Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Find Your Sale, Then Your Career

Successful sales pros are not great at every type of sale.  They’ve found the sale that best suits their talent and temperament, then refined their skills and repeated.  Too many potentially great rainmakers take on roles that are not the right fit and either flounder in mediocrity or change career directions altogether in dejected frustration.  Just like all other trades, specialists are more likely to see peak results than generalist who take on the nearest challenge put on their plate.

A coworker recently asked me where I would rank on my team of 15 inside sales reps, and she seemed shocked when I told her “probably about 3rd or 4th”, but definitely not number one.  Just because I’m the in-house guru coaching everyone else on what they need to do to succeed, that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect fit for my own selling strengths.  Our sale has a relatively short sales cycle for a B2B technology (about three weeks) and favors high energy closers more than problem solving relationship builders.  It’s a transactional sale coordinated completely over the phone, and I thrive in a more complex sales cycle where trust is built in person.  Had I started my career in entry level inside sales, I may have picked a different line of work, thinking I would never be a top producer. 

Sometimes when I’m letting a poor hire go for underperforming I tell them honestly that this wasn’t the right fit.  They think I’m sugar coating tough news, but I’m actually being sincere in that they could excel in a different sales environment.  Oftentimes these are people who took the first sales job they could get out of college, spurred by their advisors observing their social nature and guiding them towards sales, who ditch sales for safer career paths with less upside.  It really just wasn’t right for them.  It wasn’t their sale!

This is a touchy subject, but the reality is that looks matter.  Given what seems to be the imminent demise of traditional broadcast media, maybe that ‘face for radio’ is a really a voice for inside sales.  Conversely, it’s no secret that attractive people have an easier time with outside sales.  Of course there are exceptions, but honestly considering your physical attributes can be a valuable factor in deciding career direction.

If you are the type of person that likes the schmooze but tends to abandon the relationship with little more than a solid first impression, then a shorter sales cycle is probably your best bet.  Or, if you tend to wait in the wings, tactically picking your spots with the best opportunities to nurture a relationship for the long term, maybe a complex sales cycle is your calling.  Prospects will simply feel more comfortable buying from a sales pro best suited for their purchasing process.

When lining up interviews, take a sincere look in the mirror, and think about what sort of sale is best suited for you.  Are you really a problem solver, or do you like to patch things up and move onto the next?  Do you like people, or do you tolerate them elegantly in concise doses?  Is the complex solution your thing, or do you prefer to keep it simple? 

Be honest with yourself and your interviewer.  There’s no sense trying to fool either one of you.