By Kristine Steuart
Building confidence and leadership muscle in marketing means fully embracing your inner salesperson. It will help you be a better marketing leader or marketer, and help you drive the business impact you want (and I believe this applies for any leader, not just in marketing). Here are 5 ways I built my sales muscle early in my career, and still do today.
Embracing sales as a marketer
I realize that not everyone innately feels like a salesperson, including me. Earlier in my career when I was a marketing manager, I was working at a tradeshow booth, when a colleague told me, “You know, you’re a good sales person.” And I remember that distinctly because it surprised me (he happened to be very good at this). I thought: first of all, I didn’t know a lot about the product. I'm not technical, and, I can’t really answer a lot of the trade show attendees’ questions. I said: “I’m not a salesperson!"
And then when Katherine and I started Allocadia, we started to sell large, enterprise deals. It was just the two of us doing the calls and demos, negotiating contracts, and we closed over $1 million in sales before we brought in investors. And today as CEO, I am still wearing my sales hat everyday.
As I reflect back, here are the ways I built my sales muscle early in my career, and still do today. The goal is that you can use these ideas to channel your inner salesperson, embrace sales, and as a result, be a better leader and marketer for it.
- Lean on the sales experts. As Katherine and I had to sell, we turned to the experts. To help us learn, I had an advisor and former colleague from SAP who would meet with us on a weekly basis to hold us accountable on deals and pipeline. There are amazing leaders and experts that can help you grow. Get their help. Get involved. Talk to them about what they have learned helping customers achieve their goals.
- Share your story. When we started Allocadia, our early customers were buying from Katherine and me. They trusted we could help them and believed we would deliver. There was the spirit of being “in it together” with our customers. We were working together in partnership to accomplish a common goal and create a win-win scenario. People want to be a part of something - so share your story, your history, your vision, your perspective, what you love or find challenging; and conversely, ask them this. This will create an engaged partnership to go forward with.
- Know your customer deeply, but it's also ok when you don't know the answer. As Katherine and I were former marketers, we had the benefit of knowing our target market. We were literally selling to our (former) selves. We not only understood our customers’ pain point, we used to feel it and we knew how to help our customers solve it. I don’t believe that you need to be former customer to sell to your customers, but understanding them is critical in helping create a win-win business partnership. This doesn't mean though, that you always have to know the answer! When I was working that tradeshow booth promoting Crystal Reports, I certainly wasn’t an expert, but I succeeded by building relationships with people. I did this by figuring out how I could help them and then figuring out where I could find answers for them (it was OK if I didn’t always know the answer or if I was learning, I could still help the customer by finding the answer).
- Ask questions. I thought selling was knowing everything about what you were selling. I focused on ‘the what’ and ‘the pitch’. What I learned quickly was that questions matter, and it was about engagement. This doesn’t mean don’t do your background research or don't know vision story for example. But get to know them, ask what their top priorities are, learn more about them, their teams. At the booth I did a simple switch: what do you do & who are you versus who am I and what do we do (I think in hindsight I was forced to do this!). I still do this today.
- Walk a mile in sales shoes. There is nothing better to do to embrace something, than to jump into it directly. Join sales calls. Join customer calls. Experience it and create new ideas from your experiences. One thing I admire so greatly about the Allocadia marketing team is how much they engage with our prospects and customers. I have even known marketers who become quota-carrying salespeople for a while to grow their careers - a large shift - but one that paid off. This applies whether you are a CMO or the newest member of the marketing team. It's good all around.
And remember, we are all someone’s customer. I realized early on that we are all constantly surrounded and involved in some kind of “sales process”. From buying groceries to buying your morning coffee. Once I understood this, it removed the mystery of sales. Selling became much less intimidating when I recognized that we are ALL someone’s customer.
This post was adapted from my original 'We are all someone's customer' CMO Leading in Change post.