Navigating the curious world of sales in an experience economy
“Selling is as basic to our society as metabolism is to life.”
The world of sales isn’t what it used to be ten years ago. With a host of technological innovations bolstered by platforms like AI and contact scoring, salespeople can now obtain the right insights for customers, transforming the nature of sales itself. According to Inc.com, buyers now expect salespeople to not provide information but insights, shedding light on problems they do not yet understand.
‘What is ‘sales’ about?’ I have been asked this many a times. Simply put, it’s an art. Whether you are just starting out in sales or already a seasoned leader managing multiples teams across geographies, you are a part of a larger family of motivated individuals who contribute to its ebb and flow.
At Freshworks, within the Southeast Asia team, my role has presented me with an incredibly rich learning experience in the world of sales, right from day one. I have never been the kind of person who sets goals imagining what the future might hold. But, at the same time, I have set my belief in a couple of different principles that have grown and matured over the years—from working as a pre-sales engineer, managing the presales team, a tech evangelist, and now the senior director of sales. Rather than thinking of myself as an expert or even a leader, I think as a person who is here to learn. In the last decade of my career, I have shifted roles depending on what I want to learn, rather than what I am good at. This curiosity—for newer learning experiences—helps me learn better and help others.
Handling rejection, finding motivation in sales
Being in sales requires many things but the two most important ones are working hard and opening yourself to rejection, sometimes on a regular basis. As a member of the sales team, you can get rejected by your prospect even after you have made the perfect pitch. But, as always, every dark cloud has a silver lining. And in the field of sales, the hard work and rejection pays off when you get to experience the gratification of seeing that your efforts have had a direct impact on the company’s revenues.
The art of selling is not that unique. It is important to remember that everyone can sell. Everyone at some point in their lives has been a salesperson. As a salesperson, you may be selling a concept or an application or a mobile phone or a piece of art. Irrespective of what you are selling, what you are doing is putting yourself on the front line trying to convince someone else of a value that you can provide. The rewards are great. It is exhilarating, no doubt. But the flipside to this otherwise exhilarating experience is the possibility of rejection. And rejection, like I said before, is a huge aspect of sales.
That is where perseverance comes in. If you are wondering if you have a salesperson in you, ask yourself this: Can you find motivation despite rejection to make money for your organization? This money is not because you are greedy or materialistic but because you have this drive—an element of energy—in you to put one hundred percent of your efforts toward targets and achieving them. Sure, hard work has a direct correlation to the variable pay but that’s not the whole story. If you’re curious as a person, intrigued by newer challenges, and—most importantly—find happiness in making a sale, you have a salesperson in you.
Nurturing lasting relationships in sales
A salesperson must be comfortable with the idea of talking to a stranger and even look forward to it as a challenge. It goes without saying that if you want to succeed in the world of sales, you need to build and nurture lasting relationships. If you are a people person, it is easy for you to talk to people. But even if you are not, what matters is your dedication and ability to build relationships with your prospects and customers that stand the test of time. And it is not easy. Because of the nature of our work, there can be customers who see salespeople as account executives knocking at their doors, always trying to sell them something. It is hard to break such labels, but it can be done with genuine relationship-building skills.
One of the things I pay special attention to whenever a salesperson approaches a customer is how good a relationship they have with the champion on the customer side. The reason is simple: If I really want to buy a car and I happen to be standing right outside a car showroom, then it is easy for the salesperson to make a sale. However, if I as a buyer have come to purchase a car from really far off to a particular showroom because of the great relationship the salesperson has nurtured with me over calls or previous visits—now that is something stellar and highly valuable.
This value is what brings customers back over and over again.
Partaking in hunting and farming roles
There are multiple ways of measuring success. To a certain extent, it may seem really black and white. The reason why we are in sales is because we want to sell, and the way you prove that you are worth the salt is through the money you make. However, above and beyond money, salespeople also partake in “hunting and farming” roles. The hunting role involves people who try to get new customers. The farming business involves salespeople who work on existing customers.
So in a world of hunting, your role sometimes is to get the customer in. When you are trying to make a sale, you are the face of the company. You are also the face of the company when you are growing an existing customer. The experience you provide has an immense impact on the entire lifecycle of the buyer’s journey. You are successful as a salesperson when you provide delightful customer experiences in whichever role you play.
Harnessing the power of collaboration
The success of a sales team depends on collaboration. The job of a sales executive or an account executive is almost like the conductor in an orchestra. Just like the multiple moving parts that make a symphony, collaboration among teams—from Pre-sales and Sales Development Reps (SDRS) to Marketing and Customer Success teams—can ensure that no one misses the count.
If you consider a customer’s lifecycle, it follows various touchpoints in their buying journey. Similarly, for a salesperson to be successful, they must be able to coordinate with all the moving parts to gain leverage.
Collaboration is key to handling customer expectations the right way. As a sales leader, I believe that the only way of ensuring that your salespeople are able to collaborate effectively with customers is by building a strong culture of internal collaboration. This is essential because as salespeople, we are the connection between the customer and the brand Freshworks. The entire orchestra is built on the wheels of collaboration. If done right, you will be able to see yourself reaping the benefits.
Onward, in times of crisis
There is a general consensus that these are unprecedented times, but the world of sales relies on the fulfillment of customer expectations. The mid-market and enterprise-scale businesses rely on sales people using their ‘human’ element to make the sale. The reason is logical. You are not just asking the customer for money; you are asking them for a significant amount of money. Before the pandemic, we could end up in customers’ offices—in grey suits, shaking hands and exchanging business cards—so that customers could put a face to our names. Now, after the pandemic, the challenge involves building the same kind of relationship by re-establishing the brand with stellar service over the phone or the internet.
Selling virtually can get monotonous and challenging, especially in an experience economy like ours, where we don’t buy a product but an entirely curated and personalized product experience.
But sometimes, challenges can build character. At Freshworks, we have always prided ourselves on serving our customers for life. This is a formative element of our DNA as an organization. So it was really heartening to see our sales people getting motivated by the challenge of building virtual relationships with customers and prospects. As leaders, we ensured that everyone—from the Service Delivery folks all the way to the Pre-sales team—must work at a pace that is not only comfortable for them but also sustainable. The motivation was more in terms of infusing the team with positive energy so that they could say: Hey, you know what, no matter what happens, we will go forward!
With tools, technology, and an overall sense of wellbeing, the Freshworks Culture has helped create a support system for employees in the sales teams, motivating them with day-to-day activities that make them feel a part of the larger team—the Freshworks family.
The world of sales is an everchanging one, opening up new challenges and possibilities as it goes through its many transformations. In the aftermath of he global pandemic when businesses are in the middle of reimagining key functions following disruptions, such as an erosion in confidence on the part of the customer, and adjusting to an increasingly virtual world on both ends of a boat, it provides a tiny glint of an opportunity.
An opportunity for what, you might ask.
The disruptions caused by Covid-19 provides an opportunity to remind ourselves—individuals and businesses— that one must be passionate about sales, engaging with customers and creating memorable experiences to be a salesperson. To be a salesperson is to be motivated more by goals, targets, and objectives than the possibility of facing rejection. At the face of all odds, it is eventually the salesperson’s mission to deliver the perfect pitch to yield revenue for the company, and be part of a stellar customer experience. If this motivates you, the world of sales beckons you to join its ranks.
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