Being responsive and reliable: Timeliness and reliability play a significant role in building trust and maintaining a positive impression. Respond promptly to customer inquiries, provide accurate information, and follow up on commitments.
As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rana Salman, MBA, Ph.D.
Rana Salman, M.B.A, PhD is a renowned expert in the sales industry who is transforming the performance of sales teams worldwide. With a background in marketing and years of experience in enterprise-level B2B sales, she has established herself as a trusted partner for global organizations seeking to elevate their sales strategies and execution. As the founder of Salman Consulting, LLC, Salman collaborates with midsize and Fortune 500 IT companies to create tailored sales strategies, develop compelling sales content, and deliver impactful training sessions. She is also the author of Sales Essentials: The Tools You Need at Every Stage to Close More Deals and Crush Your Quota.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
Certainly! My name is Rana Salman, and I am the CEO of Salman Consulting. Our focus is on enhancing the performance of sellers through comprehensive strategies, impactful content, and targeted training. My personal journey into the world of sales and sales consulting began during my Ph.D. studies. As I was completing my degree, I had the opportunity to take a course in consulting, and I was immediately drawn to the field. I decided to give it a try and little did I know that this initial curiosity would lead me to where I am today, decades later, still passionate and dedicated to this work.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
I’ve had numerous interesting and amusing experiences throughout my career. One particular story that stands out is when I started my own company six years ago and secured my first deal under its name. It was an exhilarating moment that taught me valuable lessons.
To land that first deal, I diligently followed the best practices we teach our sales representatives. This included customized prospecting, disciplined preparation for sales calls, conducting effective discovery, focusing on the customers’ perspective, and tailoring solutions to their specific needs. Throughout this process, I gleaned several key takeaways:
Firstly, I learned the importance of patience and grit in achieving success. Building a business and securing deals takes time, effort, and perseverance. This experience reinforced the significance of staying committed and determined even in the face of challenges.
Secondly, I discovered the value of trusting the process. By adhering to proven strategies and methodologies, I witnessed firsthand how a structured approach can lead to positive outcomes. Trusting in the process allowed me to remain focused and confident, knowing that I was following a proven path to success.
Thirdly, I realized the power of maintaining a positive mindset. Approaching each interaction and opportunity with optimism and enthusiasm created a positive energy that resonated with potential clients. It taught me that maintaining a positive attitude not only attracts positive results but also fosters stronger relationships and connections with customers.
Lastly, this experience highlighted the importance of celebrating even the smallest victories. Securing that first deal was a significant milestone, and it taught me the value of acknowledging and appreciating progress along the way. Celebrating those little wins boosts morale, motivation, and ultimately contributes to long-term success.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Definitely! I’m actually pretty excited about a new project I’ve been working on. It’s my first sales book called Sales Essentials, which will be published by the renowned McGraw Hill this June. The book is a practical guide designed to assist sales reps at any stage of the deal, and I’ve made sure it’s easy to navigate.
Sales Essentials covers all the essential elements needed for success in sales. As someone who is a sales practitioner, I understand that time is a precious resource for salespeople, and we need to make the most of it. That’s why I wanted to create something that provides reps with what they need, when they need it. No fancy jargon or beating around the bush here. I’m laying it all out — straightforward and to the point.
The book is packed with data, insights from my own experiences as a seller and training salespeople around the world, and real-life stories. It covers everything from what to do before a sale, during the sale, and even after the sale. Additionally, I’ve included case studies and helpful sales tools for both reps and their managers.
I believe this book will be a valuable resource for sales professionals, equipping them with the knowledge and strategies they need to excel. It’s all about providing practical guidance that can make a real difference in their day-to-day work. I’m genuinely excited to share these insights and help people achieve their sales goals with Sales Essentials.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I firmly believe that none of us can achieve success on our own. There are several people who have played a crucial role in getting me to where I am today. We’ll quickly run out of space here if I were to mention everyone individually, so let me summarize the key contributors for you.
