Some of the most talented salespeople don't come from a business background, or even start out in that profession.
Take Alice Heiman. She trains some of the largest sales teams in America, but for 13 years she was an elementary school teacher. After deciding it was time for a career change, she didn't go back to school. Instead, she learned the business of sales with companies like Coca-Cola, John Deere and Fidelity. Now, she helps companies juggle the many aspects of running a business, including hiring and training sales employees.
Though it may seem like a huge career change to go from classroom to boardroom, in reality, Heiman's still teaching--just to salespeople instead of children.
When we spoke, she had lots of advice for anyone wanting to break into the sales world, regardless of their age or experience. Here are her top five tips.
1. Work for a company with a great sales culture.
Your first sales job should be at a company that invests a lot into its salespeople. They should provide sales coaching and training to help their employees constantly improve how they present themselves and the product or service. And because of their investments, these companies tend to have a low turnover rate for sales reps.
You should also look for a company driven by honesty, openness, and data. Everyone on the sales team should be able to see the numbers and understand which parts of the sales cycle are working and where they need to improve. This kind of transparency can go far in empowering people to creatively fix problems. And as Heiman says, sales is all about problem solving.
2. Read everything you can on sales.
There are many stages of the sales process to consider. How do you write email campaigns for hundreds of inbound leads versus hundreds of outbound ones? How long do you wait to follow up if there isn't a response? How much does it cost to acquire a lead versus a customer?
To help answer those questions, and to give you a competitive edge in sales, you should stay informed on the the industry's latest strategies and techniques, and take the time to read success stories you find online. Blogs like Salesforce and Hubspot offer a range of stories and advice for all levels of salespeople.
3. Make your job about helping customers, not selling to them.
In sales, it's important to ask yourself something like, "If I were the buyer, would I want to work with the kinds of sales values this company teaches? Would doing this feel awkward or wrong?" It's usually pretty obvious when something goes against ethical practices or your own moral standards.
And in any sales job, selling should never be the end goal. True sales professionals, whether entrepreneurs or corporate suits, know that the heart of their jobs is about about helping other humans solve pain points. So stop and ask yourself if the training you're getting would actually help someone and make a difference to their business.
4. Listen to your customers, then practice empathy.
The best salespeople do a lot of research on the potential customer's business needs before they even try to sell anything. And once in a meeting, they practice being empathetic, which includes listening to the other person and understanding when it is and is not a good time to purchase your product, and how to proceed. If budget is a problem, you might suggest a payment plan or some other alternative deal. Empathetic salespeople are also patient in their follow up process to close the deal.
Rather than rushing for the sale, treat every conversation with a potential customer like a practice session for compassion and empathy. Ultimately, those things will be what helps customers reach their goals.
5. Read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
As a new sales person, you can learn how to quickly gain rapport with anyone you meet through this book. It teaches you six ways you can get anyone to like you, and 12 ways to win people over with your way of thinking. With the examples in the book, you'll be able to handle any sales conversation smoothly.
Putting Heiman's tips into practice can give just about anyone a good head start in of sales. For more of her tips, head over to her website.