I’m fully convinced that Arthur Miller’s greatest contribution to our culture is writing a character so pitiful that his name, Biff, became synonymous with completely fucking up. It’s a toss up as to which piece of art I think captures my nine to five as an Account Director. Death of a Salesman is definitely outdone by Glengarry Glenn Ross in my opinion, and a quick reference I use for people unfamiliar with my work is to tell them I’m essentially Ken Cosgrove from Mad Men.
I bring up my job today, because I realize there are some handy lessons I’ve learned that make me effective at both the sales and the longer term business development aspects of my job that also make me a more effective and empathetic human being. For those aspiring salesfolks out there, here’s a list of my sales and life mottos:
This one is underrated. Everyone thinks the consumate salesman is ready with a pitch, a shpiel, or a silver tongued commercial for whatever they’re pushing. A lot of people assume we’re all walking Billie Mays, but the reality is that you accomplish a lot more by listening. In any good sales meeting, you should talk no more than 50% of the time, and when you do you should be asking questions.
This is especially true of friendship, and those times in life when a friend needs support. Be it something as small as them deciding where to eat, all the way up to the bigger dramas and tragedies of life: you’ll accomplish more in showing them love and support if you listen more than you speak.
Cost, Quality, or Efficiency – Pick Two
My uncle once advised me: the good thing isn’t cheap, and the cheap thing isn’t good. Much like the folks who think there’s a way to lose weight without exercise and/or dieting, there is never a magic solution that is both perfectly effective yet also cheap. As far as listening goes, you’ll accomplish more if you understand which of those two your client wants, and what you can do to meet that priority.
As far as life goes? We hedge those bets and make those calls everyday. In our relationships, our personal goals and hobbies, it’s a harsh way to look at it, but there are plenty of ways we decide whether we want something now, or something easier, or do we want something better that may be slower or take more work? There’s no right answer or priority in this regard, but it is useful to be cognizant of these things and self aware, and a salesman who can make their client aware of these paradigms has a great opening as well.
Don’t Negotiate Against Yourself
This is a big one, and I was guilty of it in my freshman days as an account manager. We all aim to please in a client services role, and part of that is making sure our clients are aware of their options. The issue though is that this can quickly become anticipating objections (again, nothing wrong with this foresight), but trying to get in front of them. In doing so, it’s very easy to start negotiating with yourself in your own proposals, rather than waiting for the client to raise questions that you negotiate with.
It’s a fine line to tread: we want the people we deal with to be well informed of what they’re signing on for, and not feel like they signed a deal with fine print they’re being hamstrung by. At the same time, it weakens your foundation to proffer weaknesses and objections you foresee (that may not even be of concern), and try to get in front of them. There’s no other way to put this, but it reeks of insecurity- both in your product and in yourself when you do it in your personal life.
Negotiating Down is Easier than Negotiating Up
I have to remind my own team of this one a lot. When I offer quotes, I always go above what we think we need in order to make cut. I always inevitably hear from my team that they’re worried the client will get sticker shock. My response is that it’s worse if we negotiate against ourselves, offer a lower rate and then end up unable to meet margins and have to try to ask for more after the fact. Plus, this has created instances where I’ve been able to offer discounts and surprise a customer. It’s a numeric/price tag equivalent of “under promise, over deliver.”
In general in life you want to be self aware of your needs and your benefits. In relationships especially, one needs to be honest about the give and take, and wherever possible, come to the table to offer more for less rather than coming back to your friends with hands out asking for more than you originally stated.
Take Yes for an Answer
This one comes from Mike on Breaking Bad, but it really is astonishing how many people, both in work and life alike are so automatically defensive and ready to have to plead their case that they’ll steamroll over a yes and keep negotiating/pitching. I already pointed out that negotiating against yourself is a great way to talk yourself into a lower sale, or talk yourself out of it completely, and not listening to your client when they say yes and keeping things open is another way to end up walking out with less, or worst: nothing at all.