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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Selling: Working hard, smart or both

This is a great quote from Napoleon Hill -- and is the foundation of success, and happiness. If you do work you really enjoy, and do it well, you'll persevere -- and succeed. Since I really enjoy writing and journalism it certainly makes sense for me to own a publishing business, and I can contribute the most to the company by simultaneously writing and selling -- even though we have really competent writers and salespeople on staff. So why not write about selling -- and, voila, you have the Construction Marketing Ideas blog.

Some things -- sales especially -- work best when you do less to achieve more. Of course you have to do less of the wrong things, and more of the right ones. And the "wrong things" can include trying to hard; forcing yourself into a desperate bind where clients feel your angst and need to meet quota -- and run for the hills to avoid you.

Yet the irony here is that you need to get yourself in the right places, at the right times, to find the results you are seeking. This can involve hard work, working smart, or both. You can achieve great results without hard work if your work is truly smart -- but woe is you if you think you are 'smart' but really aren't doing the right thing. Conversely hard work in itself can be a quick road to burnout and failure, if you don't listen to the signals and adapt and change course -- or persevere where appropriate.

Some say sales is a "numbers game" and advocate measuring the number of calls you make, the conversion rate, and the revenue per effort. The theory goes that if you know the numbers, and make enough calls, you will get the results you are seeking. But I can think of few things as demoralizing and disenchanting -- and generally ineffective -- than cold calling down lists of names in a rote-like fashion, hoping someone will buy something, anything.

Certainly in the not-too-distant past I could be held responsible for working not too hard and certainly not too smart. I purportedly delegated things to my employees, and then I embarked on projects which I could "justify" saved the company money, or helped its interests, but really were expensive distractions. At one point, in the midst of the distractions, I brought myself back on track briefly -- personally taking charge of sales for a failing publication. But the minute someone showed up who looked 'good' (he ultimately pulled a fast one on me), I dropped the real hard work like a lead brick, to get back to my hobby-like distractions.

Eventually, out of absolute necessity, I got back to basics -- taking on more jobs than anyone my age should; writing the papers and (for several months) holding on with one competent salesperson. This meant that I had to be actively engaged in the sales process as well -- any slip-ups would leave us well below viability and quota. We now have a competent sales team of three; with salaries, this increases overhead and the break-even point, but gives the business a little more stability and reliability; it leaves room for one or sometimes even two representatives to have an off-month, and we can still find enough business to meet our numbers.

I don't work so hard now, since hiring a competent staff editor, but I continue to write, to fill in, and to look for leads and opportunities. And I find them. This is not the 'grind it out and hope they will buy' type of work; it is a series of seemingly spontaneous but highly effective responses to opportunities. A few minutes here, a brief call or email there, and I can contribute some useful business to the sales team and bring in some worthwhile orders.

Everyone I realize has their own style, and you aren't going to get very far in sales unless you are able to find and seek out the business; but I think the best business comes when it simply doesn't feel like you are 'selling' but are naturally engaged in sharing, contributing, and relating to current and potential clients. Hence this blog. I enjoy the topic; it is certainly relevant, and, yes, it generates a few worthwhile leads and some useful opportunities.

I am an advocate of receiving by giving; sharing, contributing, supporting, and bringing worthwhile businesses together. Can you do the same thing -- and find the way to sell effectively by working hard enough to work smart?

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