What Every Job-Seeker Needs To Know About Selling

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I don’t like to have regrets, but I do wonder sometimes what would have happened if I had ever wandered into a sales training session when I was a corporate HR leader.

There was sales training going on all around me, all the time! I missed out. I thought sales training taught people how to be pushy. It’s just the opposite! Good selling is all about listening.

Every job-seeker is a salesperson, but sadly most job-seekers don’t know a thing about selling. Bad job-search advice shoveled out over the years has convinced far too many job-seekers that “selling yourself on a job interview” means droning on about yourself and your accomplishments.


Heck, no! Selling yourself as a job-seeker requires lots more probing and careful listening than talking.

Let’s talk about pain for a second. Managers hire new people to alleviate some sort of pain. If there were no pain, there wouldn’t be a job opening.

When companies are growing, they have pain. They call them Growing Pains! When they’re shrinking, they have a different kind of pain.

Your goal on a job interview, and even earlier when you reach out to a hiring manager with your Pain Letter and Human-Voiced Resume, is not to talk about how great you are.

Your goal in a Pain Letter (sent in one envelope with your Human-Voiced Resume) is to get a conversation started. In your letter, you’ll offer a hypothesis about the Business Pain that you think may be keeping your hiring manager up at night.

Maybe it’s products that aren’t selling as fast as they should be, or customers who are sick of waiting on hold to speak with a representative.

Maybe suppliers are falling down in their quality standards or maybe great people are leaving the company. All of these are types of Business Pain that someone — maybe you! — can solve.

In a Pain Letter, you’ll advance a Pain Hypothesis. Once you’re on the interview, you’ll use your face-to-face conversation to probe, in order to learn more about the Business Pain your manager is struggling with.

I follow the Sales Training guru Garry Duncan. Garry is a genius and an amazing trainer. Garry tells a story in his workshops about a guy who sells commercial carpeting. The salesman (we’ll call him Craig) has an appointment to go see a woman who owns a preschool. Craig’s inside sales rep colleague has set up the meeting for him.

Craig doesn’t know why the lady needs new carpeting, but he knows that he needs to walk into his meeting with a guess about her carpet-related pain.

If he doesn’t make the conversation a conversation about pain, the lady is sure to buy his cheapest brand of carpet. Who wouldn’t? If there’s nothing to talk about apart from price, of course we’d lean toward the lowest-priced product.

When I go to Staples or Office Depot to buy a piece of equipment, I ask the salesperson “What are the differences between these products?”

If they give me a desultory answer like “I don’t know, this one has an automatic shutoff and I guess this one has better resolution” I’m going to say “Give me the cheapest one.”

In my mind I can hear the store manager wailing. I can hear the manufacturer crying. To be a good salesperson, you have to ask “What are you trying to accomplish? Let’s find the product that’s right for your needs!”

Craig the carpet salesman goes to see the preschool owner after three p.m., when the children have all gone home. He’s got his carpet sample book with him.

“Nice to meet you!” he says. “Same here,” she says. They sit down.

“Lovely preschool you’ve got here!” says Craig. “I can imagine that with all these little tykes running around, stains on the carpeting are a major issue for you.”

“I would never let the kids have drinks or food in the carpeted areas,” says the preschool owner. “We’d never get the crumbs out. They eat and drink in here, in the kitchen where there’s tile flooring. I care more about the durability of the carpet than about staining.”

Bingo! Craig knows her pain, now. The great thing about advancing a hypothesis about pain is that even if you’re off the mark, your buyer (your hiring manager) is likely to set you straight.

How do you advance a Pain Hypothesis in a job interview? You can’t very well walk in and say “So, I noticed that your website looks like crap. Should we talk about that?” You can’t be that blunt. It’s not socially appropriate. You’ll do this, instead:

BRUCE, A MANAGER: So, Amy, tell me about yourself.

AMY: For sure! Well, I’ve been here in town for about five years, since I moved here after grad school. You already know that I’m a marketer – I’m especially interested in great visual design and about building community with audiences.Can I ask you a quick question about the Online Marketing Manager position?

BRUCE: Definitely. (Bruce wasn’t dying to hear Amy recite her career story, anyway. He wants to know the answer to ‘Can Amy solve my problem?’)

