I had read many books, invested (heavily) in seminars and sales training, and yet selling still felt awkward, clumsy and – on my worst days – vaguely desperate.
Fast forward a year and I’m confidently negotiating mid-5-figure contracts with corporate clients. What changed?
My story might be very different to yours. I run a service-based business in an industry I had no prior experience of and no relevant network in.
I started from scratch, in the recession, in London – the other side of the world from where I’d built the bulk of my corporate career.
I’m an intelligent woman, self-motivated and hardworking but I’m also an introvert who shudders at the thought of networking and who recoils from sales.
As a fledgeling solopreneur, my business’ success relied on my ability to master the sales process.
I’m not sharing this to impress you, just to show that if I can go from believing I’d never be able to sell, to negotiating project fees that feel like a genuine win/win for both the client and myself, there is hope for everyone.
The idea of coming from a place of service, not sales, always appealed to me; yet with all my training, I could never quite make it fit. The difference in my mind was that ‘sales is about numbers’ whereas ‘service is about helping people who need it’.
What I realised is that we need both, but when service comes first, there’s a shift; not just in how you think and feel about your business, but in how your customers think and feel about it too.
Ultimately, how you feel about your business can support (or sabotage) your enjoyment, your success and your business’ sustainability. How your customers or clients feel can shape your reputation, referrals, and customer loyalty.
Sales techniques are great and yes, repeat them enough and you’ll get better at the process. To come across as 100% genuine and authentic though; you’ll need to go one step further.
You need to believe it yourself.
If you don’t believe in what you’re selling – no matter how small that nugget of doubt – no-one else will either. The reason is simple.
Your lack of belief gets communicated in every sagging shoulder, empathically tilted head, apologetic – or worse, mildly desperate phrasing, drop in tone and rushed close.
Having the intellectual skills – knowing what to do – isn’t enough on its own. Rational, intellectual validation needs to be balanced with emotional desire, for sales to truly become seamless.
You need to be able to marry knowing what makes your product or service valuable, with believing in its impact or influence, before others will believe – and buy from you – too.
People often encourage you to believe in what you’re selling by understanding how you’re different from your competitors. They’ll ask you questions like ‘what can you do, or offer, that no one else can?’
That question was one I struggled with. I’m a dreamer and a fan of details too, so my mind would rapidly flood with big inspiring dreams and practical, gritty applications.
Overwhelm and frustration followed as I grappled to get a handle on what I could do differently. Not a great state of mind to be in for building your business!
It was watching Jo Malone express her frustration at that same question in a panel discussion, that made me realise the uniqueness I offered could be those hard to define things that I struggled to put into words.
It can be your energy, your style – the way you deliver your products or services. It turns out the devil is in the detail.
The irony of emotion is that while it’s an essential ingredient in the way you sell; it can also cloud your judgement and confuse your message.
While knowing how you’re different is helpful, it’s often hard to determine that on your own.
Luckily, you don’t need to tie yourself in knots trying to figure out how to create that compelling one-liner that captures peoples’ imaginations and inspires them to work with you or buy from you.
All you need to do is gather together a group of people you believe would benefit most from what you offer.
People who are already in your market, buying the kinds of things you sell. Share what you have to offer with them, and listen to how they talk about it. What they think and feel.
When you’re clear on what the intellectual and emotional triggers are for your ideal clients – the people you really want to serve (versus the masses!) – find ways to connect to it emotionally yourself. It’s that sense of connection, of needs being understood and met, that result in a sale.
It’s as true with B2B as it is with B2C.
People want to work with – and buy from – people they like, and increasingly they want to work with – and buy from – people they trust.
People buy into things – whether mentally or physically – because of how they feel not what they think. People tend to use their intellect to weigh a decision and their emotion to make the final call.
So make sure any skills training you undertake, combines the practical skills of sales with a development of your listening skills, self-belief and optimistic mindset.
