I used to dread telling people at parties what I did. ‘So what do you do?’ they’d ask, probably hoping I would say I was a doctor and could help diagnose their latest medical predicament… ‘I work in sales!’ I’d say, enthusiastically.
Many people would challenge me. ‘Isn’t that a pretty soulless job?’ or ‘I could never work in sales, it’s all aggressive charmers, and I’m too nice for that’.
I could have been defensive, but I soon learned that it was a great opportunity to teach people about the reality of the job: it’s difficult, it’s creative, it’s empathetic, and above all, very rewarding. I usually managed to win them round.
That’s why anything that addresses misconceptions about sales gets my interest, and anything that does this aimed at a younger audience is even better.
There is Money in Cookies
So imagine my delight when the book I Want to Be in Sales When I Grow Up came through my letterbox. It’s a clever children’s book charting young Charlie’s journey from sales sceptic to sales aficionado, through the medium of baking and selling cookies.
It’s written by John Barrows, a hugely successful and experienced sales trainer who has worked with some of the biggest tech companies in the world, including Salesforce and LinkedIn, so it’s no surprise it’s effective.
Charlie is tasked with writing a school report about a career in sales – luckily, she’s got some great parents to help her see the light and, by the end, she can tell us six very important things to know about sales.
Believe in What You Sell
The first thing she learns is to believe in what you sell: she knows her friends like her cookies, that they’re delicious and that she can make them herself, so she’s on the first step to a sales career – she’s got her product!
Charlie heads out in the neighbourhood, knocking on doors to sell her cookies. She panics and bumbles her pitch and doesn’t sell a single cookie. It’s a typical first sales experience that I’m sure many of us can identify with, humiliating and demoralising.
But she doesn’t give up: she practises her pitch, adjusts her product for her market (making nut-free cookies for a boy with an allergy) and thinks about the right time to try again. She shows not only resilience, but also understanding of her customers and empathy with them.
I’m always telling my team that it’s important not to take those first setbacks personally, but to use these experiences to build your skills as a salesperson.
Practice, Work Hard and Know Your Buyers
When she heads out after dinner the next day, Charlie sees results and sells all her cookies. She’s learned the next two important lessons about sales: that practice makes perfect, and you need to work hard to succeed.
On her first outing, Charlie identifies what we’d call a warm lead – a mum with lots of hungry kids, who’s very interested in her cookies but can’t buy any because her son is allergic to nuts. She sees and appreciates this, baking some new nut-free cookies and going back at a time when the mum is a little less busy. She’s understood the importance of knowing who you’re selling to and what they like.
This is so fundamental for turning those warm leads into sales. Being creative and using your empathy to understand your customer’s needs and tweaking your product to meet them is a vital part of the job, and this flexibility can turn your sales numbers around.
Help Your Buyer
But Charlie gives the nut-free cookies to the boy for free. She also understands that it’s not all about making money; it’s about helping people. If we don’t want to help our customers do better, be better and achieve more, we’re not going to sell anything. By being helpful, we’re also far more likely to improve our reputation and increase word-of-mouth sales.
I think this book is a fantastic way to teach kids about a career in sales, but it’s also a great reminder to all of us of the basics that make us good at what we do and motivated to try hard every day. If you forget these key principles of sales it's amazing how quickly you’ll see a fall in results, get frustrated and lose focus.
We work in sales because we want to make a difference and we enjoy what we do. Keeping in mind the foundations of our work is so vital to success, so make sure to take the time to remember why you started and what makes you successful. Most importantly of all, don’t forget Charlie’s sixth and final lesson: have fun!
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