For many, sales and acts of selling feel slimy. They imagine the stereotypical used car salesman. Other times they think of con artists like the one featured in The Wolf of Wall Street. 

We all sell, even when we don’t know we’re doing it. 

If you have done any of the following, you have completed a sale. Convinced your friends to go to a movie you want to see. Negotiate a raise at your company. Made a convincing case for why your company should take the approach you recommended. Most of us are selling something much of the time.

Sales is an admirable profession. When I coach someone through becoming comfortable selling, I usually share a story near to me. Many of the people I admire and respect have been in sales. Such was the case for both my father and grandfather. I’m happy to say neither fit the negative stereotypes often associated with salespeople. When I think about sales today, I think of my father who often told me: 

1. Never sell a product that you don’t stand behind.

2. What you sell should make a meaningful difference in the lives of those you serve.

3. The product should sell itself. 

My father worked in life insurance, an industry often tarnished with negative salesperson stereotypes. The clients we work with are often among the top five people in their company or across their industry. They come to us because they want to serve more people. They want to be better at what they do. They’re definitely not selling used cars. Yet many still see all sales as a cringe-worthy profession. 

These days, I educate and coach some of the best salespeople working in various industries. We have learned that salespeople who make it into the top one percent of their sector embody many of the principles Dad taught me all those years ago. When I meet people struggling in a sales role, I often point them to lessons we have learned from working with the best salespeople in the world. 

Selling is building relationships. 

When you have a sales role, the goal is to find people who meet your ideal client profile, fully or in great part. The goal is to build relationships with these people so you can serve both them and others like them. Many view sales through a transactional lens. When you view sales through the lens of relationships, however, you create trust. When you build trust, you create social capital and people begin to introduce, recommend, and refer people to you. The people who are the best in the business focus on building relationships.

Selling is a conversation. 

Sales isn’t more than managed conversations. When you enter a sales conversation, your goal is to get the other person to take action. Where relationships matter, conversations matter even more. The most surprising thing about high performers is that they design their conversations. We call that standardization. They standardize their conversations and leave just a small amount of room for improvisation (10-20%).

Demonstrate value early in the conversation. 

When asked, most salespeople say they need to meet with prospects three or four times. But, what if you’re able to demonstrate value in the first 10 or 15 minutes of a conversation? High performers design their conversations to show value early on.

Compel, don’t convince.

When we think of sales, most of us think about convincing a prospect of the value we bring. It’s tough to convince others of anything. Chances are when you try to convince someone of something they double down on their existing beliefs. What if, you instead focus on compelling people to take action? When we compel someone to do something, we make our product or service irresistible to the point where what we’re offering becomes something they can’t do without. They think, feel, or say, “I want that.”

Focus your conversation on the action.

The action won’t always get you closer to a sale. The action might very well be either you or your prospect deciding to close the sales conversation. Your conversation should nonetheless focus on getting your listener to take action. The goal is to get to a fast no or a fast yes and focusing on action saves everyone time and energy.