There are at least two routes to being more successful in sales. The obvious one is to work harder. Be methodological about your sales pipeline, put in the hours, don't procrastinate, use sales software like Pipedrive and you'll be golden. Anyone can do this. However, if you want exceptionally good results, and to enjoy your work more, you probably also want to work smarter.
Working smarter can mean many things. In my book this means understanding your sales process at a very granular level and constantly fine-tuning and tweaking it, so you never stop learning and optimizing. Working smarter grows your impact in sales. And anyone can do this, too. (Well, almost anyone. If you are reading blogs like this, you stand a very good chance.)
There are three elements to increasing your sales impact: preparation, flexibility and confidence. Let me go through them one by one.
1. Be prepared
Preparation is where having more impact starts. Any real confidence and flexibility you will ever have in sales situations, comes from the habit of being prepared.
Unless you're selling something dead simple and transactional, you need to get the customer to open up a little. To do that, you need to be asking the right questions. And there's no way you know what the right questions are unless you know the business model, the concerns and goals of your customer. Even if you've somehow stumbled to asking the right questions, without being prepared you can't properly decode the answers. And if a customer sees you are not getting it, he or she won't be bothered to speak the mind.
I used to think that the number one thing new sales people need to learn is sales skills, and the benefits of our product. I've changed my mind. The most important thing for new sales people to learn is "how do our customers operate their businesses". So don't be overly 'economical and efficient' when learning about your customers business. It pays to take the time.
Another thing everyone in sales better do is prepare a sales script. Please note that I'm not advocating being a scripted robot. It's rather an educated guess for a typical process for getting to a sale, and knowing what the customer might say or ask at each stage, and preparing a reply for each probable statement or question. In real life, you may end up skipping a bit, taking a detour, or going through the process in a different sequence, but you'll be prepared for most things that are likely to happen.
2. Be flexible
Once you're prepared, the best thing to do is go through the process as many time as you can. You're bound to encounter situations where a customer does or says something completely unexpected. If this happens, remain adaptive and flexible instead of tensing up (Easier to say than do I know, but if you practice, doing is not that hard either). A deviation in not a threat but an opportunity to learn and improve your process.
If you get a difficult question or objection, don't flinch but go deeper. Ask why this is important and to be even more specific. And if you don't know the answer, take a deep breath, admit it and promise to follow up the next day. Or, as a last resort and keeping your tongue in cheek, use this comeback that my mentor and friend Dan Moore taught me: "I really don't know the answer to this question. But nevertheless I still think you need to get my product or service".
In sports terms, every sales situation is both a competition and a training session. Even if you don't win gold, you can practice for your next opportunity.
When you practice and go through the process, remain mindful. See where the process you had originally mapped works and where it doesn't. Try different responses to objections and see where you can best yourself. On a practical note, I would also advise to take notes after every meeting or call that didn't go as planned.
3. Gain confidence
You can't "be more confident". There are methods to grow your enthusiasm and lighten up your mood, but the shortest path to authentic confidence is by being prepared, putting in the flight hours and knowing that when things take a weird twist, you are flexible enough to adapt.
When you know your sales script is never "done" and are in fact expecting a curve ball from customers, you start feeling confident and this will start to show. Try to lead the conversation but remain aware that this is a game with more variables anyone can master. Get surprised rather than angry and never ever lose your temper. There are even martial arts competitions where the first rule is Anyone who loses their temper during a match will be disqualified from the event. I don't know whether it applies to every field of sports, but this kind of applies to sales very well.
Note that being flexible grows your confidence and being more confident grows your ability to respond well in any situation. It feels good, hitting that point for the very first time. And coming to think of it, it never stops feeling good.
To sum it up
Staying on the the martial art theme: a friend who has practiced martial arts for a long time told me that the first year or two were pretty unexciting. He was taught techniques and katas, or series of techniques, as if you are fighting invisible enemies. These were elements of his "martial arts script", if you will. But after some time, he knew the basic building blocks so well that he started putting them together in a way his sensei had never taught him. He was prepared, flexible and this gave him the confidence to face any enemy.
Do that in sales and you'll be more impactful, I promise.