I was reading the Dr. Seuss classic, "Oh, the Places You’ll Go", to my kids, when it struck me how every line comes across as a salesperson’s guide for success. Well, almost every line. The good doctor’s advice made me reflect on my own career in telecom sales and I thought, if I were to write a follow-up just for salespeople, I’d open with: "Oh, the people you’ll meet, the relationships you’ll build."
We can talk all day about crushing quota winning against competitors, but sales performance – in any field – always comes down to people and relationships.
Salespeople all have their different styles and techniques, but most would (or at least should) agree that building a successful sales reputation hinges on strong customer and team relationships based on trust, credibility, transparency and reliability. That’s certainly true in my case, and it remains the one constant in a career full of changes.
Build genuine relationships on top of trust and reliability
The telecom world is small. I still run into people I met when I first started. We always play the "Where have you been and who do you work with now?" game and soon enough find we have more common connections than we thought.
Reputations (good and bad) last and can follow you forever. If you do it right, then the people you surround yourself with will fill your sails in the good times to keep you moving forward. In the bad times, they’ll keep your ship from going down.
I’ve been in telecom sales since 2002, back when video calls weren’t our primary method of communications and sales prospects actually responded to introductory emails (really!).
Back then I dreamed of selling one DS3 (that’s a 45 Mb line which is no longer even sellable in many markets now) from the U.S. to India so I could crush my quota.
We focused on Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies, call centers and manufacturing companies. There were no content streaming services. If you said you were streaming, people probably thought you were going fishing. Technology companies didn’t need terabytes of capacity to run content across their global network.
Find a team that collaborates and works hard to support each other
I worked with an amazing team of people who taught me the ropes of telecom. More important, they showed me how an incredibly close team that supports each other, trusts each other, laughs together and wins together can accomplish anything.
Sales wasn’t easy then, not that it’s always a breeze today. I remember working hard to bring in new leads, and even harder to describe where I worked and what my company did. Then there was the challenge of learning all I needed to know about telecom solutions, network requirements and the right questions to ask leading to the right design and outcomes for the customer.
Success happens when you’re persistent, consistent and genuine
The first deal I closed was for a BPO that needed a more reliable connection between its call centers in the U.S. and India. Their current provider was a nightmare for uptime and support, and they wanted to work with a supplier that really cared about them. I sold them a point-to-point circuit that changed their model and I remember getting a picture of myself holding the order form. I was so proud!
Sure, I’ll say I won that deal through expert knowledge and a savvy sales technique, but the real reasons were listening closely, understanding their challenges and designing the right solution for them. I also made sure our post-sales support team was ready to jump in if things hit the fan (which always happens in telecom).
When things get tough, remember, you’re building resilience and learning
My next big customer experience taught me that if things could go wrong on a network, they would. It was an invaluable lesson in understanding all the "gotchas" of subsea network designs. But the customer stayed with us, mainly because they knew I genuinely cared. I answered calls at all hours, I knew their network inside and out, and knew how to quickly work to resolve problems using the expertise of our team and our network.
Keep in touch with people across your broad network
Dr. Seuss said, "Bang-ups and hang-ups" can happen to anybody. The good and the bad together build your character and define your story. The strength of the relationships you’ve forged across your internal and customer networks are critical to helping you grow and learn. When you build bridges, build them strong enough to last. People remember those who impressed them, did the right thing and gave them a great experience.
Tough times pass and there’s always a silver lining
Looking back 18 years now, I can say my journey so far has been an equal dose of hard work, professional fulfillment and fun. But the best part, by far, has been the relationships I’ve built and maintained. Colleagues, peers, former leaders, even competitors, are all in my contact list. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn what to do from the best – and what to avoid from some of the "not so great."
Your reputation and ability to truly care for the people you work with are what matters. They will propel you forward to success – across all the lands, lakes and ponds you cross.
Hmmm… this all sounds like pretty good advice. Maybe I will write that follow-up book if this sales thing doesn’t work out!