First and foremost, my teachers from grade school to postgraduates hold a special place in my heart. When my family immigrated to the United States when I was 11 years old, I faced the daunting task of adapting to a new country and school. The kindness and unwavering belief of my teachers in me were invaluable, even at times when I was questioning myself every day. They nurtured my potential, supported me, and played an essential role in shaping my path.
My parents deserve immense gratitude as well. They embarked on the journey to the US with limited resources, driven by their aspiration to provide my siblings and me with a better life. I watched them day in and day out, working tirelessly and showing unwavering determination to create a better future for us. Their relentless efforts taught me the true meaning of grit and courage.
In addition, I have a remarkable support system at home, especially my husband. His love, support, encouragement, and feedback have propelled me forward. He has been instrumental in helping me grow and achieve my goals.
Lastly, I owe a significant portion of my success to my customers. From the early stages of my career, they took a chance on me, allowing me to prove my worth and showcase my abilities. Their trust and partnership have been crucial in my professional development.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
Fair question! I’ve been involved in marketing, sales, and sales consulting for 20+ years. To put it into perspective, my kids were babies when I started consulting, and now they’re almost done with college and high school. So, you can tell it’s been quite a journey! 😊
Throughout my career, I have successfully sold to diverse clients, including medium to large IT organizations, higher education institutions, non-profit entities, and healthcare providers. This breadth of experience has provided me with a comprehensive understanding of the sales landscape across various sectors.
As a sales consultant, I have worked diligently to create and implement effective sales enablement programs. These programs have been developed with a practical focus, allowing sales representatives to navigate each stage of the sales process with confidence and achieve tangible results. My approach is rooted in actionable strategies supported by research and data, ensuring that the solutions I provide are not merely theoretical but grounded in real-world effectiveness.
I am truly honored to have been selected by McGraw Hill as the author of a sales book, which serves as a testament to both my years of experience and the trust placed in my expertise. This opportunity further reinforces my commitment to delivering valuable insights and guidance to sales professionals seeking to enhance their skills and achieve greater success in their respective roles.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?
Speaking from personal experience, when I first entered the world of sales, there weren’t many resources available to guide me. Many of us from my generation and older stumbled into sales by chance and had to learn the ropes through trial and error. It was definitely a challenging journey. However, I have to say that the situation has significantly improved over time.
Nowadays, there are effective formal sales programs offered by reputable universities such as Texas A&M, TCU, Northern Illinois University, University of Texas — Dallas, Florida International University, and more. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with some of the professors leading these programs, and they are true rockstars who genuinely care about the sales profession. They have developed a compelling curriculum and actively involve industry practitioners to enhance the learning experience.
So, while there may have been a historical lack of formal education in sales, it’s reassuring to witness the positive changes and increasing availability of quality programs that prepare individuals for success in the sales profession.
This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?
In my opinion, it’s important for sales representatives to avoid being pushy. However, it’s crucial to differentiate between being pushy and demonstrating persistence while conducting value-based follow-ups. When a sales rep adopts a pushy approach, it often indicates an inward focus, where the conversation revolves around the salesperson’s agenda rather than considering the customer’s needs and perspective.
This inward-focused approach can be a major turn-off for customers as it fails to prioritize their interests. It hampers empathy and connection, both of which are vital in developing strong partnerships and high-trust relationships. When a salesperson becomes pushy, it triggers the customer’s defenses and can have a detrimental impact on future sales opportunities. It’s important to remember the simple rule of treating people as we would like to be treated.
By avoiding a pushy demeanor, sales professionals can ensure that the customer remains at the forefront of the conversation. This customer-centric approach fosters a deeper level of understanding, enhances trust, and paves the way for mutually beneficial partnerships. Ultimately, it’s about maintaining a genuine connection with customers, respecting their needs, and building long-lasting relationships based on trust and value.
The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?
