Three Keys to a Successful Sales Career

I’d like to give some advice to anyone looking to get into sales, especially technical sales.  I highly recommend it.  I’m not a millionaire and I haven’t invented any sales methods.  But I’ve made a very good living for myself following some basic principles in sales.  I have generated more than $3 million dollars personally in the last 12 years.  This is why I’ll speak to sales and not money management.

First off, a little background on me, to set the stage.  I got into sales as an “I can do that” type of opportunity.  I started out in technical support, moved into a sales engineering role (keeping the sales guys honest) and had an opportunity to take my own region and prove I could do the job.  I never looked back, and it was the single best decision of my life.

People buy from people (they like)

This one assumes what most salespeople already know – that we deal with humans, and humans like to deal with people they like.  This doesn’t mean that you can be likable and get away with murder – you can’t – but you can be the smartest guy in the room, and if no one likes you, you can’t give away your ideas.

Being successful in sales is all about relationships – the ones you form with people naturally or forced.  A few quick comments around the new generation.  You absolutely cannot build solid relationships around text messages and email.  You have to build these relationships in person, looking eye to eye, over a meal, preferably with refreshments.

Humility, humbleness, and conservatism

Along with item #1, even the most successful salesperson needs to not flaunt it in front of prospects or existing customers.  It’s a cold reminder that you got wealthy off their money.  This means no flashy things – cars, cuff links, watches, etc.  Save those for when you go out with friends, not sales calls.  One exception is sales training – I worked in a channel business, and when training other salespeople, you have to show that you are successful.  So the Rolex would come out, but not a gaudy one, just a simple one.  There is no place for ego in sales.  I see it all the time, but the really great salespeople, the ones who make shitloads of money, are able to turn their ego off.  I’m sure they stand in front of the mirror and tell themselves how great they are – and you can too, that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is what the customer thinks of you.


You absolutely must add value.  An empty suit doesn’t get far in today’s educated consumer world.  Customers can Google as well as you can, so you must have deeper knowledge that can help them solve problems.  See yourself as a consultant.

Know your product.  I used to always say, “Don’t tell me what it does, tell me what it doesn’t do.”  I’d want to know these details so I knew where the line was when I was trying to sell an idea to a customer.  There’s a lot of interaction that starts with “what if…” or “we want to…” and knowing what your product can and can’t do keeps you out of trouble. Unless you’re fortunate enough to be in one of those industries where you sell your product, and it takes years for the customer to actually start using the product in production (ERP systems) the rest of us have to worry about actual implementations.

Don’t confuse selling and installing

Along the lines of the previous bullet point – you can’t focus too much during the sales process with the issues of implementation.  You can’t be too transparent about issues your product has that won’t show up until implementation.  This is a very difficult concept for some people.  It’s a thin ethical line – but your job as a salesperson is to sell the product.  I used to run into this because I came from the technical side of the house and knew how the product worked.  I had to bite my tongue when the conversation would come around to things that might be an issue after the sale.  This has never bitten me because once you get through the sales process, issues can be mitigated and usually don’t even rear up again.  The idea is, don’t expose the dirt too soon.

A word about sincerity

Through everything you do in sales, you must be sincere.  This means your attitude in a sales role isn’t one of “getting one over” on your customer.  You want to help your customer solve a problem because you want them to buy more in the future as well.  It’s common knowledge (and common sense) that selling to an existing customer is easier than getting a new one.  That is if they are a happy customer.

The point I’m trying to make is, you have to be sincere about helping your customer and solving their problems.  If you do, you will earn repeat business. Plus, a lot of companies are moving to subscription models, which means your customer can fire you at any time, it’s not like it used to be where you could sell a perpetual license and five years of support and maintenance and walk away.  A customer on a monthly, quarterly or annual subscription will need ongoing support, and I’m not talking about technical support, I’m talking about the same thing that got you the deal in the first place.

One of my mentors early on used to tell me, “Everyone just needs a little love.”  He was right, everyone wants to feel special, feel wanted, loved and appreciated.  If you can figure out how to feed that need, success will follow.


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