What comes to your mind when you think of the word, “sales”?
If you have a repugnant or holier-than-thou attitude, can I humbly suggest that we are all in the business of sales? Every situation that requires us to convince, persuade and shift people from a state of inaction to action is quite simply… sales in action. This goes to your job interviews, pushing for an internal sponsor or proposal for a project you’re mooting, winning new client accounts to even… getting on your knees to propose!
This article is written for the Millennial who is required to sell to your management or clients who may be decades older than you, on a business-to-business (b2b) level. Or you could be seeking out mentors for advice or sponsorship. Some of them could well be senior enough to be your parents (or even grandparents). There are of course, exceptions, to some of the advice I will be sharing but these advice have been learnt through my personal experiences selling to senior executives as well as crowdsourced from fellow Millennials in business.
1) Do Your Homework
Just as you would prepare for a test in college, you need to be aware that meeting a potential prospect is also a test for you. He is testing whether you and your company are worthy of investing his time and resources in. So never ever come unprepared.
So this begs the question – what do you prepare for, exactly? At the risk of being exhaustive, you minimally need to come aware about your prospect’s company, their typical pain points, business profile and model etc. On top of that, my usual Modus Operandi (MO) is to review their LinkedIn profile and find out about their career trajectory, academic history and gain a preliminary grasp of this person’s attitudes and personality even before we meet. If it’s an important pitch or meeting, I will hop on a call with people I know who are associated with them. Or potentially, ask for introductions to people who are.
Tell-tale signs on their LinkedIn profile or other publicly available information – the words they use in their summary statements, history of achievements, how they have been described by people who wrote them recommendations and in in the media, social causes they support, groups they are subscribed to, personalities they follow, books they read.
You may not want to or have to mention them all when you meet – but having these information at the back of your mind does give you more assurance and the ability to build relevance and rapport, than not.
2) Respect And Honour Their Time
There are no two ways around this. And for a senior prospect, there is nothing quite as frustrating as meeting a younger person who can’t make up his mind about the objectives of the conversation, comes unprepared (see previous point) and is being all self-entitled.
My first job out of accounting college was in Sandler Training, a global sales training company. It was the first proper full-time job I’ve ever taken on before I started my own consultancy. But it’s probably also the best career decision I’ve made as a fresh graduate.
When you’re meeting a prospect for the first time, be sure to set up Upfront Contracts (UFCs). They are verbal contracts that are set out ahead of any conversation to ensure that both parties are clear about the different parameters and objectives of the conversation so there’s no “mutual mystification”.
Quite simply, these are the five points –
· The purpose of the meeting, contact or future action.
· The prospect/client’s agenda for the meeting and his or her expectations of the sales professional before and during the meeting.
· The sales professional’s agenda for the meeting, and his or her expectations of the prospect before and during the meeting.
· The date, location and duration of the meeting.
· The expected outcome of the meeting or interaction.
You will realize all, if not most, of these points make up for good management of professional meetings and conversations as well. The reason why corporations are wasting hundreds of hours on meetings every day is because these pointers are not adequately communicated upfront and agreed upon by everyone, hence, the term Upfront Contracts.
3) Don’t be a Wuss
I say this not with a derogatory attitude or from a space of arrogance. I get you – we may be young, we may be Asians (hence the need to respect our elders and embrace our Confucian ideals. Yes, generalizing here) or we may have little or no experience. But when you do land an opportunity with a senior prospect, the worse thing you can do to fudge this opportunity is to think you don’t deserve it. Or on the other extreme, you fawn over them excessively by putting them on a pedestal.
Having not just negotiated 5 and 6 figure business opportunities and sold to prospects twice my age and beyond, I’ve also been the personal coach to several senior executives where I had to be more directive and assertive than them, at times. I’ve likewise also authored a book featuring 12 Asian CEOs from companies like Bain & Co., Mondelez International, LinkedIn when I was a graduate with a limited network. So I’ve had some experiences engaging and dealing with people of authority and influence.
What typically appeals to and is a pre-requisite of being a senior executive and leader is command and control. So if you are dealing with a prospect who is highly accomplished and assertive, you have to get into the ballpark with them. It doesn’t mean that you should be rude with them but you need to stand in your own power and in the knowing that you (or your company) has immense relevant value to offer. Otherwise, why even have the conversation or engagement in the first place?
Hence for every touch point you have with them -- be respectful but yet also, take charge and assume responsibility of the interactions. Weed out wishy-washiness in terms of your actions and language.
4) BONUS – Create A Sense of Insurance For Them
The reason why people invest in insurance is that they know they will be protected in the case of an emergency or calamity. It’s like paying to have a peace of mind.
In the same fashion, you need to know as your senior prospects are investing time, energy and subsequently, precious resources in and with you… they are assuming a certain level of risk. Quite simply put, their propensity to invest in and with you is inversely proportionate to the perceived risks they have about you or your company. When you create a strong sense of insurance against potential eventualities they like to avoid (like loss of time, financial resources, reputation etc.), you inadvertently lower their perceived risks.
So how can you go about lowering their perceived risks and create a strong sense of insurance?
Firstly, know your work well and be honest with what you don’t. This revolves around the first point and senior prospects with their years of experience can size you up in moments and tell if you are a bluff, or not. Secondly, present third-party proof to your prospects. Social proof like having your insights featured on the media and industry publications, authoring a book, sharing third party endorsements by reputable organizations and individuals, being awarded accolades from leading and objective bodies all help. Last but not least, provide guarantees for non- or lacklustre performance in your agreements or lower the barriers to commit by giving them trials or subsidized pricings for a start. In fact, these advice applies to selling, in general too.
Question: If you’re a Millennial in a selling or business development role or you are constantly pitching ideas, products and services to parties who are older and more experienced than you, do share with me what has worked for you!