25. In Sales, Preparation + Practice = Success

It is fascinating to watch an expert salesperson at work. He seems totally confident, and totally at ease talking with the customer. He has all the facts, figures and documents he needs at his fingertips, and can handle most any question or objection the customer throws at him. On those rare occasions when he does falter, he recovers quickly and smoothly. Customers love dealing with him, and at the end of many interactions, the sale is made and everyone walks away happy.

Performance like this doesn’t happen by accident; nor is it a fluke of personality or talent. It takes a lot of training, preparation and practice to operate at this level of peak sales performance, just as it takes a lot of effort for an athlete or musician to operate at peak. Because sales “looks” easy, however, and because there are a lot of inept salespeople around, most people don’t realize how much work it takes to do sales right.

Here is what you need to become a great salesperson for your progressive values:

Training. The best salespeople have been intensively trained. Many corporations send their salespeople out regularly for classes and workshops, and many salespeople supplement their classroom training with books, tapes, and DVDs. Top salespeople study not just sales technique, but also topics such as psychology, teamwork, leadership and organizational dynamics.

You can often take inexpensive sales classes at community colleges and vocational schools. Some experts also specialize in teaching marketing and sales skills to activist and nonprofit organizations. (See page 386, or www.lifelongactivist.com for more information on the classes I teach.)

Information. Because uncertainty and confusion can unsettle customers, top salespeople make sure they have a detailed knowledge not just of the products they are selling, but of all of the relevant issues, surrounding those products. And they not only know everything about their industry, but about their customers. A kitchen-supply salesperson who sells to bakeries, for instance, will make it his business to be on top of all the bakery industry news and gossip.

Top salespeople also make sure they’re aware of the day’s headlines, and possess a good overall knowledge of current events and popular culture. You never know how a piece of news will relate to your sale, after all, or what may happen to come up in a conversation.

Attitude. Most salespeople work conscientiously to cultivate a positive attitude, both because they need it to weather the inevitable rejections, and because a positive attitude is highly appealing and persuasive to customers. Salespeople tend to be big fans of self-help books and motivational tapes and DVDs, which they often listen to while traveling from appointment to appointment. They’ll even choose their music to help maintain a positive mood: loud, energizing music for when they are feeling low; and calm, soothing music for when they are feeling stressed.

Many salespeople, like many athletes and performers, also have rituals that they use to psych themselves up prior to an important sales call. One person might do some deep, calming breathing and relaxing stretches, for example, while another might do some vigorous air punches, and a third might recite a few inspirational lines of poetry. Whatever works for you is OK.

If you develop the Empowered Personality I described in Part III, Chapters 27 and 28, you will have a good attitude for doing sales.

Preparation. Preparation means having everything you need to complete the sale at your fingertips. That includes all relevant facts and figures, as well as all documents, fliers, brochures and other sales literature.

It also means that any materials you present to the customer are attractive and appealing, and free of typos and other mistakes.

It also means that your sales pitch is well crafted and to the point. Many salespeople write or purchase actual scripts for their pitches, which they memorize and rehearse exhaustively. (See below.)

Finally, it means making sure that there are no unnecessary distractions to, or interruptions of, the sales process. That means, for instance, that your e-mail and voicemail work flawlessly and professionally, and that your personal appearance and manner are pleasing to the customer.

Practice. Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. That’s ten “practices,” and I would write twenty if my editor would let me get away with it. Top salespeople practice selling all the time. They practice on their family, friends and colleagues—even the dog or cat, if no one else is around. They practice in front of a mirror, and videotape themselves so that they can see their mistakes on film. (Ouch!) They practice during their commutes. They practice constantly, even for just a couple of minutes at a time while waiting for a phone call or riding in an elevator. (Recall Henry Spira’s constant discussions of animal issues with random strangers on the subway, bus, etc.)

They don’t just practice their pitch, but how they will handle any objections a customer might raise. That way, when an objection is voiced, the salesperson will not be caught off guard and can easily deal with it. The expert salesperson’s ease, when confronted with an objection, is tremendously persuasive to the customer.

The more sales technique you employ, and the better you get at employing it, the more powerful and effective your activism will be. So, be sure to pay your sales dues in terms of training, information, attitude, preparation and practice.

OK, now let’s look at the sales process . . .