Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” I always look for opportunities where I am placed in uncomfortable positions so I can grow. Apart from feeling scared and uncomfortable, by the time you realize how much impact every uncomfortable experience has on your skills, you will gain more helpful knowledge to put in your toolbox.
Just as you cannot gain muscles without working out and eating healthy, similarly you can read the best sales and persuasion books in the world, such as Here and Here, but you cannot really learn sales unless you practice it.
The best way to learn sales is by selling it to end consumers in real time, not some end-to-end, or B2B sales program of a big corporate. All that stuff is easy and soft for a number of reasons:
the decision makers are known
policies are known
you are being trained for a specific environment
Selling to the end consumer not only puts you in uncomfortable situations everyday, it also teaches you what matters to the consumers of diverse socio-economic status. It is way beyond the experience of reading an article or trend on what people like or don’t like. Selling to the end consumers of all different backgrounds is an entirely different beast.
I spent 6 months in the early part of 2017 on the sales floor of “ The Un-Carrier” mobile operator in the US.
Below is a tiny fraction of the many lessons I learned, and I thought to share it with you so you can apply it right away in your situation.
Why does every engineer need to be on the sales floor?(to taste it)
Do you know the biggest skill one needs to have to be successful in the workplace, and it does not matter which industry you work in?
It's plain and simple sales. Salespeople are needed in all industries and they are responsible for bringing in revenue.
You can be as much in-depth, technical, and up to the mark as you like, but if you cannot sell, the growth in your corporate career is limited. Yes, selling is not an art. It’s a mashup of art and science both. Selling does not necessarily have it for you to sell something physically as a product to someone. It is a form of persuasion where you convince and sell the other party on your idea. As a specialized knowledge worker in today’s modern workplace with all the technical skills you may have, whether you work in a big corporate environment or work for yourself, sales skills will always remain a big tool in your toolbox.
I often experience the cringe and disgust on face of technical professionals when it comes to the idea of selling or sales engineer positions. You don’t realize you may have a lot of technical skills, but unless you can sell and bring in revenue, technical skills alone are not enough.
This is why you likely will have a boss with a bachelor's in literature, philosophy, education or real world experience or an MBA degree, but still they are managing dozens and dozens of engineers... because they were able to sell this idea to the management that they can manage technical workforce better than a technical professional having mere technical skills and are not afraid to say yes to positions for which they are not trained in.
Lesson 1: when it comes to sales, no one cares how technical you are
You may like to think the more technical knowledge you have, the better your customers will like to buy from you.
Wrong: Unless you are selling some high-end technical services to a group of nerdy engineers, the end consumer usually does not care how much technical prowess you have. All they care about is what the product is, what’s in it for them, and how it can make their life better. Period.
Being simple and to the point can help to convey your point as well. Important thing is, the environment and the context of your discussion is more important than technical knowledge.
Based on the context, your prospective clients may want you to teach them some technical skills and persuade them. But too much persuasion can fire back and may sound pushy.
For example, building upon the case that your product has 10 times the technical features which the customer can use in future may not be the best approach. It is better to ask them what the present problem they are facing is, and answer how the product solves it seamlessly, and then you can answer if asked...How your product can help in solving the future pain points as well.
Does the VP of sales or head of sales know more about the product technically than you as an engineer even if you worked in developing the product? No they don’t.
What senior sales leaders do know are the requirements of the clients: what they need and how the product is going to help alleviate the pain points of the customers. That’s what they do to sell the product all day everyday.
Yes, it’s a broad generalization. The point is, when it comes to bonuses… will you get more bonus, or the person who sold the product to 100s and 1000s of clients? Both will get a bonus, but people adept at sales will get more bonuses.
Can you get the same bonus as well? Yes! Know what your customer wants, and deliver on it.
Lesson 2: learn the psychology of language
In order to be great at selling you need to master the art of psychology of language as well. What the heck is that, Azar?
For engineers walking into a store, they may care less about the convenience of words being used. However, real life data and experience show the words uttered from your mouth and what you listen to and from your customers are your key data-points. Having an understanding of the language your customer is using for a specific product is gold.
For example, an 18 year old describing a problem is different than a 68 year old. They will talk differently, they will describe the same product differently as well. Plus they may use the same product for different purposes as well.
Once you learn what words and language your customers use to describe their problems and pains + what is their description about your product, you can use the same language to reverse pitch your product to prospective customers in the same segment category as well.
When you hear your boss speak at meetings or give speeches, take notes of what he/she is saying consistently. If you take a record of your boss speaking at different events, team events, etc. and transcribe them, you will see a consistent pattern in terms of typical words and phrases he/she uses to express a certain concept and opinion.
You will also find out by observing the pattern of what your boss says, which particular things are important to him/ her.
