Since this will be my last post of the year (taking next week off), it is focused on the things that I annually reflect on from the viewpoint of a sales professional. It’s important to think not about what you should have done differently in the past but more about what you’re going to do better in the future. Every business interaction is a learning experience. Whether you make a sale or lose a sale, you can learn from each customer interaction. While there are lots of things to reflect upon at the end of the year, here are the three areas I’m most thinking about:
- Focusing on the Customer
- Kaizen – Continuous Improvement
- Taking Responsibility
Focusing on the Customer
I talk to a lot of customers/buyers in the advertising industry. Time and again the one thing that they talk about is the salesperson’s lack of understanding the needs and goals of the customer. Too often, salespeople come unprepared to a customer meeting and are more focused on what THEY want to sell rather than what their customer needs to be successful. Focusing on the customer can be thought of as a combination of ‘listening’ and ‘empathy.’
Whether it is a new prospect or a longtime preferred partner, successful salespeople listen more than they talk. They ask intelligent questions…questions that, in some cases, are actually scripted because they are important. I’ve never had a customer wonder why I was reading a scripted, thought-out, question. In fact, I’ve had many customers thank me for taking the time to ‘think’ about the meeting enough to ask the right questions.
Empathy is important in both business and personal relationships. For example, when setting up meetings, think about the timing of your meeting request relative to the times your customer is most swamped. Be understanding if they request a call or meeting to be rescheduled. Just because your SVP of Sales is in town from New York to go out on meetings with you doesn’t mean that your customer has the same sense of urgency as you do.
In 2018, I’m going to remember to listen more and put myself more often in the customer’s shoes.
Kaizen – Continuous Improvement
The popular definition of the Japanese word kaizen is continuous improvement. I think about this a lot because even though I’ve been in sales and sales management for over 20 years, I can always find ways to improve myself personally and also how I’m doing my job.
In 2017, I made a goal to read 30 books…some business books, but mostly reading for pleasure. I’m not sure I’ll hit the target, but I will be close. I encourage you to read as much as you can and also read books that are outside of your comfort zone, too. Try reading books, or websites, with views you may not agree with…this will reinforce and build on your empathy and understanding of other people and their viewpoints.
Writing this blog has been very interesting for me. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it is more of a writing exercise for me but then I’ll be on a call, like yesterday, with someone who told me that they read the blog every week and pass it along to their sales team. That comment made my day! Think about learning a new language, painting, or writing your own blog next year. In 2018, one of my goals is to relearn Spanish…something I studied in school but have mostly forgotten.
When I think about ‘taking responsibility’, I mean how I will react to this situation:
- Things will happen to you which you have no control over.
You and I will both face adversity at some time in 2018. Something will happen to you that was not your fault or that you perceive as ‘unjust.’ Early in my career, I would often dwell on the ‘unfairness’ of what happened and associate myself with like-minded others to whine and complain. This was a huge mistake on my part. I’ve learned that it is much better for me to handle a situation, whether it be a lost sale or worse, with a combination of as much grace and humor as I can muster. There is a reason why you will see bumper stickers saying “Sh_t Happens” …because it does! All you can control is how your respond when it DOES happen to you.
In 2018, my goal is to continue to react to challenges and adversity with grace, humor and an understanding that all I can control is my reaction. I encourage all of you to think about how you currently react to adversity and if you can improve upon that reaction next year.