Since the day I graduated from college, I have held multiple sales and marketing jobs. I’ve sold paper clips and manila folders for an office supply firm. I was one of the original annoying telemarketers for a now defunct telephone company. I hawked family gym memberships at a mall in Columbia, Maryland and for more than 13 years, partnered and consulted with school districts across the country providing K12 education products and services.
Each job placed me in the position of receiving numerous days of sales training beyond whatever product training that was provided. I remember the days of learning to match my voice to the voice on the other side of the phone receiver. So, if I spoke to someone in New Jersey, I spoke completely different than I did to the person I was selling to in West Virginia. Actually, I was quite good at voice mirroring and was successful at consumer sales.
Then, I was trained on closing a transactional sale with a rote sales process of asking open-ended questions that led to closed-ended questions, that led to the customer to saying “yes.” I then knew to shut up and close the deal before they realized they were being “sold to.” If they, for whatever reason, balked at any of my free-wheeling ways, I had a list of patent responses available for those pesky objections. I did so well using this sales method that I was promoted to be a corporate sales trainer for about 5 years. In hindsight, these tips and techniques seem archaic yet they were very effective at that time.
These techniques of selling were no less archaic than what was asked of me in one of my first K-12 education sales jobs. My boss at the time asked all the new sales reps to enter a conference pre-dinner reception and collect as many business cards from school district superintendents as possible. You can imagine a slew of obnoxious representatives saying, “Hello, can I have your card and good-bye.” The new boss set up a competition and the sales person with the most business cards by the end of the evening would receive a Starbucks’ gift card. I instinctively drew the line on that activity and failed to have the company cover my Caramel Macchiatos for the following week, much to the dismay of my new EVP. Thank goodness, her role as the boss was short-lived or I would not have discovered that my own way to success had nothing to do with a business card collection but with actually connecting with the human side of the many people I now call friends. Some friends have purchased services from me and some have not. Regardless, they are my friends. To this day, if they haven’t been able to purchase from me or others in the companies that I have worked for, I know that as a friend, they will be supportive of my endeavors and I of theirs, provide a personal recommendation and/or introduce me to someone who may have a need for my product or services in the future. These friendships are the foundation for my overall business success and I am grateful.
Making friends and building relationships to be successful in K-12 sales, demands the skills of active listening, the desire to learn, research, asking the right questions, sincerity and most of all caring. Everyone knows a terrible dating pick-up line and can smell a loser a mile away. So too, can your prospective clients or school district partner smell a loser whose modus operandi is collecting business cards as a relationship building technique. There is a finesse in developing your sales team to understand the “relationship-building” process. This process is paramount in nurturing true and faithful friendships that create bountiful partnerships in the K12 marketplace.
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