If you’re the kind of person who can strike up a conversation with a stranger at an airport bar, then you have a shot at a career in sales, said John Copenhaver who’s been with Infogroup for 22 years.
While there’s more than one thing that makes a successful sales representative, being able to interact with someone you don’t know and identify their needs are absolutely essential.
“If you find that uncomfortable, or kind of out of your realm, I would say sales is probably not for you,” said Copenhaver, Infogroup’s senior vice president of Local Marketing Solutions.
Before working at Infogroup, a big data and marketing company, headquartered in Papillion, Nebraska, a young Copenhaver lived in Texas and was looking for job opportunities. Then, one day, his mother said four words that, for better or worse, helped jumpstart his professional career.
She said: “You need a job.”
Some prodding from his mom and a little legwork eventually led Copenhaver to an entry-level sales position at West Telemarketing in San Antonio. At first, he admitted, he wasn’t very good at it.
“I started out as a selling over the phone scripted role, but I could never close,” Copenhaver said. “There was a ton of fear at first to get over that, but once I figured out this isn’t that hard—if you just ask them: ‘Would you like to sign up for this?’—they actually signed up.”
Once you hammer out the basics, it’s easy to realize becoming a top sales rep is more than bringing charisma and the ability to quickly close deals to the table. He said knowing your product better than anyone is vital as more and more customers walk through the door with background information found on the internet or in consumer reports.
“People have done their homework. When people walked onto a car lot years ago, they had no clue,” Copenhaver said. “I see it as people are going to probably get 80 percent of the way (to a sale), and that last 20 percent, which is the most difficult, is why you have to understand their needs.”
He said sales reps, who miss on this fundamental, will struggle to connect with customers, ultimately delaying advancement in the sales world. It’s part of the success formula that includes a salesperson, product, and company image.
“If they don’t understand my needs, I’m never going to buy from them,” he said. “You can have the best product in the world, but if people don’t like the company, you’re going to have a hard time, too.”
Copenhaver added top sales reps are able to identify their strengths, acknowledge failure, and find areas where they can continue to improve themselves. For example, he said, if a customer repeatedly says “no,” you’re probably selling the wrong product or selling it the wrong way.
The best reps will focus on pain points, or targeted customer needs, to gain trust and deliver a strong message. Keep this in mind, and you’ll be able to shape a successful career in sales.
“A new product, a new method, a new way,” Copenhaver said. “It may just be a rehash of something old, but you need to stay on top of the technology and the changes.”