Colleges should require a sales course with every major they offer.
While students may not plan to work at a car dealership or a computer store after graduation, having the skills to sell ideas as well as their own value will be a constant need for them every single day they’re employed. Unless they possess the natural-born talent to “have everyone at hello,” learning how to sell will be critical for their success.
Here’s why I know this.
As a career sales professional of 18 years, I’ve achieved some terrific success in the “pitch-persuade-close” wheelhouse. But my “selling” wasn’t limited to customer sales — it was happening in all of my on-the-job communications, from getting hired and promoted to changing office policies and adding product lines.
As an entrepreneur today, my selling continues daily. Here are four common job situations students can turn to their advantage when they use sales skills.
1.) The resume. With this document, college kids are selling themselves to be selected, meaning they'll have to make a clear case for why a company needs them. Their resume should read as a finely crafted piece of sales collateral created to persuade the recruiter, human resources professional or company supervisor that they're the right person for the job. They should tailor it to the job for which they're applying and always include a very direct "here’s how I can help you" in the cover letter or executive summary. Generic language will buy the resume a one-way ticket to the trash.
2.) The interview. With every question students answer, they’re selling their experience, professionalism and ability to think fast on their feet. Their demeanor is important — as is their ability to listen and ask questions to help them gather valuable information to use in their responses.
Professional salespeople do this all the time to understand their prospect’s needs. And when students uncover the interviewer’s needs, they're poised to sell themselves on how they're best suited to fill those needs.
If a hiring manager says he needs more millennials for social media but struggles because his customers are more comfortable with traditional communication, saying, "I get along with everybody" won’t solve that manager's problem. But if a student says he has a grasp of technology and can effectively communicate with people who spent most of their careers in a pre-Internet world, this lets the manager know the student understands the dilemma and can be the solution.
3.) On-the-job value. Now we move to a different skill set. Not only will new hires need to complete tasks as expected, but they'll need to show their value in other ways, with new ideas and solutions. This requires a seriousness of persuasion by including data to prove a point. Simply saying how "cool" something could be won’t be enough. Bring an idea with a development plan, execution strategy, budgets and anticipated return on investment (ROI) — and the picture is completely different.
4.) The advancement. So someone has a title and paycheck, and the ideas and solutions have gotten the attention of the powers-that-be. Now it is time to apply selling skills to negotiate even more. Even if the salary is locked in, typically there are other perks on the table, such as a creative bonus plan, incentive fees for solid employee referrals, more vacation time, or additional telecommuting days.
To succeed, new hires can’t just "ask" for these things — they must use their skills of persuasion to say why they deserve these things and how this will ultimately benefit the company. Never forget to show how the company wins in the end. Asking for a raise because you "work really hard" won’t move anyone — but saying how the company has grown 15 percent in revenue because of your initiative will.
The definition of selling is to "promote or persuade on the merits of something to accept, talk someone into, bring someone around to, win someone over to, or win approval for." This is a reality in the workplace each and every day.
All colleges should require sales courses in their curriculums so students and grads learn that the key to success is not telling — it’s selling.
Mike Scher is CEO of FRONTLINE Selling, developers of the leading sales prospecting software.
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