Being able to sell is a skill.
You know this if you’ve ever tried working in sales.
My first efforts working in a sales capacity were slow.
There were no management structures in place in that small startup to support me, train me, or guide me.
I was going it solo.
There was a lot to learn and, in a role which thrives on confidence, a lot to be anxious about.
Learning the basics of how to sell is important even if you feel you have the natural skills to do well in the area.
For me, learning the basics of the trade came from a little book. A little red book. Jeffery Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling, to be precise.
After recommending our audience Gitomer’s text in my best sales books roundup post, I managed to sit down with our best selling author and sales champion to explore the craft.
In this Process Street post, we’ll cover:
- To learn how to sell, you have to learn to communicate well
- The Little Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness
- How to make sure you get things done
- Build your personal brand and support it with social media
- How to use humor as an effective tool
- How to understand what’s required for sales leadership
To learn how to sell, you have to learn to communicate well
The interview starts as Jeffrey pulls away from the busy room where work is ongoing to settle down in a study. The wall behind him is lined with books. He cracks a joke as he kicks off the conversation.
In many interview environments, you expect as the interviewer to be responsible for guiding the conversation and keeping it moving.
In the first interview I ever conducted, with the then UK Defence Secretary John Hutton, 18-year-old me gave a masterclass in how not to conduct an interview. My nerves shone through as the experienced politician batted away my questions and gave short sharp responses to the things he wanted to answer.
In that instance, Lord Hutton had put the onus on me to drive the conversation and a combative stance had formed. With Gitomer, it was a wholly different experience.
Before I began with any questions, I was already on the receiving end.
I was asked where I was based, and replied: “Seville, in the south of Spain”. Cue an anecdote about having visited Seville; being charged a parking fine back when the currency was pesetas.
He rounds off this story of how beautiful Seville is with: “I tried to find a barber, but I couldn’t find one”. A little opera buffa humor which would set the tone for the rest of the interview.
The interview was subverted somewhat as I wasn’t throwing questions at a subject, but answering questions about myself, listening to anecdotes, and trading jokes. It was less of an interview and more of a conversation you might have in a bar with a friend.
You might think this all sounds sycophantic, but it’s an important theme to pick up. This familiarity, sincerity, and humor is not invented by me to provide a positive reflection of the man, but is the overarching lesson found throughout his work.
People don’t want to be sold, but they do want to buy your things. The best way to sell is not with tricks and techniques, but with humanity and humor. Make a real connection with others and they’ll want to do business with you. They will trust you. And provided you’re being sincere, they will trust you with good reason.
Becoming a good salesperson, for Gitomer, appears to be aligned with the traits of becoming a good person.
But equally, making the person you’re with feel comfortable while holding a sense of control over the flow of the conversation is a cornerstone of good sales practice.
The Little Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness
We start off with me describing my early sales experiences and how I found the Little Red Book so useful to dip in and out of while I was learning the trade.
He asks me what I found useful from the book; how it was written and how I found it could be implemented.
I gave him my feelings about the book – that it wasn’t just sales advice, but a coaching manual which guided me and motivated me to jump into calls and meetings with confidence. One of the benefits of its broad applicability is that the advice becomes very easy to implement.
He tells me:
In the very beginning of the book, I wrote a letter to the reader and I told them that I edited out one thing from this book: all the bullshit. And that way it became very succinct and very easy, not only to understand but also to implement. I literally wrote it on purpose. Okay. And I wanted to emphasize more about why people buy than how to sell. And so each one of those chapters talks about how do we engage somebody to where they become more interested in you and they want to buy from you, rather than you trying to sell them. And that’s the simplicity of the book and that’s why it has worked over these many years. You know, the book is now 15 years old. It has sold more copies than any other book on sales in the world. And I have not edited one thing in that book since I wrote it.
That quote highlights the key aspects of Gitomer’s approach. It’s not about selling a product but about selling yourself. Making yourself someone they want to do business with.
In the age of personal branding, it’s important to remember that how you interact with others really is fundamental in terms of building connections and trust. No matter how good your social media presence, if you don’t convey your value well in a meeting with a client, that personal branding all falls away.
It’s all about face to face interaction with people and why they would want to choose you over somebody else; whether it’s where you network, or what your humor is, or how deep your belief system is, or what your attitude is. All the things that are in [the book] are designed for the salesperson to be face to face with the potential customer.
The 12.5 principles to learn how to sell
You’ll have to read the whole book to get the full actionable insights for each of these sections – and to get the extra value from the surrounding material – but to give you a brief overview, we’ll run through the 12.5 principles as an overview:
- Kick Your Own Butt – You have to be self-motivated.
- Prepare to Win, or Lose to Someone Who Is – Prepare and plan; take things seriously.
