SKILLS DEVELOPMENT / 24 July 2020Soft Skills: Why They are Harder Than You Think and How You Can Acquire Them
1. Tell me about yourself and what you do.
I am a speaker and an author, and a sales leader (which means I lead sales organizations) and an entrepreneur, sales coach and consultant. These are all of the many things that I do.
2. Why did this type of work interest you?
Is this something you always saw yourself doing? Well, it didn’t for a long time, as a kid I played rock and roll and had really long hair and I believed that that is what I would be doing. At 25, I got pushed into outside sales because I had a manager who recognized that I was already good at it even though I would’ve never in a million years call myself a sales person. And that didn’t make sense to me because sales was a thing that you did to people, you manipulated them, you were pushy, you forced them into doing things they didn’t want to do and buy things they didn’t want to buy and I couldn’t ever conceive of being that person but my manager came to me and asked me “where did you get all of these accounts” and I said “I just called people and meet with them, some of them needed help and I offered that to them” and he recognized that as sales, but at that time, I didn’t.
Once I started getting into sales, I realized that it is a really an interesting thing to help people with their biggest business challenges. And, I liked and I ended up liking it way more than I ever thought I would have. It turns out that not only did I like it but I was good at it. When you like something and you are good at it, that tends to work out for you. Stick with it and then you get better.
3. What would you tell millennials who believe that their first job decides their future career path?
No, if that was the case, I would still be fronting an air metal band. No child goes to their parents and says, “when I grow up, I want to be a sales rep.” In the history of children, that has never happened, it’s something that you discover later on and for a lot of people, sales is something that they never imagined doing but they end up needing a job and they take a shot at it and find that they are good at it and they really love it. But, It’s rarely intentional. Some people recognize the opportunities and the independence of being able to control your own income but mostly, that’s untrue.
4. What do you find is the biggest stereotype in the “sales” occupation?
You know, it’s really interesting because the stereotype that salespeople have had for decades still exist. It’s still pushy, gregarious, manipulative and backslapping and none of those things are true. I teach at Capitol University where I teach a class called Personal Selling and I will have 25 kids in that class because they believe that it is an easy “A” and that they will be entertained while they are in school and they will sit down and I will ask them to give me all of the words that they use to describe sales people and they will say selfish, arrogant, pushy and manipulative and all of these words that are negative.
After they fill up the white board with these words, I ask them to raise their hands if one of their parents are in a sales position and about half the class always raises their hand. Ill ask them which parent works in sales and they will inevitably say “my mom” and i’ll ask them back ‘so your mom is a selfish, arrogant, pushy, manipulative person that makes people buy things they don’t really need? And they say “No! My mom is nothing like that, my mom’s clients love her, she’s like their best friend, she’s nothing like that.” The stereotypes that existed when sales people behaved much worse than they do now don’t exist anymore but they have stuck because that’s the way they are portrayed in movies sometimes, but most people, minus car sales people, they don’t act that bad anymore.
5. What has your extensive experience in the world of sales taught you the most?
The most important thing is something we just talked about. It’s that selling is not something you do to somebody. It is something that you do for and with somebody and if you want to know what the differentiators are now for salespeople is caring. People who care about making others have the outcomes that they need and are accountable tend to to do a lot better because they have the trust that they need to have really difficult conversations.
I mostly focus my career on deep principles, so things don’t change over a long period of time. Things like trust. Trust has always been important, it’s still important. And relationships, no matter what the common sales concepts are right now like “relation selling is dead” and things like that, it’s just not true. People still want to buy from people they know and trust. So it’s very interesting for me to look at the world of sales and make observations because everybody wants something new, they want technology and they want the new silver bullet that is going to make selling easy. But those things don’t work because most of the things going on, are happening in the person sitting across from you.
It’s happening inside their skulls and that’s where all of the action is. It’s in their skulls, it’s not in the technology or anywhere else. You have to literally care enough to deal with people sitting right in front of you and try to help them find a way to be better.
6. What particular skills or talents are most essential to be effective in your job?
This is something I just wrote book about. The book, “the Only Sales Guide You Will Ever Need” comes out Oct 11th. Basically, I boil it down to 9 attributes. These are characteristics that a salesperson should develop in order to be somebody who is trusted and has influence. Some of the attributes that are interesting are things like resourcefulness, initiative and accountability. Some of the other skills that are interesting right now to me are things like business acumen, change management and leadership. And those are not talked about as much but those are the things that allow salespeople to become successful.
Do your really know how to help people? Do you know how to manage change inside another organization? Can you lead people even when you don’t have the authority because you have the influence and are willing to take accountability for greater results? Those are the things that I think are most important right now even though you don’t see a lot of people talking about them. Do you believe they are teachable skills? They are 100% teachable and we as human beings can grow and develop regardless of anything that you hear to the contrary.
A lot of the things that we hear about people not being able to change is from really old research where people studied the brain and thought that cells and neurons die without being replaced. Well, we now know the concept of neuroplasticity so we know that you can change any time we make the decision that we want to. If you are not somebody who I can do business with, it doesn’t really matter if your are good at closing, presenting or prospecting because I don’t trust you enough to work with you. So discipline, optimism, resourcefulness and caring, those kinds of things are really who you are. So here’s what I would tell you of what I know about selling. First, you have to be somebody worth buying from and then, you can worry about the skills.
7. Any final words of wisdom for those who are just beginning their career in sales
1. Get a job where you are going to get real training to be a salesperson.
2. Under no circumstances should you work from home on your first 3-4 sales jobs. You should work in a bull pin so that you can mimic what you see and hear them do and you can learn really good language and how to have real sales conversation.
3. Work for a manager who is going to care enough about you to develop you. It’s super important to work with someone who thinks it’s their job to help you improve. That is something hard to find.
4. If you have a chance to work as a BDR or SDR making calls and learning how to pick up the phone and call strangers asking them for a commitment do that for a year or two before taking on any other roll and it will serve you for the rest of your life in sales and anything else.