So, I love prospecting and landing new logos, and it’s one of my favorite programs to train reps on. While I don’t have a secret that makes me exceptionally good at it, there are several key factors that contribute to my success in this stage. Here are some of them:
- First and foremost, discipline and consistency are essential in prospecting. Consistently allocating dedicated time throughout the week to prospecting ensures a healthy and robust pipeline. Without regular prospecting, the pipeline can suffer, so maintaining a disciplined approach is crucial.
- Another vital aspect is having a clear understanding of the buyer profile and buyer persona. Identifying the specific buyers who see value in your solution allows for a more targeted and effective approach. This knowledge helps in crafting personalized outreach that resonates with the intended audience.
- Utilizing tools such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator is instrumental in creating a smart and targeted prospect list. Leveraging different channels, including social media, email, phone, and events, helps build familiarity, establish connections, and expand reach.
- Effective follow-up is key. Each follow-up should provide value and demonstrate genuine interest in addressing the prospect’s needs. It’s essential to customize and personalize the experience rather than relying on generic outreach, as personalized communication stands out and grabs attention.
- When there’s interest expressed, it’s important not to delay. Booking appointments promptly is crucial, as the longer the time gap, the less likely you’ll secure a spot on their agenda.
Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously, every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Lead generation, or prospecting, is an essential and foundational step in the sales cycle. While every industry has its unique characteristics, there are fundamental strategies that can be employed to generate good, qualified leads. I’ve shared several in my answer above. And I’ll share more here.
- Familiarize Yourself with the Industry: It’s crucial to have a deep understanding of the industry you operate in. By immersing yourself in the industry’s trends, challenges, and opportunities, you can identify key milestones and events where there is a heightened need for your solution. For instance, in my practice, IT customers often hold sales kickoffs during specific times of the year. Recognizing this, I align my prospecting efforts to coincide with these compelling events, which increases the chances of capturing their attention and interest.
- Leverage Analytics to Understand Customer Behaviors and Triggers: Utilizing analytics tools can provide valuable insights into customer behaviors and triggers. By analyzing data such as website interactions, content engagement, purchasing patterns, social media engagements, you can gain a deeper understanding of your target audience’s preferences and needs. This information allows you to tailor your lead generation efforts to align with their interests and pain points, increasing the likelihood of attracting qualified leads.
- Utilize Your Network: As the old saying goes, “Your network is your net worth.” It is a valuable asset in lead generation. Tap into your professional network, industry connections, and relationships with existing customers. Leverage these relationships to seek referrals and introductions to potential leads. People are more likely to trust their internal referral network for recommendations.
- Revisit Lost Deals and Reengage with Prospects: No surprise, but in the world of sales, we encounter many instances where we lose deals. And it’s not always because we didn’t do a great job, but rather because the timing, pricing, or product didn’t align perfectly with the prospect’s needs at that specific moment. And during this process, many times we genuinely click with the prospect despite not closing the deal initially, which is why it’s important to re-engage with your prospects that you clicked with and stay in tune with what’s happening in their world because there is still potential for future opportunities.
- Make it part of your process to ask for referrals : Referrals are a powerful tool in lead generation. Ask your loyal customers to refer you to their peers and colleagues within their own organization and outside.
- Also, don’t forget about the power of expanding within existing accounts. There are leads within these accounts that you need to pay attention to. Treat prospecting within existing accounts with as much diligence as if you’re prospecting into new accounts.
In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?
Yes, the process of handling objections can be particularly challenging for individuals, and there are a few reasons why this is the case.
Firstly, the fear of the unknown plays a significant role. When faced with objections, salespeople may feel uncertain about how to respond effectively and worry about the outcome. Additionally, there is a strong desire to preserve the hard work put into the sales process and avoid losing the opportunity. This fear of losing can make handling objections feel overwhelming and daunting.
Furthermore, the fear of making a fool of oneself or seeming incompetent can hinder individuals when it comes to addressing objections. Sales professionals often want to appear knowledgeable and capable, and objections can sometimes trigger insecurities about their expertise or ability to address customer concerns.
