Whether you are interviewing for a job or are an established CEO, the ability to sell is critical to every career and beyond.
"Selling is a life skill," said Jason Patel, the founder of Transizion, a college prep company focused on closing the opportunity divide in America. Not only does his work require making sales to a diverse range of customers, he also educates students and early-career professionals on how to use sales techniques to advance their own careers.
"Broadly, everything you do requires some sort of selling: dating, pursuing a promotion, buying a house and getting a loan, among other things," Patel said. "It's part of the human condition."
For some people, selling seems to come naturally. But if you feel panicked and overwhelmed at the thought of pitching a stranger, there's good news: Anyone can learn the techniques that make a good salesperson, and you can use them no matter where your career takes you.
1. Speak the other person's language.
Selling is all about communicating, and a large part of communicating is speaking in a way the other person can both understand and relate to.
Whether you are selling a product to a customer or an idea to your manager, you don't want to make the other person feel confused, overwhelmed or uninformed. Instead, phrase your pitch in language clear and concise enough that the other person could easily repeat it a few hours later.
"You need to speak their language," said Patel. If you can do this, he said, not only do you increase your chances of making the sale, it also makes it easier for others to spread the word about the solution you just provided. "This naturally increases your bottom line without having to spend on marketing."
As the owner of Eaton Realty Advisors and a licensed broker, Julie Eaton has closed hundreds of sales in two states. She has found that speaking the other person's language is essential for another reason: It positions you as someone they can trust and feel comfortable around. It makes you someone they can like.
"People want to work with and do business with people they like," Eaton said. "If you have loyal customers … you have them because you are likable."
2. Show what's in it for them.
In any situation where you have to persuade another person, communicating what that person will get out of the exchange is key to selling. You should be able to answer their unspoken question: "What's in it for me?"
Communicating the "what's in it for me" (sometimes referred to by its acronym, WIIFM) starts being useful as early as your first job interview, said Rafe Gomez, the author of What's in It for Me?, which focuses on using sales techniques in job interviews.
"Don't seek to sell yourself or worry about the endless number of tactics that can bog you down, like sitting correctly, shaking hands correctly, memorizing answers to questions that you think will be asked of you," he said. "Focus on detailing the solutions and benefits that you've delivered for previous employers that your prospective employer wants [or] needs, and that you can make possible if [you are hired]."
The ability to clearly articulate the WIIFMs you've achieved will stay relevant through your entire career, Gomez adds, because then you are always prepared to prove your own value.
"By keeping careful, data-based records of the WIIFMs that [you] deliver … [you're] in an excellent position to pursue and secure advancement in the company or seek a new position in a different organization."
3. Focus on benefits and solutions.
Part of understanding WIIFM is knowing not what your product is, but what it does.
"Sell benefits, not features," said Patel. "Your customers really don't care about the new bells and whistles on your product, and rightfully so. They care about how it benefits them. How will you make their life easier? Try to focus on saving them time, reducing anxiety, saving them money or increasing their happiness."
This remains true whether you're selling goods to customers or your own skills as an employee.
"What's required is … selling the solutions that you can deliver," Gomez said. "This takes the pressure off … by removing concerns about ego, cockiness and braggadocio from the process, and instead focusing on and explaining the actual data-based benefits and relief of pain points."
Whether you are speaking to a hiring manager or a customer, showing them that you can provide a solution to a pain point in their life or company will instantly make your pitch more compelling than a list of facts or features.
The ability to sell solutions and benefits, rather than features, becomes even more important if you are a manager, executive or business owner: You need to communicate that information to your team so they can communicate it to customers. Before that happens, you need to sell employees themselves on the value of your company in order to gain their energy and enthusiasm.
"With employees, you need to be clear about your buy-in," Patel said. "Committed employees lead to greater productivity, better feedback and better solutions for your customers … This leads to happier employees, managers and C-level professionals."
4. Don't push too hard.
Whether you are sitting in an interview or explaining a new product to a customer, maintaining your own sense of calm is essential. If you lose your calm and start to push too hard, you are likely to alienate the other person.
"It reeks of desperation, and customers can read that," Patel said. "The hard sell is something used only for the close. Don't seek to close if the customer isn't ready."
Maintaining your own calm and confidence without being aggressive is a hard balance to strike, especially if you are nervous or feel uncomfortable selling. But achieving that, said Eaton, comes down to mindset.
"I've met tons of salespeople in my lifetime, and I can put them in two categories: the salesperson who wants to make a sale and the salesperson that must make a sale," said Eaton. "You need to have the mindset on how to be the person who wants to make a sale."
If you have trouble maintaining that mindset, focus on the other person rather than yourself or your need to make a sale. If you try to make a genuine connection with them, you are more likely to maintain your own calm and avoid pushing before they are ready.
"They're human beings with experiences, emotions and hardships," Patel reminds the students he works with. "Be empathetic."
5. Test, tweak, and try again.
Even for people who are comfortable selling, not every pitch will land. Not every idea will be accepted by management. Not every customer will buy. Understanding and accepting that is a key part of learning to sell, as long as you are willing to try again.
"Always iterate and change," Patel said. "Keep track of what customers respond to and what you say. Test different pitches with different customers so you can find the best one that communicates how you'll solve their problems."
A willingness to keep trying new tactics is often what separates successful and unsuccessful salespeople. "Most sales are made on your fifth contact with your client; most salespeople give up after the second," Eaton said. "Keep on keeping on."
6. Believe in what you're selling.
If you feel like selling doesn't come naturally to you, you're not alone.
"I've never met a natural salesperson," Eaton said. "I've met people who love what they do, so it may seem like selling is natural to them."
"You need to think of your solution or product as something that can improve the customer's life and add value to it," Patel added. "That way, you feel genuine."
A genuine belief in what you are selling allows you to approach your pitch with confidence. Whether you are writing sales copy for a website or sitting in a boardroom, you need confidence to be convincing.
"Have passion for what you're selling," Eaton said. "If you don't believe in the service or product you are selling, no one else will."