- Personal Branding is Sales; It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows You – Build your image carefully and be good at what you do.
- It’s All About Value, It’s All About Relationship, It’s Not About Price – Provide value to your clients and they’ll provide value to you.
- It’s Not Work, It’s NETwork – You have to work hard at networking
- If You Can’t Get In Front of the Real Decision Maker, You Lose – You can only sell to the people who are able to buy.
- Engage Me and You Can Make Me Convince Myself – People know their own needs better than you do.
- If You Can Make Them Laugh, You Can Make Them Buy! – Humor is your best tool for relationship building.
- Use Creativity to Differentiate and Dominate – Don’t be scared to do things differently.
- Reduce Their Risk, And You’ll Convert Selling To Buying – Don’t be scared to ask what the risk is; you need to know it to address it.
- When You Say It About Yourself, It’s Bragging. When Someone Else Says It About You, It’s Proof – Don’t forget how important your reputation is.
- Antennas Up! Using Your 6th Sense, the Sense of Selling – Be positive and confident; give off good signals.
- Resign Your Position as General Manager of the Universe – Understand that you’re not responsible for everything but take responsibility for the things which apply to you.
How to make sure you get things done
After we discussed the text and the various ways it could be interpreted and implemented, we moved back on to talking about my home area in The Great North of England and found time to discuss football (soccer) in the process.
In no time, however, we were back on topic.
One of the base aspects of that is simply personal productivity – how do we maintain effective performance hour after hour, day after day, week after week? Processes only get followed, after all, if someone bothers to do the work to begin with.
I put the question to Gitomer:
I have a routine I’ve been using for 25 years. It’s my first hour of the day. I wake up and I do five things, or some combination of those five things. I write, I read, I prepare – and that causes me to think and create those five things.
I have, you know, I published 15 books in the last 25 years and most of the people that I’ve talked to don’t have the first chapter written, if they think they’re gonna write a book.
In summation of the virtues of this starting-the-day routine:
And so it forces me to action.
I’m sure this resonates with many of us. Sometimes all you need to do is to get started; to force yourself into action.
Having a consistent set routine where you achieve 5 things in the first hour of your day can give you the energy and accomplishment to take on the rest of the hours.
Moreover, this kind of approach grants a degree of flexibility; if you’re in a meeting until 2am, your first hour of the day will be a little later than normal but nothing of the routine actually changes.
Build your personal brand and support it with social media
We move off slightly on to the topic of social media.
The idea of how to maintain productivity naturally leads us on to this, as social media and the internet at large is a great source of distraction and can pull you away from your work and focus anytime, anywhere.
But Gitomer sees this as a potential positive too.
Sure, some of his tweets or posts across social media platforms might be done by his staff. But generally, he tries to be the one posting and engaging on those platforms.
If you can have a little self-control, then social media provides a powerful opportunity to gradually build your personal brand over time without taking up huge chunks of time. You can open the Twitter or Facebook app and post something out there in seconds.
And when it comes to building this personal brand, you should be willing to put yourself into all the moments of opportunity. He tells me about how he’s become more and more active on Instagram (@jeffreygitomer) and how he’s really loving the opportunity to play with the Stories format.
These kinds of platforms, when used well, can really give you an opportunity to build connections and to show someone more of yourself; a curated form of yourself, but yourself nonetheless.
Recognizing the importance of your personal brand is one of Gitomer’s key principles and avenues like social media can provide you with the structures to support and maintain that personal brand.
Social media can’t replace the value of face to face interaction, but it can assist. And it’s an important part of the marketplace.
If I’m studying creativity, I have to look at this and say, okay, what can I substitute for what everybody else is doing? What can I do differently than the other guy in order to be able to attract a little bit more attention and gain a little bit more traction in the marketplace?
He ties this back into his overall approach and how that intersects with his daily routine:
And so I try to differentiate myself by being a person who is still state-of-the-art, frontline, top-of-mind, and putting it out there on a daily basis. It’s how I do what I do, but my morning routine is the essence of that. Cause if you start your first hour of the day out with purpose, then the rest of your day follows suit.
How to use humor as an effective tool
Seeing as this is a crucial element at the heart of Gitomer’s recommendations, I wanted to make sure that I was able to come away with his take on how it functions, what forms to use, and how to leverage it.
Walk into a CEO’s office and sit down with him or her and say, “Hey, do you want to buy now? Or you want to hear the pitch?”
It’s not jokes, [it’s] being funny. There’s a difference. It’s not three guys walk into a bar.
And they laugh… If you can make them laugh, you can make them buy. Laughter is tacit approval. And when you have tacit approval, you can go a little deeper, a little faster.
And with a little bit more personal information because they’ve already shown that, hey, this guy’s acceptable to me. He’s funny.
Humor, in this sense, is a relation builder; it’s a way in with a customer, or with anyone.
