Want to get ahead in this wacky, fast-paced world of work? You have to use your brain and you have to be willing to sell yourself, according to the authors of "The Girl's Guide to Kicking Your Career Into Gear." Here's an excerpt:
Selling yourself (without selling out)We laugh when we hear women say, “I won’t sell.” You might as well say, “I won’t breathe,” because the reality is that you are always selling. You may not be earning commission, but in both your professional and personal lives, you are always selling — your ideas, your point of view, and your personality. Selling is the whole ball game, so girls, grab a bat.
Selling is not easy and it’s not natural. Women are socialized to be humble about their accomplishments. You’re taught that if you’re a good girl and do good work, people will notice and you’ll be rewarded. Wouldn’t it be great if that were true? We’ve all been there, sitting in that staff meeting hearing a coworker (often male) tell the team how they “made it happen,” or “saved the day,” or “exceeded all expectations.” You rolled your eyes at the time, but fast-forward a day, a week, or a month and that same blowhard is rewarded with a big fat promotion. Why? The blowhard was selling his accomplishments to the people who were able to reward him.
Whether you’re looking for a promotion, a new job, a new career, or just networking, selling yourself well will be the key to your success. This chapter will give you all the tools you need to package your accomplishments and increase your confidence. Each day in the workplace you will be selling your ideas to your clients, your team, and your management. With your newfound ability of “the ask,” you will be selling more and more every day. Selling yourself is a full-time job.
Sales training: It will help
Sales training is big business. Sales theories abound. Current thinking points to moving away from words like “sell” and “close” toward “offer” and “accept.” You can buy tapes, attend seminars, and hire consultants. When you type “how to sell” into an Amazon.com search, 13,688 books are found. That’s a lot of choices and a lot of techniques. As publicists and authors, we sell all the time, but we’ve never had any formal training. Our advice to improve your sales is pretty straightforward: know your product (you), know what your target needs, and show them the benefit of matching the two up. In publicity, it’s easy. When a client publishes a new book or introduces a new product, this is news that we want the media to cover, so we send pitch letters and make follow-up calls. Our “targets” need content — magazines need recipes and pictures, and television shows need great talent, so when Jamie Oliver comes to the United States to promote a book, for example, we “sell” his time to the television shows and he goes on and demonstrates a recipe. Just because money isn’t changing hands doesn’t mean we’re not selling.
But this is just the business of publicity. What about your business of selling, whatever it is? Learning your sales lessons well will help you with all aspects of your career building. Organizations hire and promote people who can sell.
So what do we really need to know? We asked one of our favorite entrepreneurs and consumers of sales training, Chrisi Colabella, president of Construction Information Systems, to share her learning with us. Since Chrisi took over her sales department in 2000, gross revenues have increased 27.22 percent per year and 190 percent over the total seven-year period. Unlike us, Chrisi seeks out training. She loves reading self-help books and listening to sales training tapes, and has made a pretty big dent in the thirteen plus thousand books that are offered on Amazon. Over the years she’s culled the good advice, tested it on her team, and put the best stuff into practice. We asked her to share her learning with us, so herewith: “Chrisi’s Lessons in Successful Selling.” Notice how all of this sales training easily applies when the product is you.
Chrisi’s lessons in successful selling1. Work backward.
- A prospect is a potential client, customer, or purchaser. It’s also a potential job or opportunity. To prospect means to try to unearth new opportunities. Sales is a numbers game. The best salespeople know how many presentations they need to get an order, and how many phone calls they need to make to get an appointment to make a presentation. It works like this: if you need to make five presentations to generate one order and you need to make ten calls to generate one presentation, then you need to make fifty calls per day to generate one order.
- When you are looking for a job, you will need to send out many resumes to generate just a few interviews to get just one job. When you are looking to move up in a company, sell yourself to as many people across as many departments as possible. You are always building your profile within an organization and industry, and the more contacts you have, the more opportunities you can generate for yourself.
- Learn the benefits your product or service (or you!) can provide each prospect you see. Based on those benefits, create a series of questions to ask before or during your presentation that will uncover a need that can be solved with those benefits. This is best-selling business guru, Neil Rackham’s SPIN selling. You ask questions to: understand your prospect's Situation; uncover a Problem they have with the way they are currently doing business; expose the business Implications of that problem (loss of time/money/value/etc.); and therefore create a Need for your own product/service based on the benefits you can provide.
- Applying the lessons of SPIN selling to ourselves is easy: understand the manager or company’s situation; find the problem/opportunity for yourself; show them the implications/benefit of hiring you and create a need for them to just say Yes to hiring/promoting/relocating/increasing your pay.
