We’re living in the age of information access. In technology sales, as in all markets, customers can shop solutions and research partners almost entirely on their own. They can browse online reviews, solicit opinions within their social networks... Often, they can watch a product demo without so much as a “hello” to a member of your sales team. This shift toward greater information parity has its upsides and challenges.
On the upside, the best solution for a particular business problem is now more likely to prevail—even if the rep involved doesn’t play golf or proffer box seats. Buyers and sellers can eliminate one another earlier in the process. Everyone saves time, which is wonderful.
On the challenge-side, technology sales reps are losing control—not in a Girls Gone Wild sense, but in terms of the buy cycle components we can reliably predict, as compared to just five or ten years ago. We can’t control the conversation as we once did. Instead, we need to follow sales best practices that help us act as expert consultants—as resources, who do a lot more listening than talking. We also can’t control client relationships with lengthy, restrictive contracts; competitors are too numerous and too nimble.
So what’s the one element that’s still completely within a technology salesperson’s ability to control? Manners.
Being poised, self-aware, and respectful is the branch of sales science everyone likes to assume they already know. But in high-value, complex sales environments, manners shouldn’t be taken for granted. Here’s just a short list of the manners sales folks could stand to practice a bit more, along with a few curated tips from leading sales experts.
- Always be the best-dressed person in the room. Even when meeting with an entrepreneur who you’re sure will arrive in jeans, aim for one level above. This shows you take his/her time and your own work seriously. (In case you’re wondering, here’s the sartorial spectrum of what startup guys wear to work).
- Attend to details: polish shoes, mend loose buttons, reapply chipping nail polish, etc. (P.S. Ironing should not be considered a “detail.”)
- Pay attention to personal hygiene. This is another rule that sounds obvious, but be honest: did you actually floss this morning?
- “Throughout the day, the stress of sales can quickly undo everything your morning toilette accomplished.” Have travel toiletries on hand to freshen up before midday or afternoon meetings. (via @JustinMProctor)
- Keep your accessories classic and understated. No one ever upped their professional credibility with a statement necklace from Forever 21.
- Never use slang or vulgarity, even if you’ve already heard the customer issue a few four-letter words. Others in the room may be offended, not to mention still forming their first impression of you.
- Offer venue suggestions, and let your customer decide. Remember to compliment his or her choice. (via Eliza Browning)
- If you can’t arrive early, call ahead to ensure you get the right seating type (e.g. in a quiet corner or with a larger tabletop for reviewing plans).
- Offer your customer the best seat(s) at the table. Even if there’ no scenic view, the seat facing outward is better than the seat facing the wall.
- Treat the customer as your “date.” Invite him to order first so he doesn’t feel compelled to make decisions based on your selection.
- Do not order alcohol unless your customer orders it first.
- Don’t start eating until your guest has taken the first bite.
- Immediately reach for the check, without comment, as soon as it is delivered.
- Remember to say thank you, even if you are the host. Your guest’s time is worth more than the cost of any meal.
- Never plop your coat, briefcase, or other belongings on empty seats or on furniture. You’ll look like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, who was universally considered to be pretty rude.
- When visiting a client’s office, ask your host where you should sit. (via @LydiaRamseyLive)
- Stand up and shake hands when being introduced.
- Take time beforehand to learn and pronounce the names of client team members.
- Be prepared for any IT situation. If you need to give a presentation, have it on your machine and also available in a cloud or email environment so you can quickly access it from another machine, in the event of an IT failure. I still bring 2-3 printed copies of my presentation as a last resort.
- Follow up immediately with any meeting items you promised to address or send.
- Before sending your next prospecting email, brush up on email tips for grammar, tone, subject lines— even your signature. (via @HubSpot)
- Don’t assume an email recipient will know or remember who you are. Start your email with an introductory bridge (e.g. “We met at the XYZ Symposium…”)
- Never conduct other business while face-to-face with a customer or prospect. This means ignoring texts, calls, and emails unless there is an emergency (in that case, you should excuse yourself and leave the room).
- Make an actual phone call when information is time-sensitive or just plain sensitive. When you need to cancel a lunch meeting with just a few hours’ notice, you need to use the phone.
There are plenty more I could list here, but I’m interested in your top sales manners. What kinds of manners do you expect from (technology) sales representatives? Please share your thoughts below.