Earning more is not cheating…Part 2 : Sales

As we covered in Part 1, it’s a lot easier to save more when you are on a higher income. Obviously.

So let’s dive back into that subject with a look at a key aspect of how you make more money: by selling.

You may now be thinking: “yuk, that’s not for me”. Sales and selling often get a bad reputation.

We all hate those cold calls asking you if you’ve been in a road accident that wasn’t your fault or someone in a call centre trying to selling you stuff you don’t want. I hate to be “hard sold” anything, and as soon as my Spider-sense tells me that’s what’s happening, I back away slowly. Or just put the phone down. So that’s not what I’m talking about here.

But there’s nothing wrong with sales done the right way in the right context. Customers are not victims: they are overloaded with choice and complexity in the modern world. Helping them choose and solving their problem is a good and noble thing.

To achieve this happy state of affairs, you need to genuinely feel that you are helping people. Ideally you should believe that your offering is the best (or offers the best value). The artisan or craftsperson is proud of their product so why feel bad about promoting it? When you have an amazing product or service, you feel a bit sorry for the people that don’t buy it. (This is actually how I feel about my financial coaching).

All careers involve selling yourself – what is a job interview but a sales pitch? – and most involve sales targets at some point. The more senior you become, the more likely you are to have a sales target or P&L responsibility where you’re responsible for the profits of your company / team or business unit.

I remember realising I’d hit a glass ceiling in my career…and that if I wanted my salary to keep moving up, I was going to have to start selling. This is true for almost all professions. So even lawyers and scientists (some of whom probably went into the role to avoid sales!) must learn to handle clients, form relationships, pitch for business and get measured on income as they progress from junior associate to partner.

Even in the public sector you need to do more selling as you get more senior. Maybe it doesn’t look like sales but you are proposing policies (solutions) and trying to persuade people to “buy” those solutions. Sales is a form of persuasion.

What got you here, won’t get you there

If you want to get promoted, what got you here won’t get you there.

Most workplaces are pyramid-shaped hierarchies: there are lots of graduate / apprentice entry positions but only one chairman and chief executive officer.

The game changes as you get more senior so you need to learn new skills.The skills required to progress up the pyramid change from technical (at the bottom) to people-orientated (at the top).

Sales is a mixture of influence, problem-solving and diplomacy. It’s about people and, like just about anything, its a learnable skill than can be developed by deliberate practice.

In my first job in corporate finance, I noticed how one of the “rainmakers” responsible for bringing in business tilted the odds in his favour. Firstly, he was interested in people and what made them tick. He had a way of finding common ground with people and found ways to do small favours for them. He would make introductions, give references and would recommend books / films or other stuff to clients and potential clients.

This worked because the recipient of the favour felt understood and listened to. And now it was like they owed him something back. This is a bit like paying into The Bank Account of Karma: if you go around helping people, you are making deposits that compound. At some point in the future, those acts of kindness pay you back with interest.

Building a reputation in an industry is a marathon not a sprint. It takes years so many people fail to do that because the fruits of their labour seem too far away in the future. You need to understand the benefits of deferred gratification and to play the long game. Impatience with actions, patience with results (as Naval Ravikant puts it).

To be successful at sales its important to get away from a zero sum game mentality. A zero sum game is where 2 hyenas fight over a scrap of meat. One wins, one loses. In contrast, a positive sum game is where lions hunt as a pack to create more food for the group. All the lions win from this strategy.

Or, to put it another way, a zero sum game would be a debate about how to divide up the existing cake. A positive sum game would be a discussion about how to collaborate to make more cakes. To be good at sales, you want to be making cakes not fighting over dividing cakes.

Any job that involves selling large, complex, high value products or services business to business will be well paid. So, to make money, you want to sell supertankers rather than dinghies or ERP enterprise software systems rather than computer games.

But it doesn’t have to be glamorous: you can make >£250,000 a year selling double glazing. In most aspects of the modern economy, production is so efficient that supply is almost infinite. Its the demand from customers that is usually the limiting factor. So good salespeople mean more profits, its as simple as that.

