The Accidental Salesperson
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The Accidental Salesperson

Chris Lytle

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eBook - ePub

The Accidental Salesperson

Chris Lytle

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About This Book

Sales may have chosen you--and you've suddenly found yourself in a profession you're not fully prepared for. Learn how to navigate your career effectively with this invaluable resource.

Sales training expert and author Chris Lytle offers advice and inspiration new salespeople might have missed when they skipped the career-planning stage--and provides the tools you need to fast-track your sales success.

Filled with money-generating strategies, humorous yet instructive anecdotes, thought-provoking axioms, and powerful tools, The Accidental Salesperson includes guidance on:

  • selling to people who don't have time to meet,
  • differentiating between information seekers and genuine prospects,
  • using social media and other online tools,
  • and building relationships competitors can't steal.

Lively, entertaining, and mercifully free of the dull theories, manipulative methods, and high-pressure tactics of most sales books--the fully updated second edition of The Accidental Salesperson guides you through every aspect of selling to customers in today's marketplace.

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The Choice … the Chart … the Challenge

Making the Choice

It’s 11:45 a.m.
A coworker walks into your office or peers over your cubicle wall and says, “I’m hungry.”
“Me too. Let’s go to lunch,” you say.
“Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know. Where do you want to go?”
“What are you hungry for?”
“Nothing special. You decide.”
Chances are you have had this conversation recently with a coworker or spouse. With so many restaurants, narrowing the choice to just one becomes a daunting task.
A comedian once joked, “People don’t go to Denny’s restaurants. They end up there.”
They end up there precisely because they begin without a plan. They react to the hunger pang instead of anticipating it. It doesn’t occur to some people that they’ve been getting hungry every four hours of their waking lives. When they finally choose a place to eat, a long line or waiting list often confronts them. As a result, they “end up” settling for something less.
But we’re still hungry, so let’s get back to the restaurant—any restaurant. Have you ever watched people order? Some people summon the harried waitperson and want her to act as arbiter.
“If you were me, would you have the steak or the fish?” they’ll ask, as if one or the other of these portion-controlled entrées would give them a memorable culinary experience.
“Do you like steak or fish better?” says the waitperson, who is forced to do a customer needs analysis to get her 15 percent “commission” out of this sale. Taken to its logical conclusion, the wait-person could be forced to make the choice for the person. “How is your cholesterol, sir? If it’s over 200, may I strongly suggest the broiled fish?”
Meanwhile, other customers wait impatiently for their second cup of coffee and mentally deduct a few percentage points from the tip they are planning to leave.
It happens all because it is so hard for some people to make a choice—any choice!
Try this little experiment. Choose a restaurant for lunch a day in advance using just two criteria: 1) Choose a local favorite that is not a chain. 2) Choose a place that takes reservations. Make one choice. Then tell (don’t ask) a customer (not a coworker) that you want to take her to lunch. Say, “I’ve made reservations and I want you to join me at 12:15 p.m. tomorrow afternoon for lunch at The Edgewater, if you don’t have other plans.”
When you get to the restaurant, look at the menu for five seconds or ignore it altogether. Say, “I’m going to have a cup of the baked onion soup, half a club sandwich, and an iced tea with extra lemon.” (Order whatever you feel like having. Just do it decisively.) Prediction: Nine times out of ten your luncheon guest will order two out of the three things you ordered, just because your decisiveness is so comforting and eliminates any need to deliberate further.
Choices are hard for people because they already have too many. There are too many channels on television. There are too many sizes of detergent, too many brands of mustard, too many websites to surf. It’s hard enough to choose where you are going to have lunch. Think how much harder it is to choose what you are going to do for a living. The hardest part of all is committing to the choice you’ve made with all of the career options still available. By making choices quickly and firmly, you position yourself as a decisive, take-charge person.

