Ellen Zehntner is a sales manager at HubSpot and helps lead and develop the small business sales organization. She co-teaches the Sales Training: Techniques for a Human-Centric Sales Process course on Coursera. She has been in sales for 10 years and has held sales positions at companies like AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, and Orange. Read on to discover why she thinks everyone should learn sales:
Why did you decide to build a career in sales?
I’ve always been fiercely independent and competitive and I like to see tangible results for the effort I put in. Sales is a career that perfectly aligns with that personality. It’s a career where you get what you put in and you can determine your own destiny. It motivates me to know that I can control my success whether it’s in the form of salary increases, commission checks, or being number one on the sales rankings. All of those things motivate me to want to work harder and smarter. It’s the type of environment that fuels my motivation.
What’s the difference between how Hubspot does sales and how other companies do sales?
Hubspot does sales right. We’re one of the few companies I’ve encountered that truly aligns the sales and marketing teams. That alignment enables our sales teams to work smarter not harder. As salespeople, we use the information gathered by our marketing team to personalize our outreach and conversations. This helps us speak with more prospects more efficiently and we’re more helpful.
That’s because our marketing team uses inbound marketing and collects data that lets us know how and when prospects engage with the HubSpot website. We can see what prospects are interested in and use that context to provide help, support, and guidance. We couple our inbound marketing with an inbound sales approach and continue the personalization from marketing down to the sales process.
On the other hand, many organizations still take an outbound approach to sales and make cold calls and send direct mail and cold email. These are still available methods to capture attention, but those techniques aren’t as effective as the inbound sales approach we have at HubSpot.
Should new college graduates, new working professionals, or experienced professionals have sales skills?
I think every single person on the planet should learn basic sales skills. Learning to be a good salesperson is important because it makes you improve your listening skills. You become a much better communicator which is key in all aspects of life. It’s not just about selling a product for your job or company. The skills that I’ve developed over the years in this profession carry over into all aspects of my life like just how to talk to people, how to communicate with different personalities, cultures, backgrounds, and opinions.
When you’re in a sales role every person you speak with will be different. As you have those conversations, you’ll learn about your communication style and see where you need to improve and learn to communicate with a variety of people. You’ll get better at knowing when to lean in to certain talk tracks or when to ask more questions or when to be more dominant role and take control of the conversation versus being more passive and letting them lead it.
What are the most important skills or attributes someone should develop if they want to be a strong salesperson?
I look at attributes as things like being self-motivated and having a desire to succeed and win. At the end of the day, nobody can motivate you to get up in the morning or make you want to win. Those things come from your own self-motivation. If you have an intrinsic motivation to win and be the best, a career in sales will complement your personality. On the other hand, you can develop sales skills over time with external help. Active listening and the ability to truly understand what somebody means is the most important thing. The trick about active listening in sales is that you not only have to listen to what a person says, but you have to interpret what they meant. People may say one thing but they might mean something else.
In sales, it’s crucial to understand the underlying meaning of someone is trying to communicate. Without that alignment, you’re not going to be as helpful as you could be and you won’t be able to gain their trust. Confidence is also important – confidence in yourself, your company, and your product. You have to find a company that has a mission and vision you truly believe in. Without a firm set of values for yourself, your company, and your product, you won’t be able to exude the confidence you need to make strong recommendations and to help other people understand that working with you is the right move for their business.
What advice do you have for professionals who want to get better at sales?
Reading sales books will always be helpful for sales reps of almost any tenure. You’re not going to read the book and adopt the entire framework that’s taught, but if you can walk away with one thing to incorporate into your own sales style, that’s a win. If you read five books and you get five strong takeaways, you’ll be in a better position than if you never read those five books.
I would also find a peer or mentor either at your company or another organization. They can be an outlet to share your highs and lows with and trust me, you’ll have plenty of both. It’s helpful to have a good support system to help you get through the tougher times and have people to share the good times with.
And lastly, as a sales professional, you should constantly ask yourself, “How can I make this better?” That could mean being critical of the sales process, the product, the marketing, anything. You’ll get stuck when you accept the status quo. By figuring out how to contribute and add value to the business with new ideas and better ways of doing things, you’ll uncover more success than if you didn’t take those risks or try those different things.
This could be as simple as meeting with someone on your engineering team (if you’re selling software) to share an idea you have for a feature enhancement based on conversations you had with prospects. Or you can sit down with someone on your marketing team to share ideas to better position the product or target a specific segment of the audience.
You could even meet with your CEO or VP of Sales because you feel that sales process is misaligned to the way your prospects make purchasing decisions and you have some ideas to improve that. In short, speak up.
You may think your voice isn’t important or doesn’t matter but it does because you’re on the front lines selling your products and talking to prospects. You’re hearing yeses and nos and hopefully learning why you’re getting that yes or no. You can use those learnings to improve the business.
What’s one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were getting into sales?
I wish I knew how good I was in the beginning. I’m not saying I’m an amazing salesperson, but I underestimated the influence I could’ve had if I had spoken up and shared ideas I had to improve the business.
Sharing your suggestions is important because:
- If your suggestions are good, they will get implemented and you, your team, your business, and your customers all win.
- It helps you advocate for yourself.
At the end of the day, the best salespeople are the ones who try to add value across the board, not just by hitting or exceeding their quota but also trying to make improvements across the entire company. You’ll be recognized for these efforts. I wish I realized there wouldn’t have been any harm in making suggestions or voicing my opinions earlier in my career. My peers were decades older than me and I felt like I was too new and had to earn the right to share my opinions. Looking back, there would have been no downside to speaking up.
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