Sales gets a bad rap. No one wants to be that smooth-talking guy pushing a vacation club or spamming us on LinkedIn. By the way, if you’re that guy, please stop, I will never buy a program from a LinkedIn spammer.
But the truth is, leadership and sales have a lot in common: Inspiring a vision; building genuine relationships; finding creative solutions. Selling well is about caring and helping others achieve what they imagine. Leaders can benefit from honing some of their “sales” skills.
How I Became a Sales Leader
I’d been in HR for years when the Sales VP encouraged me to interview for a Sales Director gig. I was shocked. “Oh, I’ve never done sales…how could I lead a large sales team?” She just laughed, “Karin, you’re selling all the time. You’re constantly convincing us to take time out of the field to invest in leadership and HR programs. Trust me. That’s selling.”
She was right. And as it turns out, leading a team of several thousand salespeople was one of my favorite gigs.
Today I find the advice I gave to new salespeople useful in developing leaders as well.
7 Leadership Sales Skills
First, recognize that you already know how to sell. You’ve been selling from the very first time you convinced your parents to let you stay up past your bedtime. Think about all you’ve sold in your life, and use that to bolster your confidence.
If the thought of “selling ” your vision, your concept, or your idea still intimidates you, here are some selling 101 tips that can help.
- Be confident in your “product” – If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, your “customer” won’t either. If you find yourself spinning the truth or speaking with strategic ambiguity consider your motives and your leadership. If you don’t buy it, they won’t (and shouldn’t).
- Create a genuine connection – Relating on a human level and demonstrating that you truly care is much more important than any sales (or leadership) “technique”.
- Be truly humble – Confidence without humility will turn off “prospects” every time. False “humility (e.g. stupid self-deprecating remarks will make them gag.)
- Ask great questions – Find out what they truly need. Help them clarify their vision based on their scene, not what you’ve got to give. Listen more than you talk.
- Focus on helping – Work to find creative solutions that solve people’s problems
- Don’t sell past the close – Once the “customer” says yes, say thank you, and wrap it up. Don’t overstay your welcome