Keeping Your Head Above Water in Sales

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As those seeking to move up in sales have painfully learned, it’s a hard, highly competitive world out there. College degrees and seniority don’t count for much any more. These days, you have to carefully plan every step of your career. You need to be constantly aware of where your industry is going, where and how you fit in the company, and who’s nipping at your heals—the comers who want your job, your promotion. So what can you do to ensure you’re not left behind? Some suggestions:

Make Yourself Indispensible

These days, you’re only as good as your last sale. To make yourself an indispensible rainmaker, you’ll need to find out as much as you can about the competition. Inside and outside. Inside, which salespeople consistently bring in the big sales? What techniques did they use? How often and when did they call/contact their customers? What sales aids did they use? If you’re a newbie, ask them, listen and learn. Outside, talk to potential clients and ask them who they’re currently buying from and what they like and don’t like about the products or service. Again, listen carefully and learn. Executive sales coach Keith Rosen notes that being valuable takes precedent over being important. If you’re a sales manager, you may need to roll up your sleeves and get back in the trenches to makie your numbers, even if that means making a cold call or two.

Acquire Transferable Knowledge

If your company sells a product or service, learn enough about what you’re selling to be competent, but don’t “bury yourself in product” at the expense of other transferable knowledge. In Re-careering – what are my transferable skills?, the article notes that as a salesperson, you want to develop such highly valued skills as lead generation, communication, telemarketing, customer service, “big ticket” consumer goods selling, client relations, and marketing communications. If you spend 10 years selling the same product, you’ll become typecast and pigeon-holed, and your selling skills will be honed in only one direction. So move around, sell different products and services, and acquire a broad base of skills that you can transfer to many different types of sales jobs. If you can, move around geographically. Ask to be transferred to your company’s overseas offices—in England, Japan or China. Yes, you may need to learn a foreign language in your spare time (most companies will pay for a Berlitz course). But imagine how valuable you’ll be as a salesperson who’s familiar with the economic, cultural, and political environments of a foreign market. 

Expand Your Network?

These days, more than ever, who you know can be even more important than what you know. So grow your personal relationships with peers and colleagues. Attend conferences, seminars and trade shows. Give presentations and start a blog that includes sales tips and your experiences—especially if you’ve worked overseas. Join gyms and sports clubs. Build a personal brand. Become a “known quantity.” Connect with people both inside and outside your organization. If your career path or your company has hit a dead end, exploit your contacts to segue into a new job. Should you ever get laid off, you'll want to have plenty of options. Andre W. Renna’s paperback, You'll Land On Your Feet: How Anyone Can Survive And Thrive After Job Loss stresses the importance of networking through such professional social media sites as LinkedIn and using their “Group” function to expand your reach.

To keep your head above water, you need to be indispensible, knowledgeable and continually network. This is particularly important as you get older. You don’t want to be standing in an unemployment line in your 50’s.


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