Why sales skills are important to your career, no matter what you do

The most influential business thought leaders on the planet are pretty much unanimous in their view: in their list of must-have skills, sales is right up there.

 

Understanding the sales process, and how to build long-term customer relationships, is incredibly important regardless of the industry or career you choose.

-Jeff Haden, Inc.

The ability to sell is the number one skill in business.

– Robert Kiyosaki, Rich Dad Poor Dad

Whether or not you are actually selling a product or service, you’ll probably need to sell an idea to your manager, showcase a new initiative to your colleagues or convince your superiors that you deserve a raise or a promotion. All of these involve sales skills.

– Miriam Salpeter, US News and World Report

 

Does this mean we should all run out and become sales people? No. There’s a special breed of person who enjoys and excels at carrying a bag – and they’re a minority.

But, realize it or not, you’re selling all the time.

Consider what you may have done today:

  • Negotiating with your spouse over who’s picking up the kids
  • Returning a defective clock radio to Costco
  • Getting an extension to the report you’re working on

Lets take a closer look at what you were actually doing.

You were…

  1. Responding to objections.
  2. Listening to understand.
  3. Conveying your position.
  4. Trying to determine a suitable outcome that bettered a mutual need.

Sounds like sales to me.

Anne-Mulcahy

Alright, alright, we’ve probably convinced you that a little sales goes a long way.

How do you incorporate some of these skills into your daily routine?

Think like a salesperson.

Differentiate

You’re up for a new position but know there are a number of candidates under consideration. How do you stick out? What makes you special?

If you’re a Boeing airplane salesperson you know exactly how your planes are different from those made by Airbus.

You’ve got to differentiate.

Understand what makes your skills unique and highlight them. Relate this directly to the job’s requirements. Bonus points if you know your competition, research them and can articulate your differences.

That’s what closers do.

coffee-is-for-closers

Map out conversations in advance

Good salespeople know their pitch backwards and forwards. Great salespeople know all the possible objections they could possibly encounter and have canned responses prepared for each.

If you’re entering into a discussion around an idea you’re proposing, take some time to think about all the possible concerns you might encounter, and develop a response to each. You don’t necessarily need to write each one down – simply internalize what you might say.

Nothing communicates confidence like preparedness.

Know your product

Ultimately, salespeople are conduits between one or more people who are really good at solving a specific problem (like doing home renovations or selling jets or accounting, for example) and people or organizations that have said problem and are looking for a solution in the form of a product or service.

Salespeople really, really know the problem their organization can solve. They are subject matter experts in that area.

You’re probably one too in your area of expertise.

To sell your new idea, get your team to consider a new approach or get a raise, you better know what your talking about. That means diving in and immersing yourself in the problem.

Read.

Experiment.

Speak with other experts.

Understand and become comfortable articulating the WHY of your point of view. Practice. Which brings us to…

Practice your pitch

Do sports stars hit the turf cold?

Do concert musicians jump into their set before warming up?

Nope.

The best athletes in the world don’t go on cold, so if you’re selling something, you’d better have some practice under your belt.

The higher the stakes, the more practice you should do.

Consider getting a friend involved. The best salespeople practice their pitch with a coach until its honed. You should too.

Listen. For pain.

Effective listening goes without saying. Prospects buy from people they like, and they tend to like people who listen and respect them.

When you’re selling yourself or your ideas, listen to understand. Couple this with seeking to uncover specific PAIN or needs, and you have a roadmap for positioning your perspective.

Let’s  say you’re looking to have a major project you’re leading approved – what points do you touch on?

The key issues you identified in speaking with stakeholders, right?

Their pain.

In their minds, these issues need to be addressed in order for approval. Show that these can be mitigated and you’ve made approval that much easier!

 

Meeting burn down agenda

We came across this technique chatting with a customer recently and wanted to share it  – the meeting burn down agenda (sometimes also referenced as a “burn up” agenda).

If you’re familiar with agile practices, it probably sounds familiar to the burndown chart. Allow us to digress for a brief moment…

Burn down chart

The burn down chart is used in agile projects to track work progress.

Fig4_DailyBurndown

The x axis shows time and the y axis represents work to be done. A project leader builds the burn down chart by estimating the amount of work, resources and time required to complete a bundle of tasks in order to draw a sloped line – shown above in blue. This represents the work schedule. Fortunately, there are a number of tools that do this including Excel, Google Sheets and online burndown generators.

As work begins, a new line can be plotted that represents the actual work completed, shown above with the red line. The slope and position of the red line provide actionable information regarding the project schedule. If the red line is below the blue line, the project is ahead of schedule. If the red line is above, the converse is true. In addition, a more steeply slope red line tells us the velocity of work being done.

Burn Down Agenda

The burn down agenda works in a similar fashion.

burnup2

Just like the burn down chart, the burn down agenda arranges time and agenda topics on the horizontal and vertical axis respectively. The sticky arrow shows the current time.

