clients.
It turns out that there is no secret to achieving success in sales. Instead, what we have are instances from our everyday life – of someone we know who doggedly pursues her goal, despite facing rejection countless times, or another who reaches out to empathize with a stranger when he doesn’t necessarily have to. It happens every day and it happens all around us. Are we looking?
We can make a difference to our customers by thinking through what matters to them, by putting ourselves in their shoes, and by focusing on how we can help create a better experience for them.