How To Become a Better Salesman

To become a better salesman, you need to always be making incremental improvements.  To become a better salesman, you must not be satisfied with maintaining sales.  If you are like me, you want to be constantly improving and closing more sales and deals.

Many years ago, my company was closing my department but they offered to put me in another department on straight commission sales.  I was extremely worried about losing my salary and bonus cushion.  I viewed it as a safety net but was also confident in my abilities.  I was recently married, bought a house, and needed to make sales …fast.

Fast forward a couple years later and I made partner in the firm because of my tremendous and consistent sales.  My sales went up like a hockey stick and I was outperforming most people who worked there for decades.  There are so many factors that went into my success.

I don’t have 3 keys to success, I have 22 ways to make you a better salesperson.  Here is a list of the most important steps on how to become a better salesman.  The qualities of a good salesman have proven to work for me.

1. Stand and Smile When You Call

Stand and smile when you call - FrugalRealityWhen you speak to a prospect, you want to convey energy through the phone.  If you’ve been sitting in your chair all day, it’s cloudy and rainy, then you’re not going to sound exciting on the phone.  If you stand up and smile, your prospect will feel the energy and be more engaged.  I highly recommend a wireless headset and an adjustable height desk.

2. Know Their Birthday

After a few conversations, try to be a little sneaky about finding out their birthday.  Say something like, “This weekend I’m going to a birthday party on XYZ Day (holiday depending on the time of the year).  I cannot believe how many people I know that were born on XYZ holiday.  When’s your birthday?”  I always put my clients birthday’s in my personal calendar.  Every year I either call, email, text, or send a card …no one else does it!  You will stand out.  They will likely reply back and you will have an opening to touch base and keep building a relationship.  Be a friend.

3. Send Personalized Handwritten Cards

send personalized handwritten cards - Frugal RealityI have personalized stationary at home with my name printed along the top of nicely weighted card stock.  After a very good first call or after you close a deal, you should always send a personalized thank you in the mail.  If it’s early in the sales process, be sure to attach your business card to the top of the stationary.  It’s a touch point that’s much more personal than a standard email.  Always make sure every note is personalized and not a form letter.  Find someone specific about your conversation or your client so they know you put thought into the personalized note.  If I met with 6 people in the same meeting, they all get six unique notes.  It would look terrible if they all sat next to each other and opened the exact same template thank you.

Also, send a thank you card after you make the sale expressing your appreciation.  You want them to remember you after the sale for any referrals.

4. Send Creative Corporate Gift Ideas

If your company sends holiday gifts to clients, don’t send the same stuff every other salesperson sends annually.  Everyone sends chocolate, popcorn, pretzels, and cured meats.  You will never standout and it will be tossed into the office pile of junk food.  Being from Chicago, I would negotiate with a popular Chicago deep dish company.  I would get a volume discount and spend anywhere from $2,000-$5,000 in pizzas every holiday.  I would get a call every year from excited clients saying they would fight over the pizzas in the office.  Then during the call, they would likely do some business with me which more than paid for the pizzas.  It was a tremendous ROI!  Find something unique about you, your company, or geography to send annually.  On an extra tip, send the holiday gift either very early in the season or after New Year’s so you and your item get more attention.

5. Best Prospecting Calls are Tuesday Through Thursday

Best prospecting calls on weekdays - Frugal RealityIn life, many times you have only one chance at a first impression or follow up.  You do not want to waste your opportunity.  I never cold call on Monday because the person is just getting in from the weekend, catching up on a to-do list, and Monday morning meetings and agendas; they don’t have time for salespeople.  Typically on Friday’s, they are wrapping up for the weekend, finishing work that wasn’t done during the week, or left early to golf.  There are Friday afternoon exceptions where you can get lucky where they pick up their phone out of boredom and actually give you their undivided attention.

6. Call When you Have the Right Hook  

Make the initial call when you completely know your target client and how you can help them.  If you cannot add value, then they have no reason to leave their current salesperson or waste their time with you.  Many potential sales prospects are lazy and don’t want to change because it will be too much work.  Don’t waste time reaching out to people who you can’t help.  Make targeted calls.  I literally sat on a client’s name and phone number for over three months until I had a financial product I knew they specifically were interested in buying.  I called him up saying I was selling “X” financial product and he was blown away because he was actually looking for it.  We did our first business transaction on the spot.  It was worth the wait.  They were a great client for well over a decade later including the biggest order in my career.

7. High-Performing Salespeople are Passionate

I was in the securities industry and my “line” of products varied from day-to-day.  I almost always made the sale when I was passionate about the product.  I wasn’t selling to make a sale.  I was selling because I believed in the product.  Make the client believe you are passionate and love what you are doing and selling.  It will make you a happy person at work and in your life.  Believe in what you are selling.  Take pride in yourself and your work.

