The Definitive Guide To Sales Part 1: Industry Overview
I worked in sales for the better part of a decade and the skills I learned in that time are the most important ones I have in business and in life. Everything in life is sales, from companies selling you products to your girlfriend selling you on marriage. You are selling and being sold every minute of the day.
Now I’m not going to lie and tell you I liked being in sales because life in sales is hard. I don’t have to lie to you because I’m not your boss and I’m not a sales trainer. But despite how tough it was at the time, what I’ve learned from almost a decade in hard-nosed sales is invaluable. At the end of the day I came out of the meat grinder tougher, more skilled and holding a wad of cash to fund my new life.
When it comes to your mission, you’re going to need capital and you’re going to need to know how to sell. Despite the fact that it’s, sales is the best place for you to make bank and hone your craft. Sales is one of the rare industries where a guy under 30 can get his hands on the cash he needs to buy his freedom. A good salesman can make over $200,000 per year and even a half decent salesmen should be making $70,000. There are few industries that give non-specialists that kind of pay, especially young guys.
If you’re planning to go into sales or are already there, look at your time in the game as B school for hustlers. Learn how to close, learn how to service your customers and most importantly, learn how to toughen up in the face of stress and rejection. But don’t do what I did and give the corporate world most of your 20’s. Grind out a few years, hoard your money and get the f*ck out.
In this four part guide I’m going to break down the game in-depth from an industry overview in this article, to what to expect from life in sales in part 2, to how to sell in part 3 and how to service your customers in part 4. I want to give you everything I know so you don’t make the same mistakes I did and so you can get the most amount of cash and skills out of your time in sales.
Now before we get into the job terminology, sales environments and breakdown of the key industries, you need to understand what sales really is:
What Sales Really Is
Sales is manipulation. A great salesman is a great manipulator, no exceptions. The dictionary definition of manipulation is: “to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose.” But I would take it one step further and say that all communication is manipulation. Everything you communicate to people is to serve your purposes, how artful and how unfair you are depends on your level of skill and your ethics. Even when you’re helping others it’s only because it makes you happy. Everyone is manipulative, a good salesman is just better at it.
Sales training is nothing but learning how to manipulate others and how to lie effectively. Sales training is school for sociopaths. Everyone lies, lying is social lubricant but average people are rank amateurs, salesmen are professionals. That’s another thing your boss and sales trainers won’t tell you. All the objection management, inflection training and closing pressure you learn is not to service your clients better, it’s to make their money yours.
Now, manipulation on its own isn’t going to get you paid. What gets you paid is solving a problem. And like everyone else, your potential client will want the best product for the best price to solve his problem. Your job as a salesman is to manipulate your potential client into thinking that you have the best product for the best price. Whether you actually do is just a bonus.
Once you’ve got interest, getting someone to buy from you is just a matter of overcoming their objections which are only about two things, trust and money. Trust that you can solve their problem and whether your price is worth having that problem solved.
Does this mean you have to sell your soul to succeed?
Absolutely not, just understand that your average sales manager will expect you to do things you might not be comfortable with, but the choice is always yours. How ethical you are in solving your clients’ problems is up to you.
But make no mistake, doing the right thing will almost always cost you money, it’s cost me plenty of deals over the years. I’m not going to preach to you guys but I truly believe it was worth it. You’ll never feel good about yourself when you defraud people for a living no matter how good you are at rationalizing. Try and hold onto as much of your soul as you can. If that means you need to quietly kill a deal where the client isn’t a good fit then do it.
The Importance Of Sales
The sales force is the most important department of any company because if you can’t sell your product, you don’t have a business. Sales is the only department that generates revenue, every other department is an expense. Ironically salesmen are treated worse than almost all other employees for the very reason that they are so vital.
If the HR manager f*cks up and forgets to fill the diversity quota nothing happens because her job is irrelevant. When you f*ck up, companies lose money. Most companies can’t afford to have their salesmen f*cking up so they drive them hard and replace them often.
Sales pays well not because its rocket science but because no one wants to do it. Most people can’t even make a cold call let alone endure one week on a high pressure floor. Your willingness to endure pain is what will get you paid. Most people can’t handle the constant beating you have to take while still forcibly imposing your will.
