How can you achieve a steady flow of interesting work without resorting to aggressive sales practices that turn people off?
The world of work is changing. Increasingly, people are seeking collaboration, openness and purpose from their employers. At the same time, they are placing similar expectations on the businesses that they buy from and partner with. They don’t like the traditional ‘hard sell’.
However, as most businesses recognise, securing consistent, quality work can be a constant concern. A common question among founders and leaders is ‘do we need a dedicated sales team?’ — something that then opens up other issues, such as ‘what type of people are right for us?’ and ‘How do we incentivise them in a way that reflects our values?’ But I wonder whether these are really the most important questions to be asking.
I’ve been working with and talking to people from across the tech, digital and creative sectors about their sales challenges. Within the companies enjoying a healthy pipeline of opportunities, a number of trends have emerged, regardless of whether they have dedicated sales teams or not. Namely that their whole team work together in open, inclusive and collaborative ways. Their people are engaged, and enjoy great conversations with clients, contacts and peers, which in turn develop into commercial prospects. They have taken an open, mindful approach to selling and it’s paying dividends for them.
This reflects similar mindful techniques that I have used in my own sales practice, something that I find works well for my introverted personality traits (you can read more about that here).
So how can you create this collaborative and mindful sales function that will help you win more of the work you love?
- Start out by working out what you love
This might seem like an obvious thing to say but… to do more of what you love, first you need to know what it is that you love. I do not just mean you as an individual, but you as a team. Spend time working this out. Lots of research has shown that people flourish when they work towards a purpose that they all understand, share and support. Defining a ‘why’ allows the team to share a common goal, focus their activity and give meaning to their work, which in turn makes them happier and more productive.
2. View your world through your customers eyes
How does it feel to be your customer? What are their goals and challenges? What benefits can you deliver, what value do you create and what problems can you help solve? Clearly articulating your purpose from a client’s perspective helps customers identify who you are and what you do, allowing them to self-select when approaching you for work — something that is an important step towards creating new opportunities. It will also help your team understand the client more thoroughly which in turn will lead to more effective relationships.
3. Encourage your team to own the purpose, on their own terms
Space to be flexible, to explore, to fail and to change is important. Where I have seen teams successfully embrace a clear purpose, there has usually been a degree of openness in how they are able to think about and express that purpose. Respecting your people’s expertise, specialisms, passions and personalities, and trusting them to interpret a corporate purpose in their own way helps them engage with it far more successfully.
When teams put collaboration and problem-solving first, people think more about building great relationships, rather than closing the sale. Success will follow. When prospective clients get involved in this collaboration, tremendous success is achieved. Many clients today seek opportunities for co-working and sharing expertise and capacity. Finding ways to start collaborating before a sale has been agreed can help relationships flourish and ultimately lead to better client relationships.
5. Remove silos
It takes more than hiring a sales director with an impressive track record to create a steady flow of interesting opportunities. Experience has shown that it also requires different teams across the business to understand each other. In businesses where sales teams work in isolation, talk a different language, and are paid differently to other teams, chances are a healthy pipeline of work will not materialise. Shared thinking, understanding of how each other operates, using the same language and that all-important cross-team collaboration are crucial.
6. Love to learn and explore
Opening up opportunities to do work you love is much easier when you bring your subject matter expertise into the conversation. Potential clients love any opportunity to talk to interesting experts, especially when they have expertise relevant to them, their interests and their challenges. But its easy to slip into jargon or tech-talk, this needs to be avoided.
Time and time again I’ve seen developers, designers and people with real specialisms engage in great conversations with clients, making real connections faster than the best sales people. The more relevant and up-to-date your expertise is, the more eagerly people will seek you out. Which is why a team that values and embraces learning will be better at bringing new opportunities to the table.
7. Get out into the world and get involved
A genuine desire to help others with the skills and expertise within your team is a great mindset to encourage and something I see a lot in the best performing teams. In the context of uncovering opportunities, this means having conversations such as: “I was chatting to someone at a meet up last night who is looking for some help with…” or “I saw a tweet about a new group starting up that we could get involved with…” or “One of the our client’s delivery leads was chatting to me yesterday about a problem they’re having, I’m sure we could help…” This behaviour is definitely not ‘We love selling’, instead it’s about being driven by a desire to use skills to help solve problems.
Deception, secrecy, pursuit of the ‘win’. These may be typical behaviours in a sales environment, but as successful businesses know, these will not motivate and engage. The ultimate goal is to create a collaborative, supportive environment where everyone brings ideas and opportunities to the table; from which a strong and sustainable pipeline of work emerges — work that people love doing.
Do you use a mindful selling approach? Why not get in touch and we can share experiences and learnings?