8. Put Yourself Second and be Honest

Over time, cold calls become clients and client become friends.  No matter if it’s a family friend, my best friend, marginal friend, or a client, I never want them to make a bad purchase.  There were occasions when a client would make a bad investment through me and I literally felt worse than the client.  I took the loss or underperformance of the asset worse than they did.  Having a client succeed and make money is a win-win for both of us.  There is no “I” in Team!

9. Competition is Healthy

I was a server at a restaurant throughout college.  As I told the interviewer at the securities firm, sales are sales, just with a couple more zeros on the product, I’m selling.  Every month or quarter, I would “chase” a salesperson who had higher sales than me.  Shadow and learn from the best salespeople around you.  Learn how your teammates handle a successful sales call.   In every restaurant I worked in, I ultimately become the top salesman, consistently.  Set attainable targets.  Form an effective sales strategy template and path to your next step.

10. Be Communicative and Available

I am shocked at how long it takes some people to reply to a client.  I cannot count the number of times I have called people to buy a product or service and they take an unreasonable amount of time to call back.  Even if you are busy or traveling, reply back with something so the client knows you received the message and will be getting back.  Don’t give them a reason to call someone else and build a relationship elsewhere.  There were times I went to my office kitchen to make lunch, came back to see a missed call, and by then, the client made a purchase from someone else.  Timing is everything.

11. Learn from Rejection

Yes, sometimes it is them and not you.  But, figure out why they said no.  Conduct a personal call review.  Did you call someone who doesn’t need what you’re selling?  Were you too pushy and salesy?  Did you not convene the benefits of your product and how it could help them?  Did you not ask for the sale at the appropriate time?  All rejected sales are minor setbacks but make them a learning experience.  Learn how to handle rejection in sales from your successes, mistakes, and failures.

12. Use Sales Prospecting Tools

Nowadays, there is a tool for every part of the sales process.  As the old sales success quote goes, “Work smart and not harder.”  Here is a short list of sales tools I’d recommend:

  • Email customization – Gmass
  • Email tracking – BananaTag
  • CRMHubspot is free
  • Calendar – Fantastical
  • Notes on your smartphone and PC to sync

The greatest salesman in the world use processes to optimize efficiency.  It doesn’t always require technology in every facet of your work, but it helps.  Technology will help keep you organized, create a sales strategy template, and know your pipeline and where you stand in your goals.

13. To-Do List on Sticky Notes

To do list on sticky notes - Frugal RealityIt’s the complete opposite of using technology, but I start and end each day with a fresh yellow square sticky note.  I write down the things I didn’t complete today and the things I need to do tomorrow.  Throughout the day I will continuously be crossing off and adding to my list.  Most days I would put the sticky note in my pocket on my way home and add to it.  I know, that’s why people have Notes on their iPhone or Evernote on their smartphone.  I can ignore that, but it’s hard to ignore a physical piece of paper staring at you wherever you go.

14. Ask for Referrals in Sales

According to Texas Tech, a study found that 83% of consumers are willing to refer a friend after a positive sales experience, but only 29% do it.  Every time I was in a client’s office, I would ask them if I was missing anyone local or in their industry that would be interested in my product.  All your clients go to the same outings and conferences.  They all know each other.  I would literally list all the local guys I was visiting and ask them who I’m missing.

As them for help.  It will make them feel important.  When I provided the list of my current clients and prospects, they felt obligated to fill in the holes.  Ask if I could use their name when you cold-called their referral.  If not, for some reason, I would still cold call and name drop some of the other local guys I last visited.  It can’t hurt.  You look credible if an associate or competitor of theirs welcomed me in their office.

15. Know your Product and Create a FAQ

Become an expert about your product.  Use the product.  When I worked in restaurants, I always ate the specials.  If I like it, I could easily describe it and sell it on my excitement.  On the other hand, I was overly honest and told customers what was just okay.  I never want to sell something that’s just okay.  They won’t be happy, they won’t tip me, and I won’t get repeat customers.  In almost all cases, they expressed respect for me because no server ever tells them what to avoid on the menu.  My wife knows it drives me crazy when a server tells me “everything is good on the menu.”

Tell customers you are proud to use it and be associated with it.  No matter what I’ve sold, there are always the same common questions.  It could be a few common questions or it could be several pages depending on the complexity of your product.  Know the questions and know the answers.  Better yet, create a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document for new customers.  I have known some salespeople to provide it ahead of the first meeting so their first call goes into a deeper dive of the product or service.  It can make the sales process go smoother and faster.  Use the FAQ to cover the common sales objections and rebuttals.  It may also weed out prospects and save you both time.  There are also some salespeople who provide it after their initial meeting.  It will depend on your specific product.