2. Treat each interaction in the workplace as important. You never know who can help you down the line.
3. Be purposeful in everything you do. Ask yourself, “What is my objective?”
• Another selling guru, Steve Schiffman, says, “The purpose of the first step is to get to the second step. The purpose of the second step is to get to the third step.” What he means is: when you are telemarketing to make appointments, your purpose is to set an appointment, not sell your product. If you stay focused on that, you’ll get more appointments. If you try to sell your service/product over the phone, you’ll do it an injustice and potentially lose an appointment. Thus, when you’re following up on your resume, don’t try to get the job. Focus on getting the in-person interview, where you will have the opportunity to sell yourself in person. When you’re meeting someone for the first time inside or outside your organization, focus on finding out who they are, not how they can help you. Nothing is a bigger turn-off than someone who just wants to know what you can do for them.• Don’t unsell yourself by highlighting what you aren’t doing. Focus on what you are doing or have done that makes you the obvious solution to their problem.• Don’t just go to every event given by every association under the sun. Focus on one or two at a time, and make sure they are the right group for you. Set goals for what you want to achieve within that setting. Become active in that group and get the most out of the time you spend there. Once you’re entrenched, you can back off a little while still maintaining valuable relationships and then shift your focus to a new group.
4. Role play. Practice your telephone calls and interviewing skills with other people before you have the moment. Thinking it through in your head and saying it out loud are two totally different things. Practice it again and again until it becomes natural to you.
A common term in the media world is “the ask,” and “the get” follows the ask (which is simply a request for something or someone to do something for you). Asking people for things is never easy, and if you seem uncomfortable with your request, then they are less likely to give you the outcome you want.
5. Listen to your bosses/clients/prospects. Try really hard to understand their business and what their needs are so you can solve them together.
6. Follow up with your clients after the sale. Make sure they are happy and are getting what they expected. If they are unhappy, address it. Very often you can up-sell an unhappy client. Make them feel secure that you’re working for them and you’ve turned an unhappy client into a lifelong client.
If you’re trying to move up the ladder, touch base with management and champion your accomplishments. Reinforce the fact that they made the right decision to hire or promote you or to even go with your recommendation.
7. Ask for referrals. If you feel like you’ve done a good job for someone, provided a good product or service, you should feel good about asking for referrals for more business. If you want a new job or to change careers, don’t hesitate to discreetly check with your clients, vendors, or colleagues about opportunities. Just make sure you can trust them first.
8. Follow up on referrals. It is crazy how many people will make a flimsy attempt to prospect a referral. And it’s really, really crazy to know how few people don’t follow up with the person who referred them, to let them know they appreciate the gesture. People don’t like to give out referrals unless they feel very confident that the salesperson is going to do a good job. Always write a thank-you note or e-mail immediately. Follow up with a progress phone call: “Linda is meeting with him on Tuesday, thanks again for the referral.” And send a final thank-you note with a gift when someone signs on. We get many repeat referrals that way.
And if you’re a girl like Chrisi who’s always looking for more information to help better herself, she recommends reading her all-time favorite book: Charisma: Seven Keys to Developing the Magnetism that Leads to Success by Tony Alessandra. Who needs to hear your pitch?Before you can articulate your sales pitch, you must articulate your objectives. Are you looking to find your first job? Get a promotion? Ask for a raise? Increase the size of your network? Win new business? Sell some goods? Switch careers? Effective sales skills will be vital to achieving any number of goals.
First, identify and write down your long-term goal. Be specific. Set a timeline. This is your goal statement. Then break down all of the steps you need to take to accomplish that goal and list ways of achieving each step. You can and likely will have any number of short-term goals or benchmarks between writing your statement and achieving your long-term goals.
We set a goal to write and publish a book about starting a business. It was a pretty lofty goal, and to achieve it we had to break it down into the smaller steps we needed to accomplish to reach the larger goal. And along the way we had lots of people to sell. From the very beginning, Caitlin had to sell Kim on the project. She had to convince her that we could do it and that we’d be successful. So one weekend she sat down in front of her computer and wrote our seventy-page book proposal. She brought it in and sealed the deal. Then together we had to sell the idea and ourselves to a literary agent so they would want to represent the project. And then the agent had to actually sell the book to the publisher. Do you see all the selling that’s going on here?
Think about your career in the same terms. Identify what you want to do and what you have to do to get there — that’s your career plan. It may change five, even ten times over the course of your career, but that’s okay. As you mature and experience more things, you’re better equipped to figure out what you want, but it really helps to craft short- and long-term plans. If anybody had asked us when we were in our first jobs (an operator at an answering service and counterperson in a café/bakery) what we’d be doing in fifteen years, we wouldn’t have had a clue.
