Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Lesson in Sales

I'm fascinated by sales people. Not because I want to be one of them -- trust me, I tried, and it was the most painful thing to ever put other people through -- but because it is one thing that I would not ever be able to learn how to do well. Yet it is so amazing watching other people do it so well.

Half of sales is making sure that other people don't hate you. There are a lot of little things that you can do to appear sincere and interested. I'm truly amazed by people who are (or appear) genuinely interested in the many people that they meet. Let's face it, most introverts would find that difficult to sustain, and expressing interest in so many things becomes very draining.

Having to sell on a day to day basis is the number one reason why I am no longer running Polychart as a company. But I am glad to have that minuscule amount of sales experience, so to be able to pay attention to certain details that would otherwise be glossed over.

For example, I sat in a sales meeting today. It wasn't really a sales meeting, but there was a sales person involved who is showing things to a group of people. There are a few things he did that I would not have thought of doing:
  1. He asked for both everyone's names and positions of everyone present and also our favourite foods.
  2. In his agenda, he included the time that the meeting is to conclude.
  3. He had a hand-out so that everyone had something physical to keep.
The first -- asking for people's names -- is a fairly obvious thing to do. As a sales person, you want to understand the structure of the company, the political climate of the company, who the decision-makers are, and who your internal "evangelist" will be. The "evangelist" will usually be one or two persons who is already sold on your idea or product, and that person will be the one rooting for you in internal meetings that you cannot attend.

Asking for a person's favourite food is not obvious, but makes sense in hindsight. You immediately form a positive association in each persons' minds, associating both you and the meeting with something they like. You also buy some time to record the more important information (like the name and position), which I used to find challenging. You also know what to buy the client for lunch or what gift cards to get them come the holiday season.

The second is also quite obvious in hindsight. Meetings often go over time. Sales meetings? Doubly so. Especially in meetings with a large group of attendees, chances are there will be someone not interested in the extra details and would want the meeting to end on time. Reiterating that you appreciate their time is a very respectful thing to do.

Finally, having a handout to give means that you can give everyone something to remember you by, a physical reminder that the meeting had happened. You are also telling everyone that they are important enough to be worthy of that thick, expensive paper. Besides, it is something that not every company will be doing, so you may appear to be more caring and supportive than the competition.

Of course, these gimmicks don't make a salesperson. But they are very interesting psychologically and it is amusing noticing these techniques being used in actual sales meetings. In technology, one of the ways to distinguish a good programmer from a mediocre one is look at their focus on getting the details right (RE: there are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors.). Maybe it is the same for non-technical professions too, but just in different ways.