Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with @JillKonrath. Jill Konrath is the author of the new book, #AgileSelling, which will be out next week. It’s all about how to get up to speed quickly in a constantly changing sales world. For more info, visit www.jillkonrath.com
SmallBizLady: Most entrepreneurs are idea people with tons of energy to turn their dreams into a reality. They don’t see themselves as a salesperson or even like selling. What’s your advice?
Jill Konrath: To be successful as an entrepreneur, you can’t abdicate selling. You need to commit to leaving as little as possible to chance. Just like any other part of your business – financial, supply chain, products or the delivery of your services. The more you know, the higher your chances of success. And, sales can be learned. It is not a God-given trait. Instead, it’s a skill that can be learned – just like balancing a check book.
SmallBizLady: What are the biggest mistakes you see entrepreneurs making with sales?
Jill Konrath: #1: They think they know what sales is, but they have a totally wrong, outdated version of it stuck in their brains. It is not about being a hawker at a tradeshow or a 6 pm telemarketer who interrupts dinner.
#2: They get totally overwhelmed with it and don’t even know where to start. It’s this overwhelm that makes things worse. They’re literally spinning and doing everything badly because so much is on their mind.
#3: They hire people to help them sell, but give them no direction. So they fail. It’s a costly mistake.
SmallBizLady: What do you recommend entrepreneurs do then, when it’s time to hire a salesperson?
Jill Konrath: The first thing they need to do is educate themselves about what sales really is today. They have to get those horrible images out of their head. My earlier books, SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies are great resources for that. Or they can check out all the free resources on my website: www.jillkonrath.com/sales-resources.
When they do, they’ll realize that sales is simply about helping customers achieve their objectives. When you “get that”, it changes your entire approach. You stop pushing entirely. You focus in on learning about their business, needs, issues and goals.
Then you have to think about how to help them understand that changing will be worth it. Again – no pushing; just education, conversations and questions. But all that requires skills that many entrepreneurs don’t possess yet. They’re still learning themselves.
SmallBizLady: Learning new stuff can be paralyzing. How do you get over the fear of selling?
Jill Konrath: Believe me, I know the feeling. I was once so scared that I actually fainted on a sales call – right in the lobby. As they say, I had to pick myself off the floor and keep moving forward. We’re all afraid of failing, looking stupid, saying the wrong thing, losing opportunities. In #AgileSelling, I share 4 mindsets that help you deal with this, but I’ll just focus on one now.
Agile Mindset 3: Reframe Failure. This is crucial. Turn all your failures into valuable learning experiences. When you goof, say to yourself, “Mmm, clearly I haven’t learned that yet.” You don’t beat yourself up. You learn from it.
Then, you analyze what happened, where things started going bad, how you responded. And finally, you start looking for alternate ways to handle things. Learning how to handle this fear is crucial. It keeps you in the game till you actually get better.
SmallBizLady: You’re assuming that people who don’t know how to sell will figure it out on their own. What do you suggest business owners do if they’re stumped?
Jill Konrath: In Chapter 57 of #AgileSelling, I talk about “borrowing a brain.” It’s a strategy I used all the time when I was starting out. I’d think of someone who was a whole lot smarter than me about sales, and ask myself questions like: “What would Jim Farrell say went wrong? How would he have handled things?”
It was amazing what happened. By switching the focus off my own limitations – and borrowing Jim’s brain – I came up with new ideas.
Actually, I borrow lots of different people’s brain when I’m stumped. I’ve borrowed the brains of Steve Jobs, Tiger Woods, even my mother – who was well known for her common sense. We’re actually much smarter than we think!
SmallBizLady: In #AgileSelling, you talk about the importance of role models. But your advice is very different from most.
Jill Konrath: Everyone tells you to pick aspirational role models – entrepreneurs who have really made it like Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg or Tory Burch.
