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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sales is All About Understanding


1. The exchange of a commodity for money; the action of selling something.
2. A quantity or amount sold.
I had a great privilege to take a part in a series of lectures by Teemu Nuutinen of Sales Profit. There were quite a few things I picked out. As a result I approach sales in a completely different mindset than before. It's not just about trying to sell your product to some poor soul. Instead sales should be treated more as a dialogue that aims to find something that fits for both parties.

Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours

Performing an ear inspection by ecmorgan (CC BY-SA)
Sales is all about reaching a mutual understanding. You will want to understand the customer's business and problems better than he does. With your view on things you might actually be able to alleviate some of those issues he's facing. That's where the value and consequently your business lies.

Instead of selling a bulk product, you'll want to sell a continuum, a relationship. No matter how good you are at it, sales is still a rough job. Therefore it makes sense to develop longer lasting relationships with your clients. This provides stability and safety for both parties. In addition it will give you a chance to improve your offering as time goes by.

There Will Be Lemons

Lemon! by {platinum} (CC BY-NC-SA)

Finding good customers isn't exactly easy. Over time as you accumulate them you'll actually get into a nice position. You will get to pick your clients. This gives you interesting leverage during conversations. If you are not willing to sell by default and make this clear, the potential client actually has to sell himself to you provided he is interested enough. This is very opposite to the conventional way we think about selling.

Not all clients are equal. Some will take disproportionately your time with a poor pay off. This is something you should take care of. Make the situation clear. If it isn't possible to find an acceptable compromise, you'll know what to do.

Sometimes you may come upon potential clients for whom you have nothing concrete to offer. In this case it can be beneficial to give guidance and drop names of possible alternatives. You might thank yourself for this deed later on. Good deeds will be remembered.

Every "no" is an Opportunity

Try avoid getting trampled by elephants by Anna Briggs (CC BY-NC)
There is this famous Finnish skijumper that said something along "Every chance is an opportunity". Replace "chance" with "no" and you have got something sensible. Eventually you'll get a "no". That's just normal. Rather than accepting it, you should question the "no". It is a sign you have more to learn about your potential customer. Ask why. Perhaps there is a way to reach a compromise.

Know Who to Talk To

The Village People by fallentomato (CC NC-SA)
It will make a huge difference to know who you should talk to. Perhaps the person you are talking to isn't the one who makes the decision or simply doesn't care or know. Finding the right person to talk to can be somewhat important particularly if you are dealing with big organizations.

Sometimes you might want to be more indirect with your approach and perform some research via the clients of the clients. This will give you better understanding of the client needs when it comes to negotiating. Remember, it's all about the value you can provide.

The status of the potential client affects the discussion a lot. Different clients expect different things and have their own lingo and way of doing things. You will want to align yourself with these. It has a lot to do with trust. It is a lot easier to build relationships if you know you can count on the other party.

Luck is Made

Shamrock by JD Hancock (CC BY)
It isn't enough to be good at sales and finding the client needs. You will actually need to be able to deliver. The same goes the other way around of course. It doesn't help to be really good at something if you cannot sell it. I feel this applies quite well to many technical organizations.

In the between of these two you'll find the concept of marketing. You cannot just sell your offering to anyone. That's way too inefficient. Instead you'll want to understand who your market segments are and how they function. You can turn this knowledge into benefits on both sales and technical ends.

It gives the fodder you need to actually reach sales. And it helps you to build more satisfying products and services that serve actual client need. I see marketing as an essential bridge that allows you to achieve this.

By combining the concepts of doing (technical side) and telling (sales and marketing), you'll come up with something known as "surface area of luck". This is a concept concocted by Jason Roberts. In order to "get lucky", you'll need to expose yourself to it. Luck is made.


Teemu really changed the way I understand the function of sales. I see it as an integral part of a company, one it cannot just succeed without. The basic skills are important no matter who you are discussing with. It's not just about business to business relations. It's something that comes around when you are trying to secure some funding or find new employees even. The same techniques apply.

Find the common ground and value. Build long lasting and healthy relationships that benefit all parties involved. Even though it's business it doesn't mean it has to be all about the money. That's just more of a means, not an end.