If you’re selling a service, then knowing how what you do meets your clients’ needs – where and how it fits into what they’re already doing – helps you demonstrate that you’ve heard and are responding to their unique needs.
Does the process of sales differ if you’re a product based business versus a service-based business? Or whether you’re charging big or small? Or does it always require a leap of faith to get that first sale and to keep the business building?
In her book ‘More Balls Than Most’ Lara Morgan talks about having to master her mindset and challenge herself, as she built her hotel toiletries business from a fledgling enterprise to a £20 million, industry leader.
She had the products, but as a young female breaking into big international businesses, she was frequently steeling herself to make the leap of faith that built her business.
In her talks, she refers to those moments where she takes those leaps, as her ‘sweaty-knicker’ moments.
The reality is that the bigger your dreams for your business, the more sweaty-knicker moments you’ll face.
My own sales training has been a journey of trial and error.
The common wisdom for coaches, building on the pain points and urgency, still feels vaguely manipulative to me. I wanted to be able to openly and honestly explore clients’ needs and their desires, to resolve those challenges before drawing them to a decision.
Every structured sales conversation offered by sales trainers seemed to be more focused on me closing a sale than solving a problem.
It took me almost a year (plus thousands of pounds and a slew of well-respected trainers) before my process finally came together.
I now have conversations with clients that feel genuine, honest and laced with mutual trust and respect.
Every sale – whether to an individual or a corporation – feels like a partnership. There are no more awkward ‘maybes’ only clear yes’s or no’s, which are always arrived at with honesty and understanding, and which are genuinely in everyone’s best interest.
Getting comfortable with selling is part of the learning curve while you’re starting out. When your work relies heavily on your own enthusiasm, emotional equilibrium and energy levels (as service-based businesses frequently do), selling needs to be something you can embrace rather than resist.
When you stop thinking about sales as a way to grow your business, and start thinking of sales as a way of appreciating, communicating and exchanging value, it can be the difference that not only unlocks business success but which supports sustainability too.
Your mindset is a precarious and fragile thing that often requires active attention. In my case, anything from a bad night’s sleep, to a difficult conversation, can still nudge me into questioning all over again, whether I’m the right person to be doing this job, and whether I have what it takes to build this business.
The solution I’ve found lies in taking the focus off myself and putting it back onto my clients.
When I falter, I remember two things. A mantra from Gaby Bernstein to ‘witness the fear and choose love instead’ and a message Anthony Parinello expresses in his book ‘Selling to VITO’.
Anthony Parinello invites you to imagine your work disappearing overnight, and to consider the impact not having your work, would have on your clients.
It’s a version of the ‘if not you, who?’ question. When I visualise my clients suddenly back at square one, my self-doubt and resistance melt away, and I no longer care about my competitors or what my unique selling points are.
I focus on my clients, not myself. Service, not Sales.
As your mindset strengthens, you’ll find you’ll stop fearing the no’s, and instead welcome a no over a maybe.
You’ll embrace the no’s for helping you to let go of anyone who’s not ready and allowing you to use your valuable resources to find your next great client or customer.
It’s true that a no can mean ‘not right now’.
It can also mean no.
Whichever it is, a definite answer means your momentum – and your mojo – continues uninterrupted.
There’s a reason why, after you’ve made your first few sales, the floodgates suddenly open.
Yes, the skills you’ve practised are slowly beginning to feel more natural – they flow more organically.
But it’s more than that.
Once you’ve sold one, or two or three, you relax your confidence blossoms. You have proof of concept. Your business has evolved from a desire or a dream to a proven concept.
You’re finally able to move from expensive hobby to fully fledged business. Your focus shifts from making a sale, to how you’re performing.
Your mindset – and your focus – shifts from making the sale to consistently performing at your best.
Ultimately, it’s that focus on great performance that will keep you engaged in your business, striving for quality, focused on your clients, and yes – growing your sales!