AMY: I notice that you’ve talked a lot in the job ad about the new-product launch process, as it relates to your website and outbound email newsletter, specifically.

(Amy is too smart to say “I’m an expert in both those areas.” Why would Bruce believe her? She has no credibility with him, yet. She’s going to learn more about the problem AND build her credibility with Bruce by asking smart, pertinent questions, instead.)

MANAGER: Exactly. We need to get more formal about the way we promote our new products on our site and in our other vehicles.

AMY: And what makes you say that?

BRUCE: Because in 2014, we launched sixteen products and six of them were huge hits. Two of them were so-so, and the other four barely made a ripple.

AMY: What tells you that it was the launch marketing for those products that fell down — as opposed to, say, the distribution scheme or the pricing or something else?

BRUCE: Great question. In the case of the six huge hits we had last year, we were very careful about the launch marketing. We educated our salespeople to drip on their customers. We dripped on them with email newsletters and on our social media platforms, too. In the case of the four products that basically died, we were sloppy. We sent out a few things, but there was no cohesive plan.

AMY: (Not going to solutions! Amy wants Bruce to calculate, and therefore to remember, what those painful shortfalls cost him. When Bruce does the math, he’ll be emotionally in touch with the pain — just where Amy wants him to be.) And the impact of that distinction – the difference between the most-successful product launches and the least-successful ones….can you give me an idea of the scope or size we’re talking about — dollars left on the table?

BRUCE: Well, we overshot our first-year sales projections on three of our six most successful new launches. Those are pure wins. The other three hit their projections, which were aggressive. Of our four least-successful new product launches, we missed expectations by anywhere from two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to a million dollars on each launch.

AMY: So we’re really talking about leaving on the table, what would you say…?

BRUCE: Let’s say two million dollars for the year.

AMY: Okay, thanks. So you’re looking to take the online marketing strategy up a big notch, it sounds like, and get a jump on the 2015 and 2016 new-product releases to make up that two million and more?

BRUCE: Good way to put it. My thoughts were more along the lines “stop the bleeding” but heck yes, I’d like to make up that shortfall. So how would you do it?

Bruce is looking for proof that Amy can not only ask smart questions, but supply solutions as well. Amy is not about to provide free consulting for Bruce or anyone else.

AMY: Last year’s online marketing strategy didn’t hit the mark, from what you’ve said. It sounds like you’re looking to take a higher-altitude view of your online marketing, especially as it ties into new product releases.

You’re looking to create a roadmap for 2015 and then work backwards from each release date so that every release gets as much attention as it needs. That could, of course, include revising some of your release dates, so that the right messages reach your audience at the right times and your buyers don’t get overloaded.

BRUCE: So you’ve suggested a roadmap. What else would you do differently?

AMY: Honestly Bruce, I’d approach your situation as any consultant would. I’d interview you and your sales managers, your product development people and your customers.

I’d interview your CEO, and dig into the data. I’d understand how the new-product release schedule came to look the way it does. We can only force so many new products into the pipeline. There’s a natural ebb and flow of customer attention, as you know.

We might think we have the greatest new product ever, but if it’s too similar to what we’ve already got out there –

BRUCE: I agree with you, Amy, but the product managers have their revenue targets!

AMY: I’d love to explore that issue with them. There are a lot of ways to generate revenue. Is every single new product release the best use of resources, or could we be making more money on the products we’ve already got? New product launches are expensive.

BRUCE: I like the fact that you’re not shy about sharing your opinions.

AMY: (smiling) I can’t imagine how it would help you if I were.

BRUCE: I’m going to bring you back to meet our VP of Product, Marsha Smith.

AMY: I’d love to meet her!

Did you notice that Amy never trumpeted her accomplishments during her interview with Bruce? She didn’t talk about her trophies and awards. She barely talked about herself at all. She consulted, instead.

She got the second interview without spelling out for Bruce exactly what he should do to solve his problem.

How would Amy know the right answer, before she’s had a chance to interview Bruce and his colleagues and customers and look at last year’s data?

2015 is the perfect time for you to step out of Sheepie Job-Seeker mode and sell yourself on a job interview a different way.

Rather than sitting quietly like a mouse and answering the hiring manager’s questions, you can spin the interview around to talk about a much more interesting and important topic — solving your manager’s pain!

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