Why learning to sell is essential for your career, especially if you are a small business owner or entrepreneur

Whatever your career, you are selling. You are selling a budget, a marketing promotion, a financial plan, maybe a strategic step your business needs to take. And yet, so many people equate selling with something potentially negative, drawing analogies to the character of a “used car salesman”. Whatever your career plans or ambitions, you had better learn how to sell well. And if you want to be a small business owner or entrepreneur, selling is an essential skill every entrepreneur should master. Think about it. From day one of your business, you sell.

Whether it’s pitching your idea to potential investors or pitching your latest innovation to prospects, the success of your business depends on your ability to sell. By trying to attract a co-founder or the first employees, you are selling. When you negotiate deals with vendors, vendors, or key partners, you are selling. Below is information that will help you sell better in your career, especially if you aspire to be an entrepreneur.

Understand people. At a basic level, you need to understand and care about people in order to understand them better. First and foremost, learn what motivates people as they try to shape their careers. Reading a few books on psychology and anthropology would help you better understand the employees, customers, and people who are important to you in your life.

What did you say? Listening skills are so underutilized that we should be teaching about them in high school and college. People and customers want to be heard and understood. Take the time to hone your listening skills and incorporate “listening” into your marketing and social media efforts.

Not everyone is your customer. While you may think that everyone could benefit from your product or service, you have a better understanding of your target niche market. Include a stage in your sales process where you determine if the prospect is the right fit. Sometimes it’s the budget, sometimes it’s the personality, sometimes it’s your ability to deliver what they want versus what they need. Either way, figure it out early so you don’t waste your time and theirs.

The positioning of the brand is essential. For your product or service, determine where you stack up in the marketplace and focus your sales efforts on communicating your fundamental value proposition. Are you a low cost, high volume merchandise or a high end luxury brand? You had better define what makes you unique or more valuable than the competition, because if you don’t do it well, your customers won’t see you as better.

Perfect the sales process. You need to fully understand and design the buying process for your customers. Do they need feature information first, then you come up with the benefits of your solution, or the other way around? Are you solving a problem or improving a need? Think about exactly how and why someone will buy from you, then create the “system” that guides and supports that decision.

Budgets, projections, costs oh my god. Familiarize yourself with the basics of making money from a business perspective. You need to understand the base costs of your product or service and the possible gross margin (revenue minus costs). Because if you can’t make a profit then why are you looking for the opportunity? And be realistic when making sales projections; don’t be too optimistic or delusional, be realistic. Also, remember that nothing ever goes as planned.

Pitching is a skill. Learning to introduce strangers, aka customers, is such a critical skill. You need to be comfortable with your verbal communication skills. Otherwise, take a Toastmasters class and learn to be uncomfortable while doing it. You will be throwing your whole life, so try to get good at it. Plus, if you believe in yourself or your product or service, it should be easier to communicate with confidence.

ABC. Always be closing. Practice closing (selling) a customer. It doesn’t have to be overt or arrogant, but you do need to give prospects clear direction on what to do next to buy. Is it a click of a button? Sign a contract? Do you accept the prices and conditions? And be ready to sell anytime, anywhere. You never know when you might step into an elevator and someone asks you what your business is doing.

Here are two books you could read (or re-read) to better understand sales and people. Dale Carnegie: How to Make Friends, Influence People, and Sell by Neil Rackham. Whether you read them or not, you need to understand people better and sell.