Focusing on the pattern can bring you more insights about their way of thinking and what is important to them compared to where you spend your time and energy and that maybe useless.
Lesson 3: 50% of prospective customers are already sold
If you are selling in a technical niche and specialized market such as selling smart devices, people who are walking into the store already have a problem, unless you are selling in Walmart or another Departmental store where majority is drive-by traffic. As customers are coming to the store, they are walking in with expectation of a solution, so the remaining 50% of deal-closing needs to be done by you and your sales skills.
How does this apply to Technical skills between you and your boss?
If your boss approaches you for a new project rather than going towards the rest of the team, and you are not sure if you can handle it and deliver the project, take heart in the fact that the reason he/she is approaching you in the first place is because in his/her consciousness you do have the skills and temperament to deliver. If he came to you in the first place, it is an indication that he/she has a perception in their mind that you can solve this problem or execute this project.
This calls you for an opportunity to take on the project, deliver it, and consider if the project will be beneficial for your career in the long-term or not.
Lesson 4: if you are on the sales floor, you must be the sales guy
What I mean by this is: if people find you working in a certain role, they assume by default that this is your only specialty. I met a customer once. He was a retired electrical engineer. While at the checkout register I casually asked him, “What do you do?”
His response, “I can explain to you in simple terms... I am an engineer.”
I replied ,“Oh really, me too. What kind of engineer are you?”
He looked at me as if I was speaking French with an expression that said, Why in the world would he say that? As if I don’t know what I am talking about. He assumed an engineer would not be on the sales floor selling phones.
A couple of weeks later three international students arrived to get a Samsung S8. I asked them in casual conversation, “What are you studying and what is your major?”
Two of them were about to graduate and were looking for a job, and as the conversation continued I told them, “I was an international student like you a decade ago as well and finished my program in Telecommunications.”
Their response after hearing my side of the story was not surprising.
They said, “Why are you working here if you already have a degree?”
I laughed and said, “Why is it always mandatory that we all need to work in our chosen profession? I am here to experiment and gain experience.” Their eyes glazed over, as if I didn't know what I was talking about.
I loved it. It’s always interesting to see people doubt you and your ability. It’s not surprising because there is a concept of anchoring in psychology. Whatever we see for the first time, that’s what we associate with the person, and we form a cognitive bias in our mind about the person as if that’s what their identity is.
It's good and bad news at the same time.
The bad news is, if you are an engineer and want to be in management or sales or marketing, your bosses conventional wisdom will say on account of anchoring, “Why would an engineer would be a good fit for sales or marketing?” Because they consider your degree as an ultimate revelation of your talent.
However if you want to be in sales or marketing, you need to constantly keep on sharing your marketing strategies about the product with the product team and meet with people who are working in marketing to show your interest.
You can start leaving your trail of information and interest about you working in marketing. When the right opportunity will arise and they find themselves in need of a person, they will already know based on your interest and previous rapport you have built with them as whom they should call as the best fit for the position.
Lesson 5: being rational and logical is not what your average customer wants to hear
When it comes to buying expensive high-end phones, it’s similar to buying extremely high-end cars such as a Ferrari, Lamborghini etc.
Everyone wants to buy it, but not everyone can afford it. Same is the case for these high-end luxury smart devices. These massive corporates spend millions and millions of dollars on a budget to create a perception about their product, to give solutions and desire to the burning pains of the end consumers.
The moment consumers step into the show-room, they are not thinking how this phone is going to solve their life problems. (Maybe some are ) However, they are thinking how can they get this next big shiny object.
How can you help them buy these expensive machines? A smart phone may not be the end product. But it is a means to end the desires they may have about their social status, their strength and dignity in the society. (You may be shaking your head in disagreement...no Azar, people cannot be so shallow).
Consumer research tells us that people make important financial decisions based on emotions rather than rationality. Same is the case with your average consumer. They want to know how much minimum amount they have to pay today to get the device out of the door. The insight to learn is people want to do minimum effort to get the next shiny thing rather than what it would actually take them to own the next shiny thing or title….And if you help them achieve that goal even in slightest way, you can be in their trusted advisor circle.
You can use this human behavior information to your advantage. People have the same association for titles in their career as they do with a smartphone or other shiny device. A title is a status symbol, rather than the job itself. Now you know this insight.
If you want to get the next big promotion, chances are your immediate boss wants to get his/her big promotion as well. You can use this to your advantage by knowing what is important to your Boss or what title he / she prefers for themselves in near future.
Once you learn this, you can start working on considerations that can make your boss move closer to their next career goal, such as offering to help them. You can do this by asking what you can do to get them to their next level. This will put you in good positions, and you will be the trusted employee for future.
That's all about the tiny fractions of details for now. If you have any comments or want to speak your mind. Please do so in the comments below.