Tips For A Successful Sales Career : ABC + A Dash of Paranoia

Sakura Cherry Blossom - its spring time in Japan, the picture is not related to Sales but its would have been a shame not to take the opportunity to share Japan's symbol of new growth and renewal

I love what I do! For the last 16+ years I have been in the recruitment industry, for those not familair with the recruitment business and the mystic of it, to put in simply, it boils down to sales. Since day 1, I have had sales targets over my head. As I moved up the management ladder it shifted from individual sales targets to team sales targets to eventually revenue and profit targets for a business that spans the Asia region.

Like in any sales job, my performance and remunearion is closely tied to my ability or my troops’s ability to deliver “the numbers”.

Unlike a typical sales job, I do not sell widgets or a definite product/service. I sell a premium professional service to my clients (employers) and my talents. Its a high touch business working with people providing business solutions and solving business issues and working with talents on their career goals and aspirations.

As a sales man, I am naturally a positive thinking, can do, optimist, I have to be! A practical optimist as I would like to see it (see my previous blog post on the practical optimist). In the earlier years in my career, I was naively thinking that everything I touch will turn to out magically well, perhaps too blissfully idealistic. As an example, when I had shortlisted 1 or 2 talents for a job assignment, assumed that it will go well, its a done deal because luck will favour me and money will soon be in the bank!

I soon learnt that human beings are the most complex, unpredictable things on earth. What they say may not be their true intentions or motivations. So, in my line of work, if you ask the right questions long enough, you will get answers or hints of people’s true intentions, but if you assume, well, your assumptions may let you down.

A few years ago, while working on retained C-Level executive searches in Japan with some of my colleagues in the US and Europe who were ex-Korn Ferry, ex-Heidrick & Struggles partners, it was drilled into me that the more senior level the search the more critical it is to make sure we have every angle covered and leave nothing to chance, because at the C-level, there just isn’t a big pool of talent to pick from. We cannot afford to lose a top executive talent because we didnt get the negotiation right or read their motivation right. I learned to ABC – Always Be Closing (with pre-closing questions at every step of the process) and have a small but healthy dose of paranoia and cynicism. Even, when I seemingly have things under control and both clients and talents are happy, I would look at plan B, what happens if it all goes pear shape? how would I recover? contingency plans? When the assignment is heading to the finishing line, I needed to know what the “real-no-bullshit-must-have” bottom line for both parties in order to close the deal.

Examples of some questions I ask are:

  • If we get you the offer that YOU WANT tomorrow, are you ready to sign on the contract?
  • Tell me in ABSOLUTE DETAIL what you are looking for to close the deal, I can’t promise I can you you everything that you want, but I need to know at this CRITICAL STAGE
  • Do you FORESEE ANY ISSUES with you signing on the contract? Have you CLEARED it with all RELEVANT PARTIES that will have a say in your final decision? What if they are NEGATIVE on it, even though you are ready to sign, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
  • What if there is a COUNTER OFFER? What would you do?
  • Are they anything you are CONCERN or UNSURE about that would PREVENT you from signing the contract? Let’s ADDRESS IT NOW

It improves my chances of closing the deal, if the worst case senario happens, I am prepared to handle it and hopefully resolve the issue(s) successfully, if the worst case senario doesnt happen then its champers popping time! Both senarios, I win!

Can’t leave it to chance or luck. That’s for punters on the race track on weekends.

Happy selling and happy closing those deals with a dash of paranoia 🙂

Image from my iPhone in Tokyo

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