While many sales experts begin their careers on the phones or in the field, I learned as a child watching my grandmother.
My grandmother, who we called Mimi, owned an upscale women’s apparel store -- you can see us together in the photo to your right!
Growing up in this family-run business, I learned endless lessons around selling value and quality -- lessons that didn’t hit me until years later.
For those of you just starting out in sales, and for those who could use a refresher, I’d like to pass on these lessons to you. Whether years ago in Mimi’s store or today in an inbound selling world, these same lessons come up time and time again.
Lesson 1: Start building your brand.
My grandmother, Lorene Hall, branded her stores with her own name, and gave customers a high-touch customer service experience. She'd poll customers to see what they wanted her to stock, then she took action to find those items.
Mimi taught me that your brand is important -- whether you’re in sales, marketing, or services. This doesn’t mean you need to start a blog featuring your latest Euro trip, but blogging is one of the ways to establish a brand. The question of, “Should sales reps be blogging?” is an ongoing one.
Now if you don’t have the opportunity to blog, simply post content on your LinkedIn profile so people can still see you as an industry expert. While you are at it, make sure your LinkedIn profile is well-crafted and using the basics of inbound.
Lesson 2: Learn how to say no.
You’ve likely heard this advice before -- and it’s because it’s important! Mimi knew what her customers liked and wanted. Her buyer persona was a woman aged 35 to 70 with a certain style. When wholesalers would try to talk her into buying something she knew her customers would not like, she said no emphatically. They called her crazy, they told her she was going to miss out, but ultimately she passed on fads she didn't believe her clients would enjoy.
Sometimes it’s hard to say no, especially if the person asking is your boss or a prospect. But if something isn’t a good area of focus for you, or if it’s not a profitable situation, you need to say no.
Lesson 3: Technology is your friend, not your solution.
Back in the day of her business, Mimi sent out thousands of hand-addressed postcards. There were no computers back then, but Mimi still tried her best to personalize her marketing strategies with hand-written messages and personal phone calls to connect with her top customers.
Flash forward to today and there has never been a time with more tools to help someone in sales -- but tools do not give you process or methodology.
For example, I can tell who’s visiting our website or when they click with Signals, a free Chrome extension from HubSpot. I can even tell when they’re reading an email I’ve sent or are clicking on a link -- and that is awesome. But I have to do something with that information. It being awesome isn’t enough. Just like a postcard from Mimi wasn't enough without the personalized message.
Lesson 4: Accept failure today and tackle it tomorrow.
Mimi opened stores in several different locations. They didn't all work out, so she did research and found new locations that were more successful. She never dwelled on the past, and always moved forward with a focus on her valued clientele.
Think about professional athletes. When they lose a game, more often than not, they have to turn around the next day and start over fresh -- and they have to deal with booing fans in the audience.
If you can come in fresh and forget the baggage of the deal that didn’t close, you can stay focused on moving forward and progressing.
Lesson 5: Lessons aren’t always learned around a conference table.
This one is sometimes hard to remember, but as a sales rep, you need to have the mindset of a lifelong learner. No matter how much experience you gain, you never know what else you can improve.
Just look at my own example: My role model was my grandmother. She never discounted her products. She stood up to many manufacturer reps who thought they knew more about what her customers wanted. She always held her ground.
Mimi was one of the best sellers I have ever known, and I hope the lessons here help more people model her leadership.
Originally published Jan 15, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017