Take market share. Serve a specific need. Work hard to beat the competition. Nurture long term relationships. Understand your business cycle. Sell yourself out of a sales slump.

I’m sold. As much as I hate being sold to, I love the idea of selling. There’s a frontier attraction to engaging people, fielding objections, turning their skepticism into enthusiasm, and striking up a win for both sides.

In an effort to understand sales and begin developing the skills to do better business, I filled my library wish list with audiobooks and ebooks about selling. Selling in Tough Times wasn’t my first choice, but it was the first audiobook available.

Coming from a marketing perspective, I understand how potent sales skills are. But just like marketing, the manipulative, high pressure tactics throw me off. It can be hard to separate the wholesome from the ugly in my perception of the sales profession. So it was a relief when I instantly enjoyed what I was listening to.

Sales Sages Helping Customers Save the Day

The author and narrator, Tom Hopkins, dials in right away on the number one reason why you exist as a salesperson: service. Sales is service. Selling is problem solving. How? You’re sitting down with a person who has obstacles they need to remove or surmount. You hold the map and equipment that’s going to get this person to the otherside with the least inconvenience or pain. This person in front of you is a hero on a journey and you’re the sage with the effective force to carry this hero through.

Tom doesn’t mention that bit about the hero’s journey. I picked that up in my marketing studies. But it makes so much sense and it’s what I love about sales and marketing. Tom states explicitly that selling to match quota, make money, or move product will end in tragedy. You sell to serve the person before you. That mindset usurps any manipulative or high pressure tactics that I cringe at.

With service as your cornerstone in selling, you guarantee that long term relationships are knit together, meeting by meeting. Even if someone doesn’t buy from you, even if they go with the competition, centering your focus on service means that if they should ever look for alternative solutions years down the road, they’ll remember you with fondness.

Sales slump? Remember, you’re a problem solving sage

Tom assumes you’re a sales professional with experience in the field. So he starts the book by looking at the many reasons for economic downturns, for sales slumps, industry crashes, or general poor business performance.

I’ve never been one to jump onboard a trend when things are hot. For some reason, I shrug my shoulders, smirk, and continue on. Maybe there’s some innate fear of success. Or maybe it’s a subtle rebellious streak that wants to fight the tide (which makes sense considering how often I choose to do things the hard way). Whatever the case may be, rejecting trendiness means I’m more attracted to the overlooked, underrated, counterintuitive path.

Although I would have liked to read Tom’s How to Master the Art of Selling first, this book was still attractive because it promised a path to success through the times when most are backing away and scoffing at the idea business success. Whether Tom delivered on that process, I won’t know until I get to practice his wisdom through some sort of economic downturn (which may be on it’s way).

But what I really appreciated was the focus on cutting out negativity and zeroing in on problem solving. The core message repeated throughout the book was, when you deliver top tier service in your selling, you’re going to be successful.

From that home base, there’s a lot of practical advice about how to analyze your business cycle, determine the cause of your economic season, and work hard to not only stay afloat in the storm, but build a viable life raft that will carry you through.

Believe it or not, introverts have the edge in sales

You introverts are killer listeners, lining you up to be more effective sales people than us extroverts. An introvert’s instinct is to listen. You’re more empathetic and “empathy plays a key role in every selling situation,” Tom says. Extroverts love talking. Which is handy when we need to present our product to the prospect. But without properly listening first, all our talking can be in vain.

Tom styles them as the Interesting Extrovert and the Interested Introvert. Mature Interesting Extrovert sales people welcome prospects in their space, make them comfortable and ask the questions that get them talking. They they have to reign in their garrulous instinct and let the customer do the talking. Interested Introverts may struggle to reach out and get people to sit down with them, sometimes because they don’t have the energy after a full day of dealing with people to sit down with anyone else. But the introvert who embraces a little extroversion necessary to draw in prospects can then let their natural instincts kick in.

I hate it when I take over a conversation. But my almighty opinion weighs heavy on my mind. I need to shed the weight to feel better. The problem is, opinions gain weight fast and I have to off load again. After hanging out with friends, I often worry that I talked too much. Learning to listen more, to pause, pay attention to what the other person is saying, and be patient with a response is refreshing. When I remember to relax and listen, it feels so much better. So hearing that success in sales comes when I’m warm, welcoming, and ready to listen, it’s exciting.

