I can remember 3 times in my career that I was attending a networking event or an interview and I’ve been asked ‘have you ever thought about going into sales?’ My first inclination has always been to stay clear of sales; I’ve never thought I had the skill set and willpower to want to sell. Within my professional career I have prided myself on fact based thought process and I have always considered sales to be too soft skill oriented to be honest.
Let me elaborate on what I have most recently learned about sales and the science of sales from Master The Art of Sales seminar that I can use in my Finance profession, and perhaps shed some light on key insights that anyone can use in day-to-day scenarios.
First off, as a Finance Professional, I’ve always thought of my career as being an expert in all financial matters of the organization and presenting analytical work to aid in decision-making, which would ultimately turn into positive financial results for my organization if the right actions were taken. Up until recently, I’ve never truly realized that I myself am a salesperson; my client is just someone different than the end customer. My clients have been my senior leaders, my Board of Directors, to gain their approval to then action the plans that are needed to achieve success. As back office personnel we think we are not selling (back office meaning Finance, Purchasing, IT) – but we are each and every day we just are not street facing to our customers we are servicing mostly internal customers.
Here are some of my insights summarized in 3 key areas, now having been working through sales techniques with Rohilesh Singh (founder and MD of Populis) that I can use in Finance and beyond:
Leading Indicators are much more helpful than lagging indicators. Sales professionals use targets to evaluate their progress, which are typically lagging in nature (i.e. overall sales, sales per client, etc). However good sales professionals also incorporate leading indicators as a sign of their progress towards their goals. As a finance professional, I’ve tended to focus the majority of my time on lagging indicators since this is traditionally what finance reporting is all about, however this is evolving as access to information and resources improve and insight into certain metrics requirements have been revealed. I have failed in the past to review leading indicators of where the market is heading, and in turn use this in business case analysis for scenario analysis (my scenarios have typically been assumption based rather than thought based). If the sales team only had lagging indicators to review performance, than the organization would be so slow at reacting to alarming trends and performance in to the organization would most likely suffer as a result.
Personal presentation matters more than we think. As a young graduate I used to think that my personal presentation didn’t matter, I didn’t need to look my very best everyday when I came into the office, only when I had a big meeting to attend. This thinking also applied to persona choice of words or materials presented, and I have dealt direct with mega organisation boards. My thought was ‘why does my appearance matter, I’m only back office and am not forward facing?’ as well as ‘I want people to see me for my smarts and not for my looks’. I was selling myself short with this belief and I was to realize this when I started to work in Asia and started to put an effort into my appearance and presentation each and every day. The result was instant, opportunities that you never knew existed opened up professionally, and on a personal level the level of personal quality of life increased. Each of us notice those individuals in the office that pay attention to their appearance – their appearance and general presentation of their work is typically superior to everyone else as they attention into the detail that becomes habitual in everything they do, and as a result these are the folks who find life easier and much more rewarding.
Listening and asking for clarification - the right clarifying questions. Sales professionals have been coached and practice that they need to first discover their customers true desires, and to reaffirm to their clients ‘I hear you' by stating back to their clients specifically what they have heard as the clients needs and wants, which reassures to the customer that they have been understood and their needs have been heard. As Finance professionals we often are told to do something without much clarification as to what is exactly required, for example, ‘can you please provide me with scenarios of this business case’– and so we assume that we are being asked to produce a business case with multiple scenarios when perhaps in fact that wasn’t the request at all. What I’ve learned from sales techniques is that asking clarifying questions and repeating what the customer has said to you to ensure that you have the requirements correct, will make the whole process more efficient and that I will be able to meet my customers’ needs and requests the first time. Attentive listening, and the ability to confidently ask clarifying questions is more valuable than you know – all too often Finance professionals are quick to talk and give answers when they really just need to listen and acknowledge their audience.
These techniques that I have highlighted from my learnings from Master The Art of Selling are just a snippet of what I took away from the seminar from Tom Hopkins. I was blown away with just how much confidence I gained as I put these skills and more into practice, and it helped me make major life changes to move into my own business. I hope I have shed some a little light which can in turn be used in all professional careers whether it be IT, HR, Finance and yes even for those in leadership positions. I have noticed in my professional career that many commercial and Finance professionals have transitioned their career to become one of sales, and I’ve recently wondered if they were able to adopt key sales techniques such as these (but not limited to) how much further their careers would prosper. Since utilizing these insights myself, I have been able to expand my career horizons, my social interactions, as well as my capabilities, not only from a senior Finance Professional, but also as a sales professional and sales executive coach (with the previous belief that I would never go into sales). Now I realise everybody is in sales, it's the ones who realise it learn to do it well and prosper. Please consider these