How to Sell When You’re Bad at Sales
If it worked for me, it could work for anyone
According to Forbes, 50 million Americans make their living in some form of sales. However, Harvard Business Review explains estimates of annual turnover among U.S. salespeople run as high as 27% — twice the rate in the overall labor force. In many industries, the average tenure is less than two years.
Why so abysmal? Many people get into the job and find they either hate selling, or they feel they’re not cut out for the profession. That’s what happened to me.
I spent nearly five years as a pharmaceutical rep and rarely ever hit my commission plan. The only reason I lasted so long is I appreciated the company car and flexible work hours. Otherwise, I hated it.
Yet, sales are the only way a company or individual can bring in revenue; a fact I’m painfully aware of now that I’m in business for myself.
Regardless of who you are or what your role is, it pays to go from an unconfident and fearful caller to an unshakeable and skilled deal-maker.
I’m no Dale Carnegie, but I’ve managed to turn my abysmal sales background into a successful coaching business where I earn a full-time income greater than my corporate job.
Here are four practical techniques I used to tap into my inner salesperson and start earning more.
1. Let Go of Negative Beliefs
Most people harboring a lousy attitude toward sales tend to think the subject is one or all of the following:
- Selling is manipulative. We can easily conjure an image of the pushy car salesman, annoying phone caller, or slick-talking employee at the mall. We often think of times we bought something we didn’t need or spent too much money due to an aggressive sales tactic.
- Salespeople are pushy. Perhaps you’ve dealt with someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer, or you’ve received multiple emails from a company after you’re no longer interested. When selling ourselves, we worry about annoying our prospects.
- Selling is boring. You make several phone calls or send what you think is a brilliant email campaign and then nothing. You’re left waiting for a callback, or worried spam filters blocked your email. It’s often a “hurry up and wait” endeavor.
- Selling is a waste of time. This is how I felt. I didn’t think anything I said or did influenced what the doctor chose to prescribe. Most of the time, the doctor’s choice came down to the patient’s prescription drug coverage. Even then, pharmacists can swap branded names for generics in some states. When you think your effort won’t pay off, it’s easy to hate the sales process entirely.
Humans are wired to remember bad experiences more easily than positive ones.
Instead of giving in to these negative thoughts, think about when a salesperson helped you; when he or she made the process of buying what you needed truly enjoyable. How did they answer your questions? How did they guide you through your objections and your fears?
I went from thinking I was “bothering” people to focusing on the need I could solve for them. In my coaching business, I help clients figure out how much to eat, what to do for exercise, how to manage stress, and how to sleep better.
I realized that some people would pay just about anything to have someone tell them what to do if the result is better health (not to mention looking good naked). I focused on what I could provide and stopped worrying that my message might not be well-received.
The truth is, when done right, sales is neither pushy nor manipulative. Letting go of negativity towards sales allows us to get past the “ick” factor and get more comfortable with ourselves in this role.
2. Focus on Your Beliefs
Forget the elevator speech. Many of us learn either through business school or through marketing material that we should craft a 20–30-second pitch capable of delivering in the time it takes to ride an elevator a few floors.
Marketers say it should include what makes you or your product or service unique. Developing a concise message may be a valuable exercise at times, but for the most part, I think it makes us seem inauthentic.
Instead, focus on what you deeply believe in and work on communicating your conviction vs. a quippy sales pitch.
David Priemer writes in How to Sell if You Hate Selling,
“Despite his distaste for selling, Phil Knight was still very successful selling running shoes because, as he said, ‘It wasn’t selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place… Belief is irresistible.’”
You may believe strongly in protecting the environment against climate change and have a product that helps. Or you may believe you have the answer to unlocking creative potential and want to sell that idea to a book publisher.
Whatever it is, focus on connecting your belief with what you have to offer the world. You’ll feel great doing it, and if you’re passionate about it, you’ll keep going even when rejected.
In my case, I’m passionate about improving the quality of people’s lives through better health. I firmly believe that we have one body and one life. We have to take care of ourselves to give the best we can to those we love. Connecting my belief with the benefit of what my coaching offers has made a world of difference.
3. Tell Stories
Priemer points out that humans are preconditioned to storytelling. It’s how we passed down information from generation to generation. Stories are in our DNA. Rather than condensing your proposition into a short pitch, write it out in a story format.
“Features and bullet points can be tough to remember for both you and your customers. But stories are easy. This is especially important when your initial selling conversations are not with the ultimate decision-maker. If your customer contact needs to share your solution with other people within their organization, a story is a much easier way to relay your value proposition without loss of impact than a marketing message.”
We are hard-wired to remember the emotions stories evoke. Plus, it’s simply more fun to share our experiences this way.
After a presentation, 63% of attendees remember stories. Only 5% remember statistics.
What story can you tell with belief and conviction? Like Phil Knight, founder of Nike, can you narrate how using your product can change someone’s life or improve the future?
Not all services or products are about saving the world, but they all have something that either saves money, makes money, saves time, avoids effort, provides better health or hygiene, or increases love, praise, or status.
I never told stories as a pharmaceutical rep. I had a hard time connecting the drops I pushed with how they benefited the recipients. The stories were there; I didn’t use them.
Now, I love telling stories about my clients who are feeling better and enjoying increased self-confidence.
Make your proposition come to life. Give it emotion. People will remember the feelings you invoked.
4. Offer Free Content
Consider having a base of content you offer for free. Not only does this allow you to build your reputation as an expert, but it gets you in front of customers who might otherwise hesitate. In essence, free content can do the selling for you.
Think big businesses don’t do this? Think again.
Google is currently allowing free access to the enterprise version of Hangouts Meet to all G Suite and G Suite for Education users.
Zoom offers a free version of its videoconferencing software. Peloton allows you to try its app free for 30 days. You can find these types of trials with just about every large corporation.
Are you looking to attract clients through a service? Offer an email newsletter with daily or weekly tips on how to improve your lifestyle. This is what I do. It adds to my credibility, as I always back up what I recommend with scientific papers or personal experience.
I’ve had many future clients get in touch after reading my advice. I’m also happy if what I write helps someone, even if I never make a dime off it.
Reducing the barrier to entry by making it free is often the spark needed to light your business growth on fire, especially when you’re just establishing yourself. Be sure what you’re providing delivers on its promise, or you’ll do more harm than good.
Of course, there are countless more techniques to closing the sale once you’ve gained a prospective client and to turning initial sales in more dollars.
The point here is to help you overcome the feeling you aren’t wired to sell in the first place.
After quitting pharmaceutical sales, I went to work for a nutrition and weight loss company. I felt freedom in that once customers signed up, they showed up in my inbox. I didn’t have to do anything to get them on my own.
Yet, I eventually quit that job to start my own business. I had a few clients come with me from the former job, but not many.
Part of being a coach is continuously selling that what you offer is better than the next shiny thing in their Facebook feed. I needed to learn how to sell quickly if I wanted to prove I could make my business work.
Luckily, these techniques helped me become successful. With practice, I’m far better at communicating my value and what I bring to anyone who works with me — whether that’s as a coach or as a writer.
Focus on these four steps to guide you in the right direction as you get started:
- Let go of your negative beliefs around sales.
- Focus on your beliefs and convictions vs. slick sales pitches.
- Tell stories that bring your product or service to life.
- Offer free content to get prospective buyers in the door.
Like anything, the more practice you get, the better you’ll become. We are all salespeople at some level. Let’s embrace it. I’m willing to bet the world needs what we have to offer.