Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

3 Lessons I Learned From My Sales Career

For a few years, as I began my professional career, I worked in technology sales. I worked with everyone from pastors of small churches to CEO's and COO's of Fortune 100 companies. I sold technology, designed systems, programmed, and even installed some myself. I learned a few things during this time. I don't have a lot of experience in sales outside of selling complicated technology, so I would have to defer to experts like my friends Mark Hunter or Dr. Trent Wachner to know if these apply to every area. The interesting thing I found after leaving that profession is that I'm always selling something: ideas, vision, directions, or opportunities. We're all really selling things on some level. Maybe you're selling your personal brand to your coworkers, ideas to your boss, or vision to your new team. Either way, I've found that what I learned while in sales has continued to help me today. Here's some of what I learned:

1. You've Got To "Get Me"
At a certain point it doesn't matter what widgets and gadgets you have or what types of deals you can offer. Customers need to trust you, and to trust you they need to feel like you understand them. They need to feel like you "get them". I did a customer engagement study for a company on a similar subject a few years back and found an overwhelming desire from customers to be understood. I learned to spend time getting to know my customer and really understanding what they do to the best of my ability.

This principal of trust building works in so many other arenas of life. When it comes to building teams, leading people, or even gaining the respect of those that lead you, everyone wants to feel like you understand them. People want to sense from the language you use and the way you communicate with them that you understand their world. The more I've been able to "get" people, as individuals, the greater success I've had in all arenas of my life.

2. Sell Solutions, Not Widgets
My greatest success came when I sold solutions, not gear. It fits with that old marketing story, "people don't buy drill bits, they buy holes". When I started to listen and hear the problems that needed to be solved, I started to add real value. If you can add value, they'll keep coming. Sometimes people will pay for stuff they want, put people will always pay for what they need. People need two things: solutions to their problems or ways to exploit opportunities. Solve problems or provide opportunities on some level and people will talk. Sell widgets and it's hit or miss.

I've found this to be true in many areas, but especially when dealing with those in senior leadership positions over me. When I'm "selling" an idea, I leave the widgets out of it unless asked. The language of selling your ideas to decision makers should revolve primarily around solutions or opportunities, not widgets and gadgets. In the end, who cares what gadget you use, as long as you solve the problem. I've found success solving problems and capitalizing on opportunities, and I happen to do it using technology.

3. Deliver, No Matter What.
I don't think you get how serious I am, so let me say it again: deliver, no matter what. You've got to come through. The reason I left the first company I worked for is because they couldn't deliver consistently. Don't sell it unless you know you can deliver. Long term success is built one sale at a time. They trust, you deliver, they'll trust you again. There where times when I over sold and committed to things that I couldn't deliver on. I never found great success in those situations, only great stress!

I was talking with a gentleman recently who had just been promoted. He was wondering how he should go about asking for capital investments into his new department that was in desperate need. My counsel to him was don't under promise, but always over deliver. Start small, set realistic expectations, and than knock it out of the park. Do whatever you can to make things happen and deliver. Mistakes happen, but the game is all about expectations. If there is potential for mistakes or failure, I'm always sure to lay that out. It sometimes means I don't get the capital I need, but more often than not leadership will trust me because I always try to come through. It's so important to set proper expectations and than always deliver.

In the end, it's about creating trust, developing personal relationships, and solving problems. I think sales people need to become really good at reading between the lines to uncover the real needs. Solving problems adds value and creates trust in every situation, sales or otherwise. I've learned to spend time understanding people, learning about their problems and opportunities, providing solutions, and always following through to the full extent of my ability. I understand that when people buy from me, whether it was technology than or an idea now, they are putting trust in me. I take that very seriously. I learned a few things while in sales, but I've found these lessons about trust and creating value apply to many areas of life.

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