When I talk to MBA students about sales as a career, a distasteful look fleets across their faces. I sympathise. The image of a sales person conning you into buying something you do not need comes to mind. I did hardcore sales for 2 years and then decided never to do it again. Lo and behold, for the last 10 odd years I have been spending an increasing proportion of my time selling. As I grow more senior in an organisation, I am selling my organisation’s products to customers, the organisation’s prospects to shareholders and the organisation’s values to current and prospective employees.
The reason selling seems distasteful is probably because I am dependent on the ‘buyer’ to make a decision and therefore I am in his power. Maybe this hurts my ego. Another reason could be that there is no set formula for success and we need to make a new effort and come up with a new tactic for each sale. This means we need to understand and adapt to each situation as it comes. There is no predictability and so a perceived loss of control.
Is convincing people not selling? Am I not spending my day in and outside office convincing and being convinced. How can I escape selling?
So let us get real. We sell all our life and sales is unpredictable. There is statistically a 50 percent chance of success or failure. If our success rate more that 50%, we are ahead of the curve.
Although there is no formula, I have adapted the old Xerox methodology for selling. This was called the SPANCO method.
Suspect – list of all potential customers that I need to convince
Prospect – a short list of qualified suspects
Approach – what tactics do i adopt for each customer
Negotiate – Come to terms, monetary and otherwise
Close – get a letter of intent or be the only one in the running
Order – get the money or a contract
In order to sell anything, including myself for a job, I can follow this method.
- S: I make a list of all potential companies that I can apply to.
- P: I create a set of criteria to short list the targets. This can be based on location, salary, other perks, culture, learning potential, availability of jobs, seniors’ feedback, competition with other job seekers, company financials, company potential etc. I give weight to each of these criteria in order of importance. I then do my research and give points for each criteria (simple one is: 1 for favourable, 0 for no information, -1 for unfavourable). I then perform a weighted average calculation for each suspect and come up with a short list of companies.
- A: For each company, I find out who to contact, what is the job, how to meet the person, what makes that person tick (what is in it for him), why will they take me, where and when should I meet the person, in essence the who/ what/ where/ why/ when/ how of each prospect. I need to have a 3-line pitch ready. This is when I customise my resume based on the requirement (equivalent to a proposal).
- I do the homework and then I approach the company. Once I have reached a decision maker I make my short pitch and get him to engage so that there is a follow up action. I cannot get a sale done in one meeting and this this stage takes time, with different meetings, different deliverables and maybe different approaches.
- N: Once the prospect is convinced about the product (me), he needs to get the company to shell out money (salary). So a negotiation starts with maybe the purchase department (HR in this case). This is the time when I need to evaluate the relative merits and demerits of the competition, so I need to know who is the competition and I project myself as the ideal product for the job in the most cost effective way.
- C: This stage is when I am the only candidate in the running and the numbers have been negotiated. This is where I am waiting for an appointment letter. Many times, specially like now, these letters can be withdrawn or a renegotiation can happen.
- O: This is when I have actually joined or I have a proper contract with the company, the PF has been set up and I am a bona fide employee.