A couple of weekends ago I was in Chicago for a brief baseball weekend with some friends. On a Tuesday morning we all had similar mid-morning flight times out of O’Hare. Being a group of six, we needed a large vehicle to get us from downtown to the airport. No problem. The doorman at the hotel hooked us up with Leo, a private driver. He personally called Leo while I was standing there, and told him what time we needed to be picked up.
Being a skeptical road-veteran, having been left waiting too many times for rides that didn’t show up when I needed to catch a flight, I asked the doorman for Leo’s number and called him back myself to get reassurance he would show at the scheduled time. He said the right things and I was comfortable that he’d indeed be there.
And he had that “sound” ... a positive and upbeat voice, listened, articulated clearly. I was actually looking forward to meeting him. At about 15 minutes before that scheduled time my phone buzzed. It was a text from Leo saying that he was in the black Suburban parked
As we walked outside, he was waving at us, smiling from half way down the block. He ran up to us, shook hands and grabbed as many bags as he could so we wouldn’t have to put them in ourselves. We all piled into the clean, newer vehicle. I sat in front with Leo. Nice, talkative guy. Mid 50’s, originally from Russia. He had been in Chicago about 30 years. He drove cabs in his early years, then invested in his own vehicle and went independent. In addition to his car service, he said he delivers pizza and has small-package delivery clients. I love to hear stories about self-made hustlers who make opportunities, take action and make things happen.
We left early enough to give ourselves a comfortable time cushion, knowing what Chicago traffic is typically like. Things were flowing smoothly for the first five miles, and then traffic came to a screeching halt. The highway became a parking lot. Now we were a getting bit worried about time. Leo remained calm. He checked his phone and said there was a wreck a couple miles ahead.
“Not to worry,” he assured us. Like a NASCAR driver navigating through groups of cars, he wiggled over to the shoulder and got off the Interstate. He said he would bypass all of the trouble. Sure enough, we got an up-close view of the neighborhoods of the North side of Chicago as we cruised west toward the airport. He had an uncanny way of timing the traffic lights perfectly so we rarely came to a stop.
Knowing my way around Chicago reasonably well, I asked if we were going to stay on this street all the way to Rosemont, just by the airport. He said no, we were going to get back on the Interstate just ahead. Uh, OK.
Sure enough, he navigated back onto the Interstate, which was now moving at full speed. I joked with Leo that he seemed like he knew what he was doing. He looked at me with a smirk and a wink, saying, “That’s what 20 years of experience will do for you.”
We pulled into the airport with plenty of time to spare. Leo hopped out instantly to unload the bags so we wouldn’t have to touch them, and thanked us profusely, asking us to call any time we were in Chicago. I assured him I would, and tipped him a lot more than standard.
A professional job, done by a true professional.
What does this have to do with you and sales? There are professional salespeople, and there are people who are in sales jobs. We’ve all had what we considered just jobs... we showed up, we were present, we did the work (with varying degrees of effort and accomplishment, depending on the individual), we would have rather been somewhere else, and we got a paycheck for it. It’s was a means to an end.
I had lots of jobs in high school and college. In addition to many sales positions, I had many others, usually simultaneously. One was cleaning office building toilets. That sucked. God bless the people who do it today, but I knew I would never do it again. Ok, I digressed.
Leo is a professional. And there are professional salespeople as well. Hopefully that’s you. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of a true professional.
Competence. Professionals are obsessed with getting better. They are lifelong students who know they will never graduate because there’s always more to learn. I’m amazed how few salespeople invest any time or money in self-development. They spend more on Starbucks than on what they do every day that puts money in their pocket (potentially). Whatever your company does for you in this area is a bonus. Professionals know their level of competence and subsequent achievement is up to them. Leo took pride in the fact that he had experience, and I’m sure he works at learning whatever it takes to get people from point A to B in the quickest way.
Communication. The top professionals are excellent at connecting, engaging and carrying on a conversation. From the first moment we spoke by phone, to the text and the ongoing banter, Leo built a relationship and instilled a feeling of confidence that we picked the right person. Of course in professional sales, everything we do relies on our ability to communicate. To me, communicating and selling isn’t social media and sending out mass emails. That's being a computer jockey. It’s constantly learning, practicing and refining our sales messaging when speaking to people.
One thing that hasn’t changed in our hyper-technologically advanced environment is that the best way to sell is by TALKING to a person. Instead of whining about how hard it is to get to people, professionals figure out a way to get through, get in and have meaningful conversations.
Customer-first attitude. I was dealing with a-- I would have to describe him as a person with a sales job--who seriously did not care whether I bought or not. He sounded as if I was keeping him from something more important, and was actually annoyed that I asked questions that required him to--gasp-- research some information. (Which he ultimately did not do.) Professionals know that customers buy for their reasons, not yours. That’s why we start all of my training by first examining our customers and prospects, and what they want. Leo has this nailed. He has it dialed in regarding what customers want and delivers on every check box.
Reliability and responsibility. It’s sad that in general, standards have been lowered so much across the board, so that when people actually do what they say they’ll do, it’s somewhat of a surprise. When Leo showed up 15 minutes early, I knew I was dealing with a professional.
Professionals are known as the guy or gal who does what they say they’ll do. Period. Non-negotiable.
Whatever it takes, you can count on them, regardless of how major or minor the commitment.
You know people like this. And you also know the opposite. You can come up with names right now, can’t you? Which group are you in?
Appearance. Professionals look and sound the part. Screw political correctness and woo woo individual expression...yes, in the real world people do judge and make decisions accordingly.
You know professional when you see it and hear it. Everything about Leo’s dress, smile, walk, talk and vehicle projected a professional image.
Even if all or most of your sales is primarily over the phone, you most certainly still have the appearance factor. The way you sound, which includes your voice quality, your overall delivery and your equipment (as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago). And it also includes the communication you send. Are your emails filled with value? As opposed to the untargeted canned templates that so many lazy sales-job-holders blast out. Likewise with your LinkedIn connection requests. Granted these fall under the Communication category, but they apply here as well.
Poise. It’s said that you can tell a lot about a person based on how they react when hit with adversity. Any warm body off the street could take an incoming call order, or call a web inquiry who says they want to buy. The real sales professional proactively puts himself or herself in risky positions all of the time. Because that's where the real selling takes place. He or she isn’t flustered by a tough screener or deterred by prospect resistance or objections.
Actually, it causes them to ratchet it up to another gear, bear down and gracefully employ the words to use to address the situation, in a calm, conversational way. And don’t think that’s natural or people are born that way. It comes through learning, practice and falling and getting back up time and again.
Leo didn’t panic, beat on his steering wheel, blare his horn, and curse at other drivers when we got stalled in traffic. He calmly assessed the situation, thought, “Ok, what can I do next?” and then did it.
I love working with real sales professionals, and have had the privilege and honor of dealing personally with thousands over the years, and continue to now, with my training clients, members of my Smart Calling College, and my Inner Circle members. The thing about being a professional is that you decide and control if you are one or not. If you are now, congrats, I know you'll keep it up. If you want to, or just aren’t to the level you’d like to be, no worries. Make the commitment, and do whatever it takes in all of the above areas and more.
Professional sales is, in my opinion, one of the best, if not the best vocation in the world. We help others and deliver massive value while being rewarded handsomely in so many ways.
It’s an elite club. I’m glad you’re part of it.
Art Sobczak helps sales pros prospect, sell and service accounts more effectively by using conversationally, non-sales messaging, and without “rejection.” Get a free ebook of 501 telephone sales tips at businessbyphone.com/501-tips-ebook. Email editorial @mhwmag.com to contact Art.