Making the Choice

When you were a little kid, you probably didn’t long for—or even imagine—a career in sales. Ask some local elementary school kids what they want to be when they grow up. You’ll find more future firefighters than prospective salespeople. How many children are anxiously anticipating a career of cold-calling, rejection handling, dealing with price-sensitive procurement officers, coping with delayed flights in center seats, and spending ninety nights a year sleeping in different hotel rooms all next to the same ice machine?
For some of us, it just sort of worked out that way.
You may have “ended up” in sales as a second or third choice when something else didn’t work out. You may still be wondering if a career in sales is right for you.
Whether you are an engineer or shop foreman, CEO or account executive, your job increasingly requires excellent sales skills. When I told my neighbor, a prominent veterinarian, I was writing a book called The Accidental Salesperson, he said, “I’ll buy a copy.” No matter how you got into sales, this book is going to show you how to sell on purpose. It will guide you through the entire selling process and show you how to move your prospects through that process without skipping any steps.
It takes an accidental salesperson to know one. I was an accidental salesperson just like you. Sales, it seems, is the final frontier for liberal arts graduates who have learned how to learn but don’t know how to do much else.
As a 1972 graduate with a B.A. in political science, I had three ways to use my degree and maximize the investment my parents had made in my education. I could go to law school, take a job in a politician’s office, or become a journalist and cover the political scene.
Although my grades in school had always been great, my score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) was the lowest on any standardized test I had ever taken. The score barely would have qualified me to attend an unaccredited night school. I took that as a signal that law probably wasn’t right for me.
After graduation, I landed a job as a summer intern for my congressman. There I was, two weeks out of college and working on Capitol Hill in the Cannon House Office Building. But instead of catching “Potomac Fever,” I was appalled by the political process as it is played out in real life. The pace is agonizingly slow, and bills become laws by a series of compromises and political favors.
Having eliminated law school and a political career within six weeks of graduating, I decided to pursue that career in journalism. Reporting on the political process I so despised seemed like a good career. I would become the next Walter Cronkite.
At the end of my internship, I returned to my parents’ home and began my job search. Since Newark, Ohio, did not have a television station and I didn’t have any money to move to a big city, I figured I would start my journalism career by landing a job in the news department at the local radio station. Then, after establishing myself in the business, it would be a fairly simple thing to move to Columbus, Ohio, and be a TV reporter. That would lead to local anchor on the ten o’clock news and then to the network level.
There was only one thing standing in the way of that master plan. The general manager at the local radio station announced during my first interview that he already had two newsmen.
“Chris,” he said, “I could put you on as an advertising salesman.”
“But you don’t understand, Mr. Pricer,” I said. “I’m a political science major.”
“Chris, my offer still stands.”
My inner dialogue went this way: “I’ll do anything to get into broadcasting—even sell.” My reasoning was that once I was in the door, I could work my way into the news department.
“I’ll take it,” I said.
It took two weeks for me to disabuse myself of the notion that working my way into news was a good plan. The sales manager left every afternoon around four. The news director worked some nights until eleven, covering the city council meetings. The sales manager drove a Cadillac. The news director drove a beat-up Chevy Vega and constantly bemoaned his fate and income. He often berated the salespeople for making too much money. From an income and status standpoint, I learned quickly that you don’t “work your way into news” in a small-market radio station.
At that point, I made “The Choice” to stay in sales. I purchased books on the subject. I attended fantastic seminars and devoured audiocassettes and later CDs on success and selling. I studied selling as hard as I’d studied political science, and it paid off. That choice led to a successful sales career, a promotion to sales management, and radio station ownership in my mid-twenties. In 1983, I founded a company to train radio advertising salespeople. With the publication of The Accidental Salesperson in 2000, CEOs, VPs of sales, and owners of family businesses started calling me. All of a sudden, I was doing sales training for start-ups, software companies, manufacturers, and Fortune 500 companies.
Nearly forty years after strolling into that radio station to get a news job, I have conducted more than 2,100 live seminars and keynote speeches; developed dozens of correspondence/distance-learning courses; and created an online-coached and time-released training program based on many of the principles in this book.
Today, I am in what my wife, Sarah, calls “speaker semiretirement.” I work with a few select clients. I am more likely to do thirteen presentations a year rather than the thirteen a month I used to do. But every Monday morning, I turn out a new Knowledge Bite, a digestible three- to seven-minute MP3 file that I upload to my Fuel website, and salespeople worldwide download it. You can get a sample at
I was always frustrated with the start-and-stop nature of training programs. Business stopped for a day or two, everyone came to a hotel ballroom and “got trained,” and then they went back to work. Some people implemented the training. Others didn’t. But I’ve found that time-releasing training in small bites gains more traction. The idea of continual improvement was a hit in the manufacturing sector, thanks to W. Edwards Deming and others. Today, you can have continual salesperson improvement.
Making “The Choice” to stay in sales and become good at it worked well for me. Choosing to read this book and commit to improving yourself and, therefore, your sales will, I suspect, work just as well for you.
But you know what? Even if I had ended up in law school, I still would be in sales. In a law firm, a “rainmaker” is the attorney who brings clients into the firm. An attorney who can sell is also called a partner.
One day, when I was skiing with a friend who is a dentist, I asked him, “What is the biggest issue in dentistry today?”
“Sales,” he replied. “You’ve got to close people on having their wisdom teeth out. You have to handle objections. You have to persuade and convince them to put up with pain, expense, and time away from work. They don’t teach you sales at dental school, but they should.”
He made the choice to become a dentist and ended up an accidental salesperson.
So you see, you are not alone. A lot of accidental salespeople have learned to sell on purpose. But first, they have had to make “The Choice.”
You do, too.
You make The Choice when you consciously commit to your career in selling. In doing so, you gain a sense of purpose. Being able to say, “This is what I do,” and say it with pride and certainty, sets in motion undreamed-of opportunities for success. Choosing to focus on becoming an excellent salesperson is liberating precisely because it eliminates other options you are free to pursue, sometimes to your detriment.
You can experience much the same feeling of liberation tonight by choosing to turn off the TV instead of flipping through channels to find something worth devoting your time to. Or, if you must watch TV, focus on one show to the exclusion of all the others, and take comfort in knowing that you’ve made the right choice and don’t need to zip through the channels so you won’t miss anything.
By not focusing, you miss everything.
That’s The Choice.

