Nothing happens until something is sold. Despite this being a worn cliché, it’s certainly true, and that’s why sales positions, including digital marketing sales, are frequently high up on lists of the best or most rewarding careers. Even in today’s digitized world, commerce still depends on human touch and people skills. Author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy once described sales as the “ultimate default career.” It’s true: As a long-time digital marketing sales recruiter, I’ve recruited and placed literally hundreds of sales reps over the course of my 25 year recruiting career, and most had no intention of getting into sales as a career. Rather, they stumbled into it. Often it’s because someone they knew thought they were outgoing, affable, and not afraid of rejection, and said to them: “Has anyone ever told you that you could be good in sales?” Of course, there’s a heckuva lot more to it than that. Turnover rates in sales are among the highest among all specialties in digital marketing (or in any other field for that matter). Salespeople are under constant pressure to generate business. Employers have little tolerance for long stretches of underperformance, even if sometimes it’s because of bad luck and not lack of effort. But sales jobs have many upsides. Regardless of your education or background, you can be successful in sales. I’ve worked with sales candidates who once had careers in everything from professional sports to law enforcement. I myself am a straight-commissioned sales person, so I not only talk about it, I live it.
In recent months, I’ve been receiving an increasing number of inquiries from digital agencies and services firms looking for experienced digital marketing sales reps. In one particular week I think I received nearly a dozen calls and emails, many from smaller digital agencies, looking to expand their reach beyond an established niche or geographic location and looking to hire someone in digital marketing sales. There’s a lot being written about how sales is changing and how it takes a whole new set of skills to succeed in what many describe as the “new sales environment.” These days, of course, the buyer is much more informed and also expects the sales rep to be more informed about what’s important to their business. But at the end of the day, success in sales is still about the basics, the blocking and tackling that gets you to the end zone of a sale. For those thinking about a career in sales, here’s a short list of some fundamental critical skills and abilities that define every successful sales rep that I’ve ever known as an experienced digital marketing sales recruiter:
Tenacity and commitment
Sales is not a profession for people with thin skin, and this applies to digital marketing as much it does to any other profession. Constant rejection is the number one sales rep killer, particularly among those just getting started. It takes tremendous persistence to be successful. When things look their bleakest, a sales rep must have the discipline and the never-say-die attitude to keep plowing ahead. Sales is a highly measurable process: Sales reps usually know how many prospects to call and how many sales presentations to make in order to close a deal, and believe me, you’ll hear a lot more “no’s” before you hear a “yes.” For that reason, sales can be one of the most difficult careers you can choose. But if you’re willing to work hard it can be among the most rewarding.
Distractions are all around you all day long, especially if you work out of a home office. Successful sales people learn to tune out those distractions, and as a result they get more productivity out of every hour they work. Famed martial artist Bruce Lee said it best: “The successful digital warrior (well, he didn’t exactly use the word “digital” but I thought I’d throw that in!) is the average man with laser focus.”
Good listening skills
A digital marketing sales representative is sometimes called upon to explain highly complex topics in a way that prospects can clearly understand. But that doesn’t mean the rep should do all of the talking. Actually, just the opposite. People have two ears and one mouth for a reason: They should listen twice as much as they speak. Anyone who says you should be in sales because you’re a smooth talker and can tell good stories has it all wrong. Even the best digital marketing sales reps sometimes have to remind themselves that they’ll often say it best if they say nothing at all. One major flaw of sales reps is that, instead of coming across as professionals who have empathy for the business problem the prospect is trying to solve, they put the sale first. That tends to happen if the rep is having an especially bad week, bad quarter, or even a bad year. The problem with this approach is that it’s pretty transparent to prospects– and it’s very off-putting. The salesperson’s job is to slip into the prospect’s shoes. Only by listening and understanding prospects’ unique problems can the sales rep determine the best solution for their needs. I actually have a sticky note on my phone. It says, simply, “Shut up, and do more business.”
Do you like to set goals, and then try to reach them no matter what? I’m not talking about do-or-die goals: If you’re too goal oriented you end up “telling” your customers rather than “selling them.” The most successful sales reps I know in digital marketing strike a balance. They focus primarily on the selling process, and then let the trust, credibility, and rapport that they’ve developed with their customers – as well as their demonstrated knowledge of the offerings – carry them to a successful close.
A strong sense of self-worth
Most human beings, by their nature, have a need to be liked by others. It’s easier to agree with someone than challenge their closely held beliefs and stir up objections and potential conflict. So if someone likes you, that will make it a whole lot easier for that person to buy from you, correct? Not necessarily. I’ve made a lot of successful sales in my career, and in most cases I have no idea if my client “liked” me or not. I’ve known plenty of people who could get everyone in a room to like them, but they couldn’t sell a bag of ice to a desert nomad. It’s okay to strive to be liked by prospects – and that certainly makes the sales process a lot more enjoyable – but if you want to be successful in sales, “like” doesn’t make the sale, and salespeople are paid to sell. Focus on what author Susan Scott describes as “fierce conversations” that build breakthrough relationships, and ultimately, trust. As a sales rep in digital marketing you’ll certainly experience your share of these conversations. (By the way, Scott’s book, “Fierce Conversations,” is a great read, and one I highly recommend).
If you want to succeed in digital marketing sales, you have to be organized- very organized. That means knowing how to manage your time, because in sales your income will depend on it. That is especially true in digital marketing because at any given time you might be pitching multiple products or services to multiple prospects, kind of like the proverbial juggler who has lots of balls in the air. Furthermore, if you’re working for a vendor, chances are your prospects have multiple campaigns in multiple mediums. The best digital marketing sales people I know plan their day, every day, sometimes right to the minute. They know that spending more time on so-called “high payoff” activities that have a direct connection to generating more sales, and spending less time on “low payoff” activities that don’t, means more money in their pocket. That takes a certain amount of discipline that many people just don’t have. But with the right training, you can become more organized than you ever dreamed you could.
Some people are a natural at getting up in front of a group of strangers and delivering a compelling, knock-your-socks-off sales presentation. Most aren’t. The good news is that you can learn this skill, and if you practice enough you can get pretty darn good at it. The many specialties within digital marketing sales, particularly the technology that drives them, can be quite complex. To help would-be customers cut through the clutter, you need to create presentations that focus on content that matters to the prospect. The best presenters I know in digital marketing sales pay close attention to the delivery of their verbal presentation, and they’re very aware of their body language and the signals that it sends to their audience.
While great products and services will attract potential customers, your attitude goes a long way toward determining whether or not they will buy from you. Think about the last time you encountered a sales associate in a store who had a sour attitude. Chances are you didn’t buy from them. It takes a winning attitude to win in sales. If you have a burning passion for digital marketing, if you’re genuinely excited about how it is continuously reshaping marketing, you’ve won half the battle.