But the reality is, they’re too far along in their career and impossible for an early stage entrepreneur to emulate. Instead, we need to focus on people who are slightly ahead of us. When I first started my own company, it was Beth who I emulated. She’s started her own business about 18 months earlier. I kept saying, if Beth can make it, so can I. It was like a mantra I kept repeating – whenever I’d be nervous about my chances of being successful.
Then, when I passed that initial stage, I picked a new role model – again, someone whose business success was within my reach. I’ve done this my entire career. And, research shows it’s most effective, because it feels doable. Also, the people I picked as role models, never knew even knew their role in my success. I just watched them, talked to them, learned from them and grew to their level.
SmallBizLady: In #AgileSelling, you highlight seven rapid learning skills. Can you give us an overview?
Jill Konrath: If you want to get good at something really fast, you need to tackle the subject matter or the skill in a specific manner. First thing, you absolutely need to DUMP things out of your brain. Never, ever try to remember things. Why? Because, your brain jumps back and forth between the old and new stuff and gets all clogged up. Before you tackle any learning, take some time and dump out everything that’s swirling around in your brain. When you unclog it, your retention goes up and you get smarter & better much faster.
SmallBizLady: I was impressed with the rapid learning strategy that you called Chunking. Can you expand on that?
Jill Konrath: When you’re learning something new, like selling, you can’t do it all at once. It’s simply too confusing. So you need to break it into subsections – CHUNKS – first. Doing this also helps you create a mental filing system so that you can find things later. For example, selling skills can be broken into chunks such: prospecting, opportunity development, negotiation, presentations and account management. Again, that’s way too much to learn at once. So the best way to get proficient is to SEQUENCE them and pick the one you need to learn first.
In this case, it’s prospecting – because without prospects everything else is irrelevant.
Then, you can break prospecting down into chunks such as: customer research, leveraging LinkedIn, emails, phone messages or networking. Plus, you might also have to add in technology – like a CRM system. Each one of these topics is much easier to learn when you’re focused on it. One thing at a time; not the whole enchilada. That’s how your brain works best. Dig in, learn it and then move to the next topic.
SmallBizLady: In your book you emphasize the power of deliberate practice. What exactly do you mean by that?
Jill Konrath: Any time you’re learning something new; at first you’re not good at it. You’re uncomfortable. It feels wrong. You’re struggling for words. When you take those feelings into a sales situation, there’s no way you can be focused on the customer. You’re way too self-conscious.
So you have a choice. You can do it live, for the first time in front of a customer – and most likely blow it. Or, you can practice it ahead of time so you can increase your proficiency.
Here’s a simple thing to practice – the answer to “Tell me, what does your company do?”
At first, you probably are a mush mouth, talking mumbo jumbo about all sorts of things. That’s guaranteed to turn prospects off. But if you practice, first by yourself and then with others, you have a much better chance of sounding reasonably intelligent.
Plus you can fine tune it so that it’s focused on the value the customer gets from working with you, versus what you sell. Same thing with phone messages, objections you keep running into, presentations you give. Deliberately practicing before you do something is the ONLY way to get better faster. Unless of course, that’s not your goal.
SmallBizLady: Do you really believe that anyone can be taught to sell?
Jill Konrath: Yes. Agile learning is a metaskill – which means it’ll help you be successful in a gazillion different situations. In #AgileSelling, I show people how to apply it to sales – so they can get up to speed faster than they would by doing things their normal way.
Personally, I think it’s the most important book I’ve ever written. Why? Because short-term success is the key to long-term success. And, #AgileSelling shows you how to be successful faster. Plus, our business environment is constantly changing. We need to be adept, nimble, and able to turn on a dime. That’s what my book is all about.
SmallBizLady: #AgileSelling is available May 29th. How can people take advantage of some special bonuses if people get it by that date?
Jill Konrath: I’ve prepared a JumpStart Guide for Agile Selling that’s only available for preorders. And, people will also get access to three interviews I did with leading experts. They’ll get key info on critical sales topics: motivation, collaboration, leveraging insights and more. All they need to do is send their receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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