Another reason why it can be difficult for individuals to handle objections is the emotional attachment they may develop towards their offerings, which can make it feel like someone is calling their baby ugly when objections are raised. This personal attachment can create a sense of defensiveness and hinder their ability to respond objectively and constructively.
Limited experience in sales and a lack of product knowledge, particularly for new sellers who are suddenly faced with customer questions, can contribute to the difficulty of handling objections. The pressure and intimidation of trying to respond to objections without sufficient knowledge or experience can be overwhelming.
To be better at handling objections, I recommend a few strategies. Firstly, preparation is key. It’s crucial to anticipate objections in advance and prepare thoughtful responses. By understanding common objections in your industry or product/service, you can proactively address them during the sales conversation.
Additionally, active listening and empathetic communication are essential. By genuinely understanding and acknowledging the customer’s concerns, you can respond in a more personalized and reassuring manner. This helps build trust and demonstrates that you value their perspective. Furthermore, do not hesitate to seek clarification by asking questions. Occasionally, you may discover that the customer’s intention is entirely different from what you initially assumed.
Also, when faced with objections, be aware of your body language, tone of voice, and overall demeanor. If you come across as nervous or speak hastily, these behaviors can be perceived as signs of insecurity or lack of confidence, potentially undermining your ability to address the objections effectively.
‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.
I believe that a sales rep sets themselves up for a successful close from the first sales call by implementing specific strategies throughout the sales process. Here are five key approaches they can employ to close a sale without being perceived as pushy:
- Selling value: Rather than focusing solely on the product or service features, emphasize the value and benefits it brings to the customer. Show them how your solution addresses their specific pain points and improves their overall business. For example, during a sales pitch for a project management software, a sales rep could highlight how the software streamlines processes, reduces costs, and increases team productivity by sharing success stories of other satisfied clients who experienced similar benefits.
- Collaborating with the customer on the solution: Involve the customer in the decision-making process and co-create a solution that aligns with their needs. Actively listen to their concerns, preferences, and goals, and work together to find the best fit. Throughout my sales career, I have encountered situations where I successfully collaborated with customers on various aspects, including uncovering their challenges, designing a customized solution, identifying payment terms and SOW structure that works for both parties, and developing a phased approach.
- Identifying the internal decision-making process: Understand the customer’s internal decision-making process by identifying the key stakeholders, decision-makers, and influencers involved and their role in the sales process. By doing so, you can tailor your approach and communication to address their individual needs and concerns.
I learned a hard lesson in my career when I assumed an executive was the one signing the contract and approving the purchase order (PO) for a significant deal. With this assumption, I confidently included the deal in my sales forecast, expecting a successful close.
To my surprise, I was shocked to discover that the proposal actually required approval from the board. This revelation caught me off guard and put the entire deal at risk. This situation could have been avoided if I had taken the time to unpack the internal approval process more thoroughly.
4. Always going back to the customer’s “why”: Continuously remind the customer of their initial motivations and goals. By revisiting their original pain points and objectives, you can reinforce how your solution aligns with their desired outcomes. For instance, during a negotiation with a potential client for an onboarding program, instead of solely focusing on the program’s features and logistics, I made a deliberate effort to bring the conversation back to the core purpose. I revisited the primary goal of reducing ramp-up time and demonstrated how our proposed strategy effectively achieves that objective.
5. Being responsive and reliable: Timeliness and reliability play a significant role in building trust and maintaining a positive impression. Respond promptly to customer inquiries, provide accurate information, and follow up on commitments.
For example, I vividly remember an incident that highlights the importance of being responsive. I was in the airport when I received an email notification informing me that a buyer had downloaded a contact me form and wanted to discuss a project. Despite the hectic environment, I found a quiet corner at the airport, quickly researched the buyer, and promptly gave him a call. He expressed sincere appreciation for the immediate response. We were still talking while I was boarding the plane.