As the meeting progresses, the time arrow moves to the right and completed topics are moved into the corresponding time square.

burnup-twolines-300x224

Just like the burn down chart, the slope of completed topics and their relationship to an imaginary line representing an optimum meeting schedule indicates if your meeting is on time.

burnup-actual-300x224

Interested in a software based approach that accomplishes the same thing? Take a look at Trackmeet.

agenda5

 

Using our free agenda planner, you can capture all of your agenda topics and view an overall time allocation. As your meeting progresses, you get a visual sense if your topics are on schedule. Take it for a spin here.

Application

Where can you use this approach?

The burn down agenda works quite well when you need to work through a number of topics, decisions or tasks that can be formulated in advance. Workshops, brainstorming sessions or planning meetings are perfect candidates for the burn down agenda.

 

 

The Twitterverse and Meetings

People on Twitter have a special relationship with meetings.

Call it… unusual.

Maybe a little weird.

We sense a lot of love, a lot of hate, and a lot of… well, we’re not really sure.

So here you go internet, here’s our contribution to the state of meetings in the Twitterverse: a curated list of the most interesting, crazy, silly, shocking tweets we could dig up on business meetings.

Enjoy.

My sense is that meetings in the Republic are pretty structured. Poor Vader.

These are our kind of meetings. No mention of agendas though…

Disappointing because we never got an invite.

Hard to beat this meeting location. How does one take notes or action items?

What is it with Darth Vader and meetings? I can see him being an awesome board chair.

Has anyone tried the yoga meeting yet? Did it work?

Whoever holds this cup is permitted to speak in the meeting.

The good thing about office cats is that they can be assigned all the action items!

This meeting watch is actually pretty cool. Would love to know where its from.

This literally made me laugh out loud – a CIA field guide for subverting meetings. Wow.

Checked that off our list of office must-haves.

If only this weren’t true. *Sigh*

August Product News

We’re excited to announce a number of additions we’ve made to Trackmeet this month!

Checklist

We’ve included a NEW checklist item you can add to your agendas! Just tap on the blue “+” button at the bottom of your agenda to add it.

fab

You can use the checklist to assign todo’s for meeting participants or simply as a guide for what to get done.. As you check items off, the progress indicator gives you some nice feedback around completion state. Give it a try in your next meeting!

Checklist

Meeting analytics

We’ve added a weekly email that goes out to everyone who’s connected their Google or Office 365 calendar to Trackmeet. If you haven’t already done so, learn how to connect your calendar now.

Calendar already hooked up? Great, there’s nothing to do! You’ll receive this email automatically.

The email summarizes what you’ve done in meetings the previous week, and is designed to give everyone a sense for where their time is spent and with whom.

analytics

Live chat

Talk to us! We’re friendly. 🙂

Have a product question or stuck somewhere? Chat to us in real time to get a lightning fast answer. We’ve even been known to dispense Pokemon Go tips every now and then.

chat

Owner information

Wondering who created that note or checklist?

Wonder no more – we’ve added owner information to all the content you add to meetings. Action items, decisions, notes, checklists and attachments – finally, you can figure out who added what!

owners

Resource count

Last but certainly not least, we’ve added a resource count to agenda topics so that attendees can get a sense for what resides inside them! No more clicking around agenda topics to see what’s there – the resource count gives you a quick sense for what others have added.

For example, in the topic below, I’ve added 2 notes, a decision, an action item and 2 attachments.

resource-count

90% of articles written about effective meetings are a waste of time. Here’s why.

Why does every article ever written about effective meetings focus on running them? Where are all the articles on being an effective meeting attendee? 

Let’s take a look at the numbers: a 10 person meeting has 1 meeting organizer and 9 attendees. Most of the articles we’ve ever read talk about planning and running an effective meeting from the organizer’s point of view. In reality, they should be written from the perspective of 90% of the people in the meeting.

The attendees.

Inc, HBR, Forbes, WSJ – all of these publications have been pontificating about meetings from the wrong perspective, for a long time. 

If we could get 90% of the people in meetings to adhere to a few best practices, what kind of effect do you think this might have on the sorry state of meetings in America? A big one.

We’re here to reconcile this massive oversight.

This is the most comprehensive treatise we’re aware of that speaks directly to what makes for an awesome meeting attendee. Print this out, email it to your team, post it outside the meeting room door – whatever it takes to get everyone onside.

Heck, reach out to us and we’d be happy to talk to your team. The point is this – you should be spending SIGNIFICANTLY more time training meeting attendees vs. meeting organizers. More leverage = more impact.

Here we go…

Roadmaps for meetings

The meeting organizer should determine the timing, purpose and expected outcome of meetings.

Nope.

This is a throwback to the time before we had phones, email and software that allowed for collaborative planning – the meeting organizer had a free pass to determine what meetings were all about. Unfortunately, company culture, organizational hierarchy and inertia have kept this largely intact.

the-board-meeting

As an empowered meeting attendee, you should respectfully disagree.

Great meeting attendees get involved in formulating what gets done. They collaborate on the agenda (using something like Trackmeet), and actively — but supportively — question aspects of it in order to deliver the best meeting experience possible.

