Last week I sold software to a Cathedral from a cold call. A Cathedral. There’s probably a cloud-based pun in there somewhere…
Sales has a bad rep
When you think of a salesman, you think of slimy estate agents or so-called “recruitment consultants”. The kind who ripped you off with made-up admin fees (I just paid £595 for a single viewing and a generic rental contract), or lured you into a dead-end grad role with flattery and a small bribe.
You might think of all the cock-sure, loud mouths and big heads in school. The breed that now have a photo of their car as a profile picture on Facebook.
You know the type.
Yet sales is an art. It is the single most transferable skill you can develop.
It isn’t just about selling someone something they probably don’t need. It’s about selling someone you – your story, your personality, your ideas.
While I cringe at some of the lies and bull told to shift products, there’s something truly admirable about a salesperson who believes in their offering, genuinely wants to bring value, and communicates this message authentically.
(My brother spent last Sunday evening talking with a cold prospect for 90 minutes on the phone about building them a website. He’s new to the development game and wouldn’t have been able to answer technical questions if asked, but it didn’t matter. He’s deeply passionate and it comes across. I was seriously impressed.)
The ability to sell is an asset to anyone.
It’s obvious that scenarios like a job interview require sales skills – you are really there to pitch you. But the reality is it’s an integral part of social interaction.
When you are debating where to go to dinner with friends, you are making an argument and testing your persuasive powers.
The dating world is similar to an interview setting. You are a self-marketing commodity. You have a short window of time to convey your “USPs” to a potential partner, before they choose one of your competitors.
For this reason, I think everyone, especially those in their 20s (and maybe lacking confidence), should be exposed to sales for character development.
Picking up the phone as an introvert
To this day, I have 20 something friends who would not so much as call a takeaway restaurant to place an order.
In the age of instant text messaging, entire generations are constantly talking to their friends, without actually speaking to one another.
Distant friendships can be sustained over years without hearing the sound of each other’s voice.
It is a shameful reality that if I call my parents back at home, my mum answers, immediately assuming something is wrong. How bad is that?
If you only ever talk to your nan on the phone (and that’s because she doesn’t have WhatsApp), there’s a good chance you will enter office life with an anxiety towards the landline.
Need to contact someone? You’ll reach for email or Slack. But sometimes you simply cannot avoid dialling and speaking with another human being.
If you aren’t forced to answer the office phone as an intern when everyone else ignores it, you quickly discover that to get a quick answer, sending an email just won’t do.
As an introvert, I was in this position of reluctance starting work.
My first office role was doing admin at a family friend’s carpet shop. I sat in the back-office upstairs, hiding away from customers.
If the phone at my desk rang, I could never tell if it was an internal call from my manager downstairs or an external enquiry. More often than not, I would ignore it, only to then hear them trekking upstairs… to ask if I wanted a cup of tea. Oops!
Cold calling for introverts and millennials
Fast-forward to today, I am confident over the phone, handling support calls, sales enquiries and product demos on a day-to-day basis. It makes a huge difference.
In a company of our size (tiny), it is probably the one thing that gives my boss peace of mind while he’s out. It directly increases my value as an employee too.
What changed? Well I didn’t become a natural overnight. You just have to practise and ease yourself in. To start with, anyone can answer a call and take a message.
When it comes to making calls, why not experiment with family and friends?
If you get into the habit of regularly chatting to them for 10 minutes a day, or even a week, the stigma associated with dialling can be greatly reduced. Not to mention the side benefits of improving your relationships. A call is always appreciated.
That brings us to the infamous cold call. While I find unsolicited cold callers as annoying as the next person, there’s a lot to be said for trying their job first-hand.
Picking up the phone to a stranger, asking them for something – at the very least their time – is no easy feat. At its worst, it results in abuse. If you are lucky, a sympathetic rejection. Often just getting past the “gatekeeper” or taking down an “info@” email address can feel like a win.
Cold calling requires a range of valuable skills, you need to:
- Come across as friendly and likeable (while being a nuisance).
- Convey information or purpose succinctly and with clarity.
- Have thick skin to not take rejection personally.
- Stay motivated with an optimism that the next prospect could be a winner.
I’ll be honest, I couldn’t cold call 9-5 for a living. I don’t have it in me. But I do get a buzz out of picking up the phone from time to time. It doesn’t get any less scary but it’s definitely helped me hone the above and I truly think it could benefit anyone.
If I can sell software to a Cathedral, I feel like I could walk into almost any business and have an impact, just by being willing to pick up the phone. It doesn’t have to be sales per say, but calling is a direct way to make progress on a task.
Don’t wait for someone to reply to your email, chase the answer straight away. This go-get-it attitude will take you far. It will especially make you stand out as one of the few millennials not allergic to the sound of their own phone voice.