When I worked as an auditor reviewing payroll, I noticed that the top salespeople often earned more than the CEO / board directors…sometimes much more. That is pretty common in business and it’s a sign of meritocracy. Top salespeople make top dollar.

The trap that many logical introverts fall into is that they over-estimate the logical aspects of the purchasing decision and they under-estimate the emotional aspects. In sales, intelligence is only helpful when combined with action and people skills.

Even in tech sales, emotion is (quietly) dominant. For many years, the saying in tech sales was that “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”. Sure, the buyers would have plausible sounding reasons involving computer processing power, warranties, after-sales service and other technical details. But the reality is that they bought for reasons of (career) safety.

Sales is a form of influence so here its worth referencing the guru behind much of the world’s most effective marketing and advertising. I’m talking about Robert Cialdini, author of the classic book Influence.

Cialdini identified 6 key drivers of influence. Anyone involved in sales needs to understand these. And anyone who buys stuff should know these to understand the tricks that salepeople, marketeers and advertisers use:

1. Social proof – if you see a queue for a restaurant, you assume that the food is good (and better than the empty restaurant next door). We are herd creatures and in evolution there is safety in numbers. Crazes and bubbles work because everybody’s doing it. Show customers queues and testimonials.

2. Likability – good salespeople are likable. One of the secrets of privilege that the Social Justice Warriors won’t tell you is that good-looking people earn more and sell more. Also:

  • People tend to like people who are like themselves.
  • People tend to like those who pay them compliments.
  • People are more likely to trust people with a common goal
  • People tend to like people that make them laugh or smile

3. Reciprocity. This is timeless and universal: everybody does it. We do favours for people and we receive favours back. Doing this is even more powerful when there is no immediate reciprocity expected in return. Make deposits into The Bank Account of Karma: the more favours you do for different people, the better.

4. Scarcity – people’s resistance to buying something evaporates when they fear missing out. So if you are selling the latest “must have” toy to indulgent parents at Christmas, they will fear missing out. If demand is high and stocks are low, let the customers know it.

5. Authority – people place their faith in authority figures. So be the guy / girl who knows their stuff and don’t be afraid to let people know it. Showing is better than telling. This is why dentists and doctors and other professionals put their degree / qualification certificates on the waiting room wall.

6. Consistency. People like to feel that they are consistent in their behavior. Salespeople can exploit this by establishing common ground and getting people to agree to little things first. Make a small sale first (e.g. introductory offers). Then put people on the “yes escalator” leading up to a bigger sale. It’s easier to sell to people who have bought from you before than to find new customers. Look after your customers!

Getting better at selling is a huge subject but, to sum up, let’s finish with the accumulated life experience of entrepreneur Colin Dowling on how to get better at sales:

“1. Sales is a lot like golf. You can make it so complicated as to be impossible or you can simply walk up and hit the ball. I’ve been leading and building sales orgs for almost 20 years and my advice is to walk up and hit the ball.

2. Sales is about people and it’s about problem solving. It is not about solutions or technology or chemicals or lines of code or artichokes. It’s about people and it’s about solving problems.

3. People buy 4 things and 4 things only. Ever. Those 4 things are time, money, sex, and approval/peace of mind. If you try selling something other than those 4 things you will fail.

4. People buy aspirin always. They buy vitamins only occasionally and at unpredictable times. Sell aspirin.

5. I say in every talk I give: “All things being equal, people buy from their friends. So make everything else equal, then go make a lot of friends.”

6. Being valuable and useful is all you ever need to do to sell things. Help people out. Send interesting posts. Write birthday cards. Record videos sharing your ideas for growing their business. Introduce people who would benefit from knowing each other, then get out of the way, expecting nothing in return. Do this consistently and authentically and people will find ways to give you money. I promise.

7. No one cares about your quota, your payroll, your opex, your burn rate, etc. No one. They care about the problem you are solving for them.”

There is more than 100 trillion dollars in the global economy just waiting for you to breathe it in. Good luck.”


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