Caitlin was more organized in her early days — she identified that she wanted to move to New York and work in television production. So she crafted a plan to get herself there. She called everyone she knew in New York and told them of her goal and, one by one, people began sharing their contacts, which led to interviews that landed her a job at the Food Network. Kim was less focused and could think only in terms of what she did not want. She would take any job in New York City in the media as long as it wasn’t in advertising sales.Selling yourself at an interview
Some of this advice is so obvious we can’t believe we have to give it. Yet we do. All of this advice comes from our direct hiring experience in the past two years. Even if you already think you’re pretty good at interviews, you can always get better. • Arrive five minutes before your appointment. Not two minutes late. Not fifteen minutes early. We had a publicist on the team who wasn’t a good fit and we let her go. Among other problems, she was always late — almost every single day. A couple of weeks after she left, a competitor and friend called for a reference. Our publicist hadn’t listed us as a reference, but since the interviewer knew us, she picked up the phone. We had a nice conversation about what kind of environment this publicist would excel in and agreed that she should offer the publicist a second interview. As she was hanging up she asked, “Does she have a problem with lateness? She was late to the interview and it gave me a bad feeling.” We told the truth about the publicist's work habits and she didn’t get the second interview.• Don’t chew gum during the interview. Kim actually did this once in her early days and her potential employer stopped the interview and asked her if she wanted to get rid of the gum because he could see it in her mouth when she was talking. If you’re worried about your breath, suck on a mint just before you begin.• Dress appropriately. Look like you made an effort. Suits on men and women suggest that you are taking the interview seriously. Even if you never wear it again. • Don’t bring coffee or snacks with you. We had a candidate who sat down at the table with her deli cup of joe and sipped it during the interview. You’re not in a café. You’re in a job interview.• Cover your ink and pull out your piercings. Even the most liberal employers don’t want to see your tattoos. And for God’s sake, remove your tongue ring; there is nothing more distracting in an interview than someone clicking their tongue piercing against their teeth. • Get your party pictures off www.myspace.com. Potential employers are savvy about social networking and are checking out your site. Don’t give them a reason to worry about you. • Do your homework. We’ve had more than a few candidates ask us what we did, so we ask ourselves, why are you here?• Think before you speak. One candidate told us the only reason she was interviewing was because she figured it was time to get a real job.• Don’t ask what a typical day is like, what your holiday schedule is, or what kind of benefits the company offers in the first interview. In the first interview you are selling them. They have to sell you when they offer you the job.
• Don’t get caught embellishing your accomplishments or references. One of our employees gave us a reference who gave us a glowing recommendation. After he had worked there a couple of months we realized that his glowing reference was his cousin whom he had briefly worked for. We couldn’t trust him after that.
Selling yourself in thirty seconds or less
According to Wikipedia, “An elevator pitch (or elevator speech) is a brief overview of an idea for a product, service, or project. The pitch is so called because it can be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride (say, thirty seconds or 100–150 words).” Elevator pitches developed during the Internet boom as a way for venture capitalists to quickly weed through all of the ideas they were being pitched. It’s a great exercise to apply to both yourself and your business.
We all know you get only one chance to make a first impression, so it makes sense to spend some time perfecting your elevator pitch. When you’re out and about, on a business trip, at an industry function, or even a media interview, a strong and practiced elevator pitch will make an excellent first impression.
To craft an exciting elevator pitch, answer the following five questions: • What is my skill, talent, service, product, company, or cause? • What problem do I solve (or what demand do I meet)? • How am I different? • Why should you care? • What do I want from you?
An elevator pitch will also be helpful at networking events, or when selling new ideas to management, approaching a potential mentor, pitching a new client, or running into the CEO in the actual elevator!
It sounds easy, but takes some time and thought to perfect. After all, you have to answer all of these questions in one paragraph. We’ve had a hard time perfecting our elevator pitch for a couple of reasons: we hate to sound like we’re bragging and we’ve got two businesses going and found it tricky to articulate both businesses. When we would share our reluctance with other businesswomen, we got some universally good advice: “Get over it!”
As to which pitch to share, know your audience. Let’s assume we’re meeting a potential client at an industry event. In the food world, our elevator pitch goes like this:
We’re partners in YC Media, a boutique public relations firm specializing in generating media placements for food-focused businesses, including products, talent, books, and retail. In the past six years we’ve quadrupled our billings, and worked with some of the biggest names in food, securing regular appearances for them on national television and in major publications. We are targeting our growth only on properties where we can generate consistent media results, and we think your project would be a good fit for us. Can I schedule an appointment to present our qualifications?
In our new sales parlance it works this way: to the new prospect, this elevator pitch effectively describes who we are — “partners” — which is important because the prospect knows they are meeting the decision-makers in a “boutique public relations firm” (that says we’re small, we do PR, and there are a few more employees) that “specializes in generating media placements” (we’re not big events people or promotions people, we generate media placements) for “food-focused businesses” (we specialize in one industry, not like many of our competitors who are generalists). We illustrate our track record and explain where we excel and let them know they are a target of potential business. And then we ask for a follow-up meeting.
Reprinted from "THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO KICKING YOUR CAREER INTO GEAR: Valuable Lessons, True Stories, and Tips for Using What You’ve Got (A Brain!) to Make Your Worklife Work for You" by Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio © 2008. Reprinted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.