Just say no to meetings

That’s right, you shouldn’t be attending meetings.

Meetings that don’t have a purpose.

We see this a lot in matrixed organizations or in meetings that span departments or involve external participants – its all too easy to call a meeting with no stated purpose or agenda and where the organizer just wants to “get work done”.

no-agenda800

A great way to take the high road in cases like this is to defer to the team – you can politely refuse to attend, pointing out that its in everyone’s best interest to know what you’re trying to accomplish AND have a roadmap (agenda) for getting there.

Offer to capture tasks and notes

Lets face it, meeting organizers are pretty flustered – they’re probably juggling a few team demands, wrangling with technology, addressing a last minute addition to the agenda…

And that’s before the meeting even starts.

Throw in the responsibility to capture meeting minutes and action items and our poor organizer is going to blow a gasket (or two).

Do them a huge favor and ask them if you can do all this housekeeping for them.

Tools like these help a ton here:

And… make sure to discuss this in advance. Why? Because you need to…

Get a sense for expectations around what you’re doing. Does she want a verbose accounting for what was said? Are you to infer what action items were discussed and who they’re assigned to? Is there a specific format she likes?

Arrive on time

This goes without saying, but for the benefit of completeness, we’ve thrown this in here.

What happens when you show up late?

You waste time – a lot of it.  (Use our calculator to figure out exactly how much.)

calculator

To be exact, you waste everyone else’s time AND show a significant lack of respect. You should be called out for this IF the organizer is on her toes.

Actually follow up

Too many people readily agree to follow up on tasks assigned at meetings but never do.

You could rely on the meeting organizer to follow up with you, but you’re a sharp attendee right?

The fact is, demonstrating that you have a track record for taking the initiative to complete tasks with little or no prompting positions you as a trusted go-to for new and challenging efforts.

People who ban technology in meetings are solving the wrong problem

There are a chorus of voices in the business press, social media and on the book circuit that call for an outright ban on technology in meetings.

At first glance, this makes complete sense. Smartphones, tablets and laptops are distractions when it comes to the real purpose of meeting – getting work done.

Wrong.

Suffice it to say, people who point at technology and vilify it as the source of poor productivity in meetings have about as much credibility as the anti vaxxer crowd.

Distractions are everywhere

The fact is, the workplace has always had new and distracting technology. There’s absolutely nothing unique about the time we live in – every era that’s conducted business meetings has had something that pulls people’s attention away from the task at hand.

Get over it.

This fascinating graphic shows some of the technology that’s pervaded the modern office and brought “distraction” (some would call this productivity gain) to us all.

technology_through_years2

Let’s take a peek at some of the distractions (ahem… tools) that have made their way into our meeting rooms over the years:

  • Ballpoint pen (Uh-oh, no end to doodling in meetings. No more running to the pencil sharpener)
  • Overhead Projector
  • Telephone
  • Whiteboards and dry erase markers
  • Computers
  • PDAs (remember those?)
  • Video conferencing

So, at quick glance, there appears to be no shortage of things to keep us occupied while the rest of the team does actual work.

My point? Smartphones and tablets are simply the latest in a long line of innovations we use in the office. The fact that people are making so much noise about them is simply because they’re new AND we haven’t quite figured out how to really assimilate them into our day-to-day work. (That’s up to the millenials, right?)

“The use of technology in a meeting is kinda like jaywalking – there’s a time and a place to do it”

– Jen Sullivan, Managing Director at Charles Schwab.

If technology isn’t to blame for poor attention, then what is?

Take a long, hard look in the mirror.

It’s you.

If you’re the meeting organizer and your attendees are distracted, you’ve probably done a shitty job at making sure everyone’s engaged. You failed long before the meeting ever started.

  • You didn’t engage with stakeholders to understand how best to get them involved, BEFORE the meeting
  • Zero collaboration on the agenda in advance
  • You didn’t call on the introverts or junior members of your team
  • You didn’t create a dynamic environment that people want to be part of
  • You didn’t set any ground rules or set expectations

On the other hand, if you’re an attendee who’s distracted, why are you even in the meeting in the first place? The fact is, you should have declined the meeting invitation OR had a pragmatic discussion with the meeting organizer around your involvement. And, if in fact you’re doing work in the middle of the meeting, you might as well be working from home.

The burden lies with the technology user

Getting back to the effective use of technology in meetings. Do phones, tablets or laptops belong?

There is no right answer.

Some meetings probably shouldn’t have any technology. Think brainstorming. Think discussions. Think strategic planning.

Some meetings are perfect for using technology. Think status meetings. Think project meetings. Think sales meetings. Board meetings.

We’ve spoken to teams that run successful meetings where smartphones and tablets are permitted and an overarching theme became clear: set clear expectations around their use.

“We’re all grown ups here – I trust my team to make good decisions around the use of devices in meetings” says Jen. “But, if we need undivided attention and complete focus, I’ll make that clear from the beginning” she adds. “Anyone can be called upon at any time.”

Here’s to the continued emergence of new tools that make our work lives easier. Whatever they might be.