I’ve been self-employed since I was 19 years old. I’ve managed to never work as a full-time employee for anyone else, and one of the keys to my success has been the ability to sell.
As the founder of two companies, Lead Cookie, which helps B2B sales teams generate more leads, and Outbound Creative, a consulting firm that helps agencies win their dream clients, trust me when I tell you that building a sales engine is critical to your survival in the business world. Here’s what I’ve learned about selling, and how you can start to develop your sales skills.
‘Selling’ Is Not a Dirty Word
People get stressed out when they hear the word “sales.” To so many of us, selling has a negative connotation. Change your mindset. Instead of looking at sales as trying to take someone's money, look at it as trying to help people and create a win-win relationship. Sales is just an exchange of value.
Think about a physician. If you went to your doctor and said, “I’m sick and I need to be cured," and the doctor responded, "I can't work with you because I don't want to sell to you," you would think that sounded absurd. You need what the physician has.
When I look at the services I provide to my customers, I think about how I’m helping them fix a pain point. And in exchange for fixing that pain point, they pay me money, because I have the expertise that will make them better.
Rethinking your perspective on sales is the first step to building an always-on sales engine to grow your business.
Your Business Won’t Survive Without Selling
Years ago, I had four retainer clients. Work was busy and I was happy. And then, within a span of 30 days, poof: I went from having over $10,000 dollars a month in recurring revenue to having zero revenue. All of my contracts dried up at once, and I had been doing nothing to market myself — I had no pipeline of prospects ready.
Those were dark days for me. I had to completely start over, but I learned an important lesson: If you want a successful business, you have to be a salesperson. There's no getting around it. Selling is part of working for yourself. I learned the hard way that if you don't invest time every day in selling yourself and building your pipeline, your business won’t keep moving forward.
Even if you have a retainer, don’t assume that retainer relationship is going to last forever. You always need to market yourself in case something changes or your clients walk away.
These days, I spend one or two hours every morning on marketing and sales. I like devoting my first few hours of the day, because I know that if I leave sales for later in the day, I’m sure to get distracted by deadlines and client work. Make selling yourself your first priority every single day.
Invest in Salesmanship Skills
Another reason most people hate sales is because they don’t think they’re good at it. But unlike innate talents that you’re either born with or you’re not, salesmanship can be developed. It’s a skill that you can learn.
I often see people hitting a brick wall around closing deals. They can bring in leads, but they can’t close them. But when I ask if they’re reading any books or studying sales techniques, they get very quiet. Approach sales like a student. Study it, research it, experiment with new techniques. The investment you put in could quadruple your close rates.
I’m a big reader, and I recommend adding these books to your reading list:
- First, the classic: "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. If everyone read this book, the world would be a better place, and we’d definitely all have better conversations.
- Another good book is “How I Raised Myself from a Failure to Success in Selling” by Frank Bettger.
- My third recommendation is "Million Dollar Consulting" by Alan Weiss. This book isn’t just about sales; it's about building a great solo consultancy — in fact, it’s like the Bible of running a solo consultancy.
- I also recommend Mike Michalowicz. He writes a great blog and he also has several excellent books. For example, "The Pumpkin Plan" is really good for helping you narrow your focus as opposed to just being a generalist.
Experiment with Sales Strategies
I’m still learning, too. I like to test new sales and marketing tactics all the time. I brainstorm: What are all the activities or strategies that could work? Your list might include blogging, posting on social media, going to events or trying to earn speaking engagements.
Then prioritize, choose a few of those ideas and start conducting experiments. Test something for a month or two to see if it produces any results. Your goal is not to run in a million directions, but eventually to get to two or three marketing channels that are working really well for you.
My own experiments have led to big success. I’m no longer worried that my work is going to dry up next month, because I always have one foot on the gas.