Sales Job Terminology
Inside sales means outbound phone sales with the addition of email and Linkedin as secondary tools
In some cases you’ll have inbound calls but they will usually go to the senior salesmen
Inside sales is generally less prestigious and pays less than outside sales because almost all high level business deals are done face to face
Many guys never transition from inside to outside sales because they can create a great illusion on the phone but can’t present well in person
Inside sales also includes dealerships
Generally you’ll need a valid driver’s license and a car although some companies give you a company car
You’ll usually have a higher base than inside sales plus a car and phone allowance
Outside sales means you’ll be responsible for a territory or region and will have access to all the potential clients in that region
Having a territory works to your advantage because it’s harder for other salesman to steal your clients, in inside sales territory is much more of a grey area
Outside sales is generally more prestigious so you’ll usually have more freedom than an inside salesman
You’ll generally be measured on the amount of client visits you make as opposed to the amount of calls you make
Many outside salesmen work from home and only come into the office occasionally
A friend of mine in outside sales makes over 6 figures and only works 2 days a week
Hybrid sales is a combination of both inside and outside sales, it’s also the most effective type of selling there is
It’s primarily an inside sales role with an objective of usually 1 or 2 face to face meetings per week
It’s a smart position for most companies to have because it squeezes the most out of their salesman
Short Sales Cycle
A sales cycle is the amount of time it takes to close a deal as well as the speed in which you get paid
In general the shorter the sales cycle, the less skill is required of the salesman
On short cycles the focus is on using pressure and emotional appeals to close deals in one or two calls at the most
Picking up girls is also a short sale, guys who think otherwise get friendzoned
Long Sales Cycle
The longer the sale, the more relationship building and servicing the client is necessary
In general the longer the close, the more complex the deal and the more skill needed from the salesman
An extreme example of a long close would be in Aerospace, these guys usually wait 3 or more years for a deal to close but can pick up a 7 figure commission when it does
Products are usually cheaper and require less contact with buyers, referred to as customers
Product-based sales generally relies on volume because the size of the deal is smaller and in many cases there is no recurring revenue
Services cost more and require more consistent contact with buyers, referred to as clients
Service-based businesses usually have fewer clients but get more money per client, are harder to close and have a recurring revenue model
In general it’s easier to make targets from recurring revenue than from incremental, it also means you can get paid without having to do anything for that month
Many ads for salesmen will emphasize having a hunter mentality
A hunter is a guy who can aggressively bring in new clients
You should be wary of any company emphasizing a hunter mentality because it means they probably are unethical and burn through a lot of clients
When guys brag about being a “hunter, not a farmer” like many sales managers do, it means they rip their clients off
Farming is servicing your clients properly and building relationships
A good salesman is a mix of both a hunter and a farmer, a guy who can bring in and retain business
The best way to retain business is to deliver on what you promised and treat your clients well, that means if you want to keep clients don’t be a scumbag like Jordan Belfort
B2C means business to consumer or selling products to individuals
With the exception of financial services and big ticket items this is usually the lower end of sales
B2B means business to business or selling products to businesses
These deals are usually more complex, take longer to close and need more skill on the part of the salesman
Sales Job Environments
1) Boiler Room/Call Center
200 calls per day
2 to 3 hours per day on the phone
No outside sales
Hit your numbers
Call centers are usually run by mid size to large companies operating legally or are a department within a large company
Most companies use call centers as an outsourced, low-level “sales force” to sell low-margin, short sales cycle products and services in volume
I use sales force lightly because it’s more like a zombie army than a team of professionals with many call centers not allowing any deviation from the script
Boiler rooms are usually smaller organizations operating either illegally or at semi-legally
Horrible, call centers are suicide factories
Usually some kind of illegal or highly unethical activities going on (with the exception of call centers run by large companies)
Revolving door culture, salesmen are easily expendable and the majority quit or get fired quickly
Dress code is usually casual or at best half-assed business casual
Low quality of workers: dropouts, new immigrants, young kids
Management are usually human garbage who resort to tactics like fear, intimidation and yelling to motivate their staff
I can tell you from first hand experience what a nightmare these jobs are but they make an amazing training ground for salesmen
2) SME (Small To Medium Sized Enterprise)
10 to 70 calls per day for inside sales
5 meetings a week for outside sales
1 hour plus on the phone
Potential for travel
Hit your numbers
Car allowance, possibly company car
Possibly company phone
Travel expenses on rare occasions when you do travel
In general your earning potential will be less than a large company so these companies will sell you on the potential to move up the ranks quickly but this is usually bullsh*t
Positions are more solidified than they look and when new positions open up, many times they’ll bring in people from the outside, it really takes a lot to get off the sales floor
Also many SMEs operate month-to-month and always have to worry about meeting payroll
This means they are quicker to fire under-performing salesmen and will generally put more pressure on you than large companies
Culture and dress code vary but are usually less uptight than large corporations
Sometimes you can luck out with a fun, all guy culture especially if you’re in a branch environment without an HR staff
Many times you’ll be working face to face with the owner who has a vested interest in you working hard and will usually walk by your desk a few times a day to hover over you
SME’s are the most variable sales environment
Sometimes they will be laid back but sometimes SMEs with a small sales team will put more pressure on you than call centers because you represent so much of their revenue
Working in the SME is not necessarily bad but I would always choose a large company if you can get the work
3) Large Company
Call volumes rarely measured
Call times rarely measured
3 to 5 meetings per week as most large companies use outside reps
Expect to travel, in a lot of cases cross-country
Hit your numbers
Car allowance or company car
In general large companies are the best places to work, pay the best, have the best benefits and have the most career security
The downside is it takes forever to move up and you can forget about making the C Suite
Large companies generally sell expensive and complex products and services
Sales cycles are usually 6 months to a few years
Large companies can easily sustain these long sales cycles because they have access to a ton of cash and don’t have to worry about making payroll
Large company culture is boring, uptight, politically correct and usually comes with a strict dress code and code of conduct
Unfortunately there are plenty of HR girls and office managers named Barb or Marni wasting company money on enforcing this bullsh*t
Most non-salespeople who work at large companies are neutered, culturally white, married drones who make terrible worksafe jokes
In general large companies are by far the best places to work
Your salary, commission and benefits will always be highest at a large company
Job stability is better at a large company because they have a lower turnover rate and less chance of going bankrupt
You work nowhere near the owner and the revenue you bring in won’t make or break the company, this means you’ll have a much longer leash and more opportunity to hide and slack off
You can forget about moving up, although for our purposes you want to own your own business anyway so that doesn’t really matter
Technical sales is similar to selling capital equipment but usually requires formal training and close collaboration with the tech guys in your company, you can’t hire any retard off the street to sell mainframes
Since the products are complex they tend to have the longest sales cycles of any industry
Tech sales also means you need to be a relationship builder and service your clients well since there are so few companies in your market
Tech sales pays well because the combination of people skills and tech skills is hard to find thus making you valuable
Tech is also a great industry for keeping customers because of the amount of friction to switch providers
If you sell a CRM, chances are you’re going to get at least 5 years out of that deal because the overhaul would be so costly and time-consuming for the client