When things get tough, go back to the basics

In a sales slump? Go back to “spring training.”

I’ve never been in a sales slump, but what attracted me about this section was a plain lay out sales basics. I won’t repeat those basics here, but I do want to share some of the points that stood out to me in this chapter and throughout the book that are basic practices that support success in sales.

First, Tom draws a distinction between business and busyness. You can run a hamster wheel and be busy, or you can generate business.  Here’s a list of business generating activities that I’m going to keep with me at all times:

  • Identify new clients
  • Cold-call leads for new business
  • Arrange / confirm meetings
  • Prepare presentations
  • Give presentations
  • Close sales
  • Send thank-you notes
  • Make follow-up calls
  • Service accounts
  • In-house paperwork / reporting
  • Ask for referrals
  • Receive referrals
  • Send information (email, postal mail, or fax)

Along with that is a list of practices and platitudes that seem foundational to me:

  • Keep a selling strategy notebook. Make notes about other sales tactics you hear or see that worked on you or others. How did you persuade your children to listen to you? How did you convince your friends to come along on your next outing? As a writer, I recognize the importance of being an observer and taking notes. Doing the same with selling makes sense.
  • The star of every presentation should be the product. Say what you need to say and get out of the way.
  • Have an attitude of servitude. “You can have anything you want in life if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar
  • Selling is the business of emotions. I learned this in marketing too. We buy things based on emotions and rationalize later. So let it be emotional. Don’t get into sensationalism, but let the pain of the problem have its moment, let genuine enthusiasm about what you offer shine through. Help the prospect feel the excitement of potential relief that your product provides, then help them rationalize all of these emotions.
  • Build trust from the beginning. Lay out exactly how you plan the meeting to go, then carry through. Give the prospect the option to say no. I relieves pressure and generates curiosity in some. Get the prospect talking and then summarize what you just heard. Lay out your assumptions so they can correct you and point you closer to the target. Ask how the prospect is feeling before you ask for the sale. This gives you the chance to address any final hesitations. Follow up after the sale. Long term relationships in sales are what keep you in business.

All about the HUSTLE? Customers pick out hustlers from miles away (then steer clear).

Hustling for quick sales, moving from target to target, playing the numbers game. I wretch. Hustling to prospect, to reach out and start relationships? Sure. Hustling to write thank-you notes and ask for referrals? Sure. Hustling to get paperwork out of the way and keep your life free of clutter? Yes. But when it comes to actually sitting down with people, listening, building trust, making the sale, and following up, being a hustler is gross

What I took away most from this book is the importance of long-term relationships. Making the sale is only the beginning. The business value of repeat customers is important, but you only have repeat customers if you’re actually interested in your customer’s success. Ignoring the customer after the sale indicates you really don’t care how successful your customer is. Then there’s not loyalty, no repeat business, and no referrals.

Referrals are the best source of leads. Relative to the rest of your prospecting efforts, getting referrals takes the least effort to gain the most qualified leads. Tom makes the point that, in tough times, people trust referrals even more. When there’s a lot of anxiety about finances, a referral from a trusted friend or relative alleviates much of that anxiety.

Plus, your customers can qualify leads much better than you can. When a friend or relative is in a similar predicament to theirs, they have unique knowledge of the effectiveness of your solution. The prospects they send to you are pre-qualified and have fewer barriers to sales.

Beyond the sales success, investing in the customer’s long term satisfaction just feels good. There’s no sleeze here, there’s no manipulation. You get to be a wholesome human being and a successful salesperson. That’s what I want. Always.

The most important access card any salesperson should carry

Early in the book, Tom said that the most important card any salesperson can keep in their wallet is their library card. Considering I borrowed this audiobook from the library, this resonated with me. With all of the practical advice that Tom shares, he says that staying a student brings success in all regions of life. I love learning. Hearing that early in the book sold me on Tom’s approach to success and had me excited to glean his wisdom. Selling in Tough Times is a book I’ll go back to many times, I think.

What do you think?

You just read through 1800+ words to this point! Wow. Thank you. I want to know what you think. Are you a seasoned salesperson who can relate to some of this? Please share a story with us. How do you get through your slumps? I would be extremely grateful if you commented below.

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