Lessons in Sales
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here]
The other day a woman asked me if I make a full time living from writing this blog (hard no). I have a normal day job like most of you, and I happen to be in the business of selling stuff. My background is in fundraising, and I've said this a thousand times, but fundraising is harder. In sales, I'm solving someone's problem, providing a solution they need to save time or money, or both (it helps that I sell a good product).
My partner, Mike, has years of both sales and fundraising experience, and since he's a bit older and wiser than I am, I asked him for a handful of lessons he's learned from years of successfully selling. Here's what he said.
1. Do what you say.
If you tell a prospect you'll send them something, send it promptly. If you promise a certain price, follow through. If you promise something (like a new feature) that is behind schedule, communicate that as well. In the same vein, Mike has found it advantageous to be very honest and transparent. People can tell if you withhold information or give a non-answer. In the business of an SaaS product, there is always something your product lacks or something that another company does better. Forthrightness is always best.
2. Have more than one contact at an organization, especially if you're involved in a complex sale. People change jobs all the time, and if your only contact leaves, you may loose the deal entirely. It never hurts to make friends with non-decision makers, either.
3. Know when to stop selling. Sometimes (most of the time) people don't want to talk to a salesperson.
4. Understand what your customer looks like and target them. If a cold prospect checks all your boxes, stay in touch. You never know when they'll be ready to buy. Investing time in a prospect that isn't a good fit will be frustrating at best.
5. Know the product in and out and like what you sell. This one is a bit obvious, but there are plenty of people out there selling things they don't give half a shit about. Similarly, there are plenty of fund development folks raising money for causes they could care less about. It takes time to know what you're selling and to really understand your best customer. Sales, like fundraising, has a high turnover rate, with the average salesperson staying at a job 18-20 months (fundraisers stay an average of 16 month).
6. Cold emails have the lowest success rate of any communication tactic. Make them short, sweet, and compelling. Only 8.5% of cold emails even get a response, and the win rate is even lower. Most successful organizations aren't relying on cold emailing or cold calling. They're conducting smart marketing campaigns to generate warm leads, mainlining current customers and upselling/cross-selling them, or getting warm referrals.
7. Don't manage by metrics. This one doesn't apply to me because I'm not a manager, but I've certainly been managed by metrics, and you may have been too. In my fundraising job, we were expected to make 40 in-person visits each year. I was primarily fundraising through grants, and foundations are notoriously averse to too much communication with their grantees. Most of the time, they don't even like a phone call. So, I exceeded my fundraising goal for the year and in my year-end review, was told I need to book more meetings. Why? Because the metrics said so. If you're exceeding quota, none of your other metrics should matter. Do they matter a little, sure, but if your manager is obsessed with them, they're probably a bad manager.
8. Sales is cyclical. You'll have up weeks and down weeks so learn to ride those waves. I have learned to not get excited about a sale or a potential customer until the sale is done.