Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Sales is everything

December 17, 2004

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Yes, that’s right, “sales” is everything. Business experts like Tom Peters preach it, industry pundits carry on the charge, even I know this is true, but taking it to heart and integrating this thought into my business is a troublesome task. I bemoan the past when…was it ever true?... there were sales people and everyone else. If you worked in development, technical support or any other aspect of business, you didn’t have to think about sales. It was something that the “Sales guys” did. This would be my dream world, but dreams don’t put food on the table.

Sales is hard work

I have known many people who are blessed with the “sales gene.” They instinctively know how to promote their products and themselves without seeming smarmy or overbearing. They can make a case for any product because they immediately see the advantages and can help others understand them. You would think after meeting so many good salesmen (my contacts are almost exclusively male) some of it would have rubbed off on me. Perhaps a little has. I am much better at sales now than I was in the past, but it is still a daily struggle to think about the business part of my career and keep it in the forefront of my work and planning.

While every person needs to be a salesman, for me it is a foreign role. I don’t enjoy the act of selling – especially selling myself and my services. It often feels like I am plodding through deep snow drifts as I slog through the necessary tasks. Conversely, when I am working with technology I am floating above it all, fixing problems with the wave of a hand (or the mouse, in my case). In order to achieve any progress in the sales realm, I had to focus on it almost exclusively. I had to force myself to think about it. It was hard, but it was also extremely necessary.

Recognize my worth

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just snap your fingers and have people immediately understand the value of your work? Snap! “Oh, I see. You can improve our productivity by installing new network services.” Snap! “I will immediately approve the budget for this new database system, it obviously will reduce our order processing time by 50%.” Snap! “I want to set up a regular appointment for you to maintain our computers as they always work better when you are around.” Of course, I am talking about a dream world again. Instead, you are the one who needs to help your clients understand the benefits of your work. You need to research, propose, present and more. While this might not seem the typical description of sales, it is. You are “selling” your clients on your services, your skills, your expertise.

In order to do this well, you need to get out of your own head, where it all makes perfect sense, and get into the head of your client. Start thinking like them and you will hear a myriad of questions. “Does this really solve our problem? How am I going to pay for this? What will my boss say? Does this guy know what he is talking about? Can I get this cheaper/better/faster from someone else?” Until you start answering these questions, you will always be struggling with sales. Your job is to make the decision easy for your clients.

Little by little

One of the ways I address my lack of sales skill is to take small bites of the sales apple. Everyday I work to integrate sales into my daily schedule. Instead of trying to dream up a major campaign with flyers and letters and ads, I bring my sales efforts down to the level of the individual. I religiously follow-up with existing clients. I respond quickly to questions from prospective clients. I regularly send out my newsletter and Alerts. I sell myself in small ways every single day. If I had to focus only on sales, every day, I would go mad. Integrating it into everything I do, though, gets the job done while making allowances for my own personality, wants and needs.

Don’t think of sales as some huge, monolithic entity you have to face down every day. Make it a small part of everything you do. I think we can all agree that we need to focus on sales, but each of us has to find our own path through the forest. Different people need to approach it in different ways, but it cannot be ignored. Failing to address the issue of sales will reduce your ability to grow your job, your business and your career.


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