Sometimes I feel like I don't have the skills to be successful in sales.
Highly effective salespeople are supposed to be outgoing, and love networking at conferences over beers and whiskey, right?
It's hard to build a network, growing up as a nerd in tiny rural northern California city with only 400 people. I always felt like a foreigner in my hometown. For a long time, I wondered if I would ever have friends outside of my computer. It wasn't until college at UC Davis that I started to really feel like I fit in.
But before college, I had the internet.
Email, AIM, Myspace, ICQ, and Yahoo Messenger were all magical gateways into a world where I had dozens of friends who actually appreciated and understood me. Although I had never met any of my online friends, and they were thousands of miles away, they were more like me than the kids playing across the street.
I never in a million years dreamed that someone would pay me to send emails to strangers on the internet, yet alone that I would build an entire business based on that.
And I especially never imagined myself with a career in sales either.
And yet, here I am: I love sales, and it turns out I'm actually really good at it. My sales emails get more responses than almost anyone in the industry, and I can close deals 3x faster than most experienced salespeople.
I've even built Salesfolk, a company that makes money by teaching people how to connect with strangers on the internet through "cold email" with the purpose of starting sales conversations.
But just thinking about networking with crowds of people at the next conference I have to speak at is already making me cringe a little.
So how can other awkward nerds learn how to master sales like I have?
Here are 4 things you should do to be successful in sales if you're nerdy, introverted, or just awkward:
#1. Be Yourself
Customers can spot fakeness a mile away. It's better to be genuine than to attempt to be someone you are not.
I've always been comfortable with who I was, even if that made me unpopular or weird.
Although I may not be smooth like a politician or a pickup artist, I've learned that my naturally candid behavior makes people trust me more easily. In sales, this has helped me quickly connect with my customers, and get them to lower their defenses and open up to me.
A few months ago I slipped on a spilt drink at a conference and fell on my butt; my customers and colleagues watching. As I continued to slip on the floor, I laughed and told everyone "I was working on my new breakdancing moves."
Use what you have, and make the most of it: awkwardness can be disarming, and sometimes even charming.
#2. Ask The Right Questions
Being a good listener and having a wide understanding on a variety of topics are a powerful combination in sales.
Where "sales bros" often talk too much and dominate the conversation, the introverted salesperson will ask leading questions that allow their customers to open up. The more thoughtful your questions are, the more you will learn about your customers and their needs.
#3. Play To Your Strengths
I hate talking to strangers on the phone and wince at the thought of networking at a crowded conference after-party.
I'm not loud, and I have a hard time differentiating people's faces in a crowded space. One time I even gave a hug to a stranger that I mistook for my friend Lincoln Murphy, who was pleasantly surprised by my embrace. I was horrified by my awkward mistake, but I'd be lying if I said this was the only time this ever happened.
I can dominate in online communications though.
Because I've been writing to pen pals and my favorite authors since I was kid, like most nerds, I've gotten pretty good at building rapport over email and Instant Messenger.
Earlier in my career I felt I had to go to these conferences or I would miss out on big opportunities or deals. But I've finally realized and accepted that I actually suck at conferences and hate 99% of them. It's hard for me to distinguish who I should be talking to and who I should be avoiding. I always get stuck in a corner listening to some strange tech entrepreneur or recruiter rambling on about themselves. And unless I buy a megaphone, I'm never going to become loud enough to hear my own voice over shouting drunken men.
So I've decided to stick with what do what I do best, and stay home to write cold emails that attract new customers.
Rest assured, I do leave the house. But I'd much rather host my own private party for a carefully selected list of customers rather than try to navigate a crowded conference room.
#4. Leverage Technology And Automation To Multiply Yourself
I might suck at conferences, but I can write cold emails that get more responses than anyone else.
Instead of trying to work the crowd at a conference and not know who I should talk to or avoid, I prefer to create email campaigns that start conversations at scale.
In an hour I can build that list of one hundred contacts, write a few email templates to send to all of them, and schedule them to be sent. From those hundred emails I'll usually get 30 to 40 responses, which is enough to fill my calendar with meetings for a few weeks.
But if I spend an entire day at a conference I might struggle to get a dozen business cards, many of which will not be qualified to be my customers.
So don't be ashamed of being nerdy or introverted, or wish you were more like one of those outgoing cool guys or girls: just own who you are and make the most of what you have.