But Gitomer feels that the benefits of humor extend further than that.
If I’m humorous, it’s because I’m positive. I’m thinking your mind allows you to think creatively when your mind is thinking positively. And I look for the fun part first. I’m not serious about anything.
There’s a great quote by Woody Allen that says “you’re only young once, but you can always be immature.”
And I have found that my lightheartedness leads to people accepting me and liking me and wanting to be friends with me.
This all ties in, in my eyes, to the half point in the 12.5 points: to remember you’re not the master of the universe.
You can’t control everything and you shouldn’t try to. Stop taking yourself so seriously and have a bit of a laugh. You’ll connect better with customers, you’ll feel more positive and happy in yourself, you’ll think more creatively, and you’ll carry all these things into your relationships with others.
This sounds like simple advice or obvious advice. But that’s because it is. Yet we all know loads of people who need to take that advice. And perhaps that includes ourselves?
I don’t know, I haven’t met you.
How to understand what’s required for sales leadership
Finally, we move onto questions of what comes next.
Beyond the basics of being a salesperson, how does one build a sales team or manage that team?
Gitomer recommends his text The Little Book of Leadership.
The man has a book for every occasion.
I wrote a book called the Little Book of leadership and it’s all about being a manager, leader, owner, anyone who was directing people. But because I’m a salesperson, I put a couple of chapters in there specifically for sales leadership because in the world of management and leadership, sales leadership is the only one that’s really measurable.
I know I made a hundred thousand quid this week and sales were 92,000 or 700 million euros, whatever the turnover was. Whatever that is, whatever the orders were, that’s completely measurable. So if a sales leader is not doing his or her job, I can know at the push of a button.
He goes on to outline what the mindset of a successful leader should be. One of the little thought experiments he utilizes is to think about what people will say about you once you leave the company – as we all will one way or another.
How people talk about you to others demonstrates an honesty we rarely hear to our face. It also significantly shapes how other people see us, even if they haven’t met us.
And remember, reputation and brand count as very important factors in this industry.
They’re going to say one of five things about you behind your back: something great, something good, nothing, something bad, or something real bad. And you pretty much choose what they’re going to say.
You know, your actions and your deeds and your words are going to determine what they say about you.
Great guy or total asshole.
So what do you want people to say about you?
This doesn’t mean you have to make everyone like you. If I’ve made a mistake, I’d prefer to be told about it than not. Telling me about my mistake doesn’t make you an asshole – telling me like an asshole might though.
But what about the practicalities?
Gitomer gives two pieces of key advice that you can follow immediately if you’re starting or running a sales team.
(He also says he’s more than willing to accept checks direct to JeffreyGitomer.com – just FYI.)
So the first thing you have to give yourself is a reality lesson. The reality lesson is you as a manager want all your sales people to be on the team, and the sales person has no idea or intention or desire to be on the team. They want the guy next to them to die. So they can have his leads. That’s a sales team. It’s dog eat dog. So if you’re going to be a leader, quit the Kumbaya crap and start interacting with your people one on one to see who I should keep and who I shouldn’t keep. And you do this by taking all of your initial time and going out on sales calls with your salespeople. If you sit behind the desk for nine minutes, you’ve wasted nine minutes.
The second thing you need to do after you’ve gone out with all your salespeople is go talk to a dozen customers. Sit with them for an hour or two and find out: What’s the reason that they’re buying? How do they value what it is? Did you sell them? And take those messages and that’s how you train your people. It’s not your opinion. It’s all of the customers combined opinion. Those are the ones that matters because they’re the ones that are going to purchase.
As we begin to get close to the end, I ask him how the goals should be set to know how sales teams are doing. Do we decide from above, from below, or pretend it’s objective from the data?
Let them set the goal, let them make it grow. Mabye, you may have set it too low? So I’m looking at it from the perspective of the more input you have, the easier it’s going to be for you to succeed and the easier it’s going to be for you to make your game plan that’s going to work.
Communicate well and communicate value
We return to the topic of value.
Understanding the value you give to customers is crucial for selling to future customers, but giving value should be central to that approach anyway.
We work our way through industries as Gitomer presents his thoughts on where more value could be provided for different areas. Not just for selling to customers, but providing value to staff and reducing employee turnover rates in different industries in the process.
When you look at things in terms of how you can provide more value, you’re not just looking at things like a salesperson but also like an entrepreneur; selling a product to a whole marketplace.
The conversation comes to an end and he asks me to keep him updated with how Brexit progresses, to shoot him good articles when I find them to his personal email.
If you want to find out more about Jeffery Gitomer and his services, consultancy, or training check out JeffreyGitomer.com.
What would your questions have been for learning the sales basics? What tips would you add for someone starting out? Let us know in the comments below!