During our conversation, we discussed his initiatives and the challenges he was facing. By the end of our call, I had qualified the opportunity and already scheduled a follow-up in-person meeting to delve further into the solution and scope. This swift and attentive approach left a lasting impression on the buyer, demonstrating my commitment to providing exceptional service.
I believe that speed is a competitive differentiator. By prioritizing responsiveness, I not only fostered a positive customer experience but also gained a competitive edge because I was able to get in first and help in developing the vision. Promptly addressing customer needs and initiating meaningful conversations can lead to accelerated sales cycles and increased customer satisfaction.
Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?
First and foremost, it’s crucial to ask yourself before sending a follow-up, “What value am I adding to the prospects?” Simply sending a generic follow-up like, “Just checking in if you received my last email!” is unlikely to grab your prospect’s attention. Instead, consider leveraging personalized insights. For example, if you come across something the prospect posted on LinkedIn, you can follow up with an email that attaches a relevant resource related to their post. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to understand their interests and needs and provided something of value.
Another approach is to stay informed about the initiatives their company is focusing on. Suppose you discover that they are leading a specific initiative. In that case, you can consider inviting them to an event that addresses a relevant topic related to their work. By extending this invitation, you showcase your interest in their success and provide an opportunity for them to further engage with you.
The key to successful follow-up is adding value. Instead of merely checking in, aim to offer insights, resources, or opportunities that align with the prospect’s interests and goals. This approach demonstrates that you’re invested in their success and establishes you as a valuable partner rather than an overeager salesperson.
As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?
In considering the best approach, it’s important to acknowledge that the effectiveness of communication depends on various factors and contexts. However, when it comes to closing a deal and securing a verbal confirmation, it’s generally advisable to avoid conducting strategic conversations solely over email. The written format can easily lead to misunderstandings or crucial details being overlooked. Instead, opt for video calls or face-to-face meetings where you can actively engage, be present, and maintain attentive communication.
It might be tempting to simply send a proposal via email and ask the customer to review it and provide feedback. However, this approach carries the risk of your message getting lost in the sea of countless emails they receive daily. To make a lasting impression and foster meaningful dialogue, prioritize personal interaction. Utilize video calls to visually share your proposal, allowing you to establish a connection and delve into the customer’s underlying motivations, needs, desired business outcomes, and challenges. By understanding their perspective, you can present a proposed solution that directly addresses their concerns.
Engaging your buyers in real time through video calls presents an excellent opportunity for immediate input and clarification. This enables you to promptly identify and address any potential oversights. During the video call, you can also inform them that you’ll be sending a final proposal via email, incorporating their input and checking for their availability and desired deadline. By establishing this communication beforehand, there are no surprises when they receive the final proposal, setting the stage for a quicker turnaround.
Reflecting on my early career, I vividly recall an incident that serves as a valuable lesson about relying too heavily on email communication. I had sent the Statement of Work (SOW) and followed up several times, but all I received in return was silence. It took me a week to realize that my executive sponsor was on vacation — a clear oversight on my part. This situation could have been easily avoided had I taken a more proactive approach, such as scheduling a video call and guiding them through the proposal while considering their availability. Valuable lesson learned!
Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could ignite a movement that maximizes positive impact for the greatest number of people, it would be to inspire individuals to recognize their power in making a difference. I know it may sound cliché, but I genuinely believe it from the depths of my being. Each one of us, regardless of our background or origins, has the potential to contribute something remarkable to our society and be a catalyst for change. It doesn’t have to be something big. I remember a personal experience that exemplifies this. My math teacher, during my senior year in high school, convinced me not to drop calculus after I failed my first test ever. In that moment, he believed in me and shared the valuable lesson that giving up after one failure is not the answer. It was just a 30-minute conversation, but it made an enormous impact on me. This incident taught me a lifelong lesson. It showed me that even seemingly small actions can create significant change and influence others in profound ways. So, let’s remember that every interaction and act of encouragement, no matter how brief, holds the power to inspire and transform lives.
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Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!
Rana Salman Of Salman Consulting On How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesy was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.