“Good Things are Rarely Cheap and Cheap Things are Rarely Good”: Thoughts On a Career in Sales
Some people possess a natural talent for sales and know from an early age that sales is the career they want to pursue. Others come into it from curiosity or are encouraged by parents, teachers, or mentors. Still others arrive in sales out of desperation because they were unable to find work doing anything else.
Whatever the case, few people who start in sales stick with it through their entire careers. Some can’t handle the inevitable rejection that characterizes the vast majority of contacts with prospective customers. Others get burned out or find their talents lie elsewhere.
Aaron Paul is one who has stuck with it and is still at it. As the Regional Vice President for sales with Advanced Technologies Consultants (ATC), Aaron has made a career out of selling the technical training curricula, equipment, software, and furniture that ATC distributes. He recently shared some of his thoughts with us on sales as a career, making the move to sales management, and the role of CRM in a high-performing sales organization.
How Aaron Ended Up in Sales
Aaron was not one of those who naturally gravitate to sales. As a mechanical engineering student at the University of Michigan, he was certain he was headed for an engineering career in the automotive industry. The idea of selling as a career was the last thing on his mind. But life has a way of upending the best-laid plans, and Aaron found himself with a new bride and no job. He needed to find something quick to earn a living.
Through an acquaintance at ATC, Aaron landed an entry-level sales position at the company. In spite of the initial struggles he experienced as he found his footing, he was surprised to learn that he enjoyed the challenge of cold-calling potential customers, understanding their needs and pain points, and finding ways to help them.
Eventually, Aaron was promoted to the regional sales VP position, adding management of a sales team to his regular sales activities. This, too, was a challenge for which he was not prepared at first, but he learned the tools of the trade and how to get the most from his team.
Fourteen years after his start, he’s still with ATC and still selling.
How to Craft a Successful Sales Career
“I don’t make the same mistake twice, but I’ve made every mistake you can make once,” says Aaron. Early in his career, Aaron’s mistakes helped him learn how to survive as a salesperson. His keys to success include:
- Longevity with one company: The stability of staying with one firm enables a sales representative to learn the company’s products better and forge stronger relationships with their customers.
- Continuous learning: Learn something new every day.
- Empathy: Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, listen first, and treat every contact as a problem-solving opportunity. “View the customer not as a dollar sign or as a potential sale, but as somebody you’re trying to help.”
Looking back over his career, one thing Aaron wishes he had known at the beginning is: “If I try to take care of the customer, the rest will take care of itself.” By approaching every sales call this way—that you’re there to address the customer’s problems—you can overcome objections to price and show the customer that a cheaper short-term solution is often more expensive in the long run than a more expensive short-term option. “Cheap things are rarely good, and good things are rarely cheap,” says Aaron.
Moving Into a Sales Management Role
Moving into a sales management role has its own challenges. One is expanding your view beyond your own territory and customers to see the big picture from a company perspective. Another is overcoming the impulse to solve every problem your team members bring you, in addition to your own problems.
An important way to overcome this impulse, says Aaron, is having a solid understanding of the types of problems that only you are qualified to address, and which types you can coach others to solve themselves.
Aaron has also learned the importance of forging strong bonds within his team. Through quarterly get-togethers, ride-alongs with individual team members, and being supportive and encouraging, he is able not only to correct performance issues but to develop a strong, mutually supportive team and get the most from his staff.
What makes a good sales manager? One of the most important characteristics, says Aaron, is humility. The mistakes you make along the way not only help you learn as a salesperson, but gives you relatable stories you can share with your team members to help them overcome their own mistakes. Sharing these lessons shows them that you’re humble and vulnerable, but not weak.
The Role of CRM In Good Sales Teams
Aaron’s experience with CRM systems is typical of that of many sales organizations. He describes it as a “love-hate relationship.” Although the idea of CRM is compelling, doing the work of setting up a CRM is daunting. This organizational inertia is a major hurdle to overcome, but its worthwhile because of the immense benefits to the sales team.
ATC has recently found itself in the process of switching to a new CRM solution. The existing one is not being used effectively because it was chosen with little regard to the company’s actual needs and strategies. He’s hopeful that a more robust selection process and a commitment by upper management to make it work will result in a more successful implementation.
Aaron’s definition of a successful CRM implementation is one that “accurately represents who our customers are and what products our customers currently have, so we can use that data to help with our marketing strategy.”
Aaron finds that sales has more in common with engineering than he expected when he was first starting out. “I realized that sales at its heart is problem solving. If you’ve got a good product, then what sales is, is you’re taking a person who needs that good product, and you’re providing that product to them.”
You can find Aaron on LinkedIn. To learn more about the importance of a well-designed and properly implemented CRM to a sales team’s problem-solving capabilities, contact Empellor CRM today.