16. Identify Customer Pain Points and Needs

Do research before your first contact.  As they say, “You only have once to make a first impression.”  You need to know why they need your product or service.  Does your product offer more than a competitor?  Will your product make them more efficient?  Will your product save them money in the long-run?  They are using a similar competitors product or service but yours is cheaper?  Can you provide better customer service or higher satisfaction than a competitor?  Why should they pick up the phone when you call and buy from you?  If you can’t think of a good reason, then don’t call them or find something that will benefit your prospect.

17. You Work for Yourself

To do list on sticky notes - Frugal RealityYour career is your career and reputation.  Don’t let your employer or client ever make you do something dishonest or disingenuous.  I’ve had employers that want me to exaggerate or dismiss my values as a person and family man.  I’ve had employers push me to push my client at an uncomfortable pace.  Don’t act desperate and approach a customer with the need to make a sale, immediately.  Don’t let them do it to you.  Most customers are smart enough to know when someone is being honest with them or trying to just make a sale.  I’ve worked at small to medium-sized businesses my whole life.  All you have is your reputation to get someone to pick up the phone and buy from you.  I’ve never worked at an industry powerhouse and conglomerate where my clients had no choice but to buy from me.  It’s a small world and you can’t hide from a bad reputation forever.

18. Be Appropriately Dressed When you Meet Clients

Be appropriately dressed when you meet clients - Frugal RealityFind out your prospects dress attire and dress just slightly better than your prospect.  You want to be well groomed, professional, and respectful, but you want to be relatable.  When I started traveling for sales in 1999, everyone was wearing suits.  My primary territory was on the west coast.  Over the years I very slowly started dressing down as clients got more casual.   I went from suit to sportscoat and tie, to just sportscoat, to khakis, to jeans with sportscoat, to nice jeans and button down.  The problem was, my west coast clients viewed the New York $1000 suit salespeople as stuffy and egocentric.  I wanted to be relatable and build a relationship as their friend.  On the other end of the spectrum, if you are flying to New York to raise money at an investment bank, then you should likely wear a suit.  Know your audience.  Even Jamie Dimon, CEO of Chase, has been seen lately attending conferences and presenting without a tie to relate to his audience.

19. Prepare for Small Talk Topics

Don’t be the typical person who speaks about “the weather” during downtime with your client.  Don’t wing your conversations.  If you know they like sports, do some research and have them talk about their team.  If they have a family, ask about their kids and family trips planned.  Personalize the conversation so you can find a common bond between you and your client.  The best salespeople focus on evaluating clients personalities and making adjustments along the way.  Come prepared with small talk ideas.

20. Everyone is Special

Don’t ever dismiss or ignore any touchpoint within your customer’s firm.  Always be polite to the admin because they are usually the first line of defense between you and your prospect.  Never discount a subordinate who works under your potential buyer.  More times than not, when your client leaves the firm, is on vacation, or retires, that person is the next in command either temporarily or permanently.  They will always remember who was nice to them when they were climbing the ladder and number two, and who treated them like garbage.  People change positions or move on all the time.  Very few companies and roles are static.

21. Always Under Promise Over Deliver

It is common in every industry for salespeople to overpromise and under deliver.  Don’t overstate the value of a service or product.  Heck, it almost seems cultural nowadays.  Tesla has been promising X amount of cars produced for years and rarely ever reaches their goal.  The media points it out all the time and doesn’t believe Elon Musk.  Clients are not stupid.  They know reasonable expectations vs getting a hyped up pitch of promises.  Do what you say you’re going to do and build in a cushion or set expectations from the beginning.  There are always setbacks, so let your client know immediately and how you plan to fix it.  Their business is likely revolving and scheduled based on your delivery dates.  It’s a domino effect.  You will be much more respected in the end for honesty.

22. Always Learn and Grow

While I was a server in the late 1990s, I was always going to the library and checking out cassette tapes how to become a better salesman.  Not only did I want to learn about sales, but I listen to books about business, biographies about my industry, and self-help books.  I spent a couple hours in the car every day and instead of listening to the same songs over and over, I was growing as a person.  Nowadays, there no excuses with podcasts, audiobooks, and smartphones.  Here are a few suggestions:

Your training in sales or as a person should never end.  Read industry magazine and article; stay current on trends.  Learning is an ongoing process throughout life.

In Sum

Why do you want to become a better salesman?  What motivates you?  Are you motivated by money?  Do you get a high when you close a sale?  Do you like the hunt and super competitive with yourself and coworkers?  Are you motivated to improve someone else’s life when they purchase your product?   Does your product make the world a better place?

It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert.  Though, you need to be flexible and be able to switch between introvert and extrovert sales behavior.

My former employer was always happy to hear when a salesperson was buying a house or getting married.  He knew that salesperson needed to be a better salesman to support their dreams.

How will you become a better salesman?  Please share your thoughts below.