Making the Commitment

Is sales right for you? “Hey, I was looking for a job when I found this one” is the mantra of millions of uncommitted workers today. When you make The Choice consciously and commit to your sales career, you gain a new sense of purpose. Adding that focus makes what you do more relevant.
Developing an obsession with doing things better is vital to success. Until you choose to do it better, no book, audio program, webinar, seminar, or personal growth guru can help you—no matter what your career.
Getting into sales accidentally makes it difficult, but certainly not impossible, to sell on purpose. Therefore, a crucial but simplistic step is to make some purposeful commitments:
• Make a commitment to yourself to succeed.
• Make a commitment to the company you represent.
• Make a commitment to your product or service.
• Make a commitment to your customers.
• Make a commitment to “do it better.”

Bringing Good Ideas to the Table

An axiom is a self-evident truth. It requires no proof because it is so obvious. If you buy the axiom below, you are on your way to a fulfilling and rewarding sales career.
A corollary is something that naturally flows from the axiom and therefore incidentally or naturally accompanies or parallels it. Imagine that the corollary starts with the phrase, “It follows that …”

Accidental Salesperson Axiom:
Your clients get better when you get better.
Your clients are praying for you to get better. They want to work at the highest levels with the best salespeople in the business.

You can master all of the sales skills and have abundant product knowledge and industry experience, but you will sell even better when you have good ideas to bring to the table. Ideas that make your client’s business better make you a better salesperson. Let me explain.
One night after dinner, my friend Tom and I were reminiscing about our sales careers. Tom started his career as a wine sa...

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