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The Young Professional's Guide to Sales

Scott Britton is a best-selling author, host of a Top 10 iTunes podcast, and founder of a highly successful media company. He's also one of the most accomplished young Sales professionals in the world, which is why we asked him to join the Ambition Blog and provide some insights into what makes a successful Sales Rep.

Scott Britton is a #1 best selling Amazon author, entrepreneur, and host of top 10 iTunes business podcast The Competitive Edge. He's spent the last year traveling South America running a media company called Life-LongLearner that has provided premium training to 22,000+ people on everything from business development to sleep optimization. You can find some of Scott's excellent sales insights on his Life-LongLearner Sales blog.

Before this, he was a business development executive at SinglePlatform, a company acquired by Constant Contact for 100 million dollars. He's spoken on business development and mindset to multiple Inc. 500 companies  and been featured in Lifehacker, The Next Web, and Business Insider as one of the top 25 rising stars in New York Tech Under 25 before he became an old man.

The following conversation took place via phone this past Saturday. Appropriately, we caught Scott, a self-ascribed restless spirit, while he was in the midst of a road trip to California. Once we finished discussing our mutual love for NFL football, we got down to business.

Scott Britton on How to Succeed as a Young Sales Professional 

1. LIFE-LONG LEARNER

Alright Scott, let’s get started here, and thank you for joining me. First, can you tell me a little bit more detail about what you are doing now with Life-Long Learner?    

Sure thing, Jeremy. Glad to be doing it.

So I started out creating online training materials that shared all the trade secrets we learned in taking a company from 0 to a 100 million dollar exit in less than 3 years. They covered everything from cold-emailing to business development to optimizing business efficiency--basically hacks. And today, there’s training courses that reach over 20,000 people online. And my goal today is just giving people the absolute best ideas through the training materials and the podcasts to be more effective in the workplace and their life.

2. SOFT SALES

In the content you distribute, you come across as a very approachable, down-to-earth guy, professionally. Which leads to my first major question for you: Do you see an industry trend away from the classic, Type-A sales methods and towards a friendlier, less aggressive approach?

I think there’s always a time and a place for a hard sell, but in my experience, most people most of the time are better suited when they can create  empathy--when they can practice empathy and they can be relatable and build trust, embody those characteristics, they typically do better.

And at the end of the day, it’s all about calibration. If someone is super busy--only wants to talk about work and is just like alright, I’m gonna buy it or I’m not gonna buy it--it’s probably better to take a hard sales approach.

Most people are bored as hell and don’t like their jobs, and just want someone nice to talk to. And by the way, most people still sell the old school way. So starting from a place of empathy, friendliness, relatability, and calibrating from there, you are going to differentiate yourself from most sales people and you’re going to connect to a larger body of people. And ultimately, you can always increase hard selling if you sense that that’s going to be more effective, rather than try to backpedal after you’ve come on too strong and turned someone off.

So essentially, it’s better to take a soft sales approach since you have more ability to adapt that approach if the need arises. And if you start out with a hard sales approach and then try to revert back to a softer approach, it seems disingenuous and a little calculated.

Yeah, and also, you have to remember that every customer and every market segment is different. You have to understand how big the group you are selling to is. If there’s only 500 people you can sell your product to, you have to be on the softer side because you don’t want to burn any bridges. If there is 500 thousand people you are selling to, taking a more aggressive strategy is not as risky because there 499,999 other people you can potentially sell to.

Do you see this erring in favor of a softer sales approach as becoming more of a trend right now?

Yeah I think so, especially too because of all the social media and different tools to connect with people on. All the colloquial dialogue and style of communication that would take place, say, at a dinner table with the customer is starting to occur in more places. People are becoming more comfortable with being vulnerable and relatable online, because of social media.

Thus, everyone needs to adopt to this trend and meet people where they are at, really. That’s what it all comes down to. It’s all about tonality and openness, at this point.

3. THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN INTROVERT IN SALES 

Somewhat related to the last question: You’ve described yourself as an introvert, which seems to go against the grain in your particular field. Sales and Marketing tends to be dominated by extroverted personalities, so is being an introvert something that a prospective salesperson has to overcome? Or can it be a benefit?

I think it absolutely can be a benefit. Along the lines of what we just spoke about, you always want to be trying to better understand the person that you are selling to, so that you can properly position and adapt yourself, calibrate your communication, all of those things, right? And your ability to do that is contingent upon you being able to ask good questions and listen. And only after you do those things are you going to be able to communicate in the most effective way possible.

A general tendency of introverts is that they have a better predisposition to listening as opposed to constantly feeling the need to talk. And I think that’s something that you can use to your advantage.

And a funny thing happens in sales: when you stop talking, people start revealing more about themselves and their problems.

And I am actually very intentional about how I use silence in conversations. Because if I just stop talking, I know that the other person is going to become very uncomfortable with the silence and start spilling their guts about whatever it is that can continue the conversation.

So I think there’s no question that being inspiring, outgoing, captivating, are all very valuable traits in sales, but at the same time, you cannot lead the discussion in the way that you want to and really understand your customer without being a great listener and then letting all that other stuff come into play.

4. BUILDING CREDIBILITY AND APPEALING TO YOUR PROSPECT IN COLD CALLS & EMAILS

It’s interesting: being a good listener is consistently a point-of-emphasis when I ask really successful salespeople to describe the most important trait of a good sales rep. Pivoting a little bit now to a best-practices question--at SinglePlatform, you seemed to master the art of cold calling and cold-emailing. What are some of the tactics and strategies you developed to help you become so successful?

Well I think it all starts with testing. What everybody needs to realize is that there is no bulletproof, magical solution that works for every single customer and every single market--it just doesn’t exist.

So what your job is as somebody who is trying to get leads is to come up with a call script and then continually test and tweak it until you arrive at a call script or cold email script that works. That’s the crux of all of this. I think the number one thing is that you have to make it all about the customer, the person you are reaching out to. We are all incredibly busy and have a million things going on that are fighting for your attention. And I come to you and don’t have anything about how I can improve your life or your business-nobody gives a crap.

So I see emails that people send that read like this: “Hi my name is blank and this is all the cool stuff about my company and here’s what we do.” And it’s like, cool, the first three sentences were like you being all about you and your life, rather than how you can help.

That’s a great point, and it’s something that I’ve definitely struggled with--because I think the instinct that people have sometimes when they send those emails is that they feel the need to build credibility right off that bat. But you definitely seem to advocate focusing on the customer right off the bat.

Yeah, well the truth is that anyone who has half a brain cell is going to go to your web site and look at your signature, so if you are emailing from a company web site with a corporate name on the end and you have a signature that links to your site, people are going to click on it, go to the site and see the customers you work with. There’s the credibility right there.

And there’s two schools of thought on this--you can grab somebody’s attention by rocking credibility or you can grab somebody’s attention by talking about them. I personally like to try to do both if I can, but I personally like to start by focusing attention on the person you are reaching out to.

You need to understand that there are certain triggers that are developed because of past experiences--so for example, you hear a cold call and the person on the other end says, “Hi my name is”---immediately, there’s a trigger that goes off in my head that says “this person is a cold caller.” And because I’ve received such little value from cold calls on a regular basis, my mind shifts from listening to what this person is saying, to how to get off this phone call gracefully.

So you need to identify what these triggers are in your communication, and make sure you almost guard yourself from negative reactions that people have.

So for example, I do think it’s important that you introduce yourself on a cold call. However, I think you can do it without hitting that trigger by saying, “Scott Britton from lifelong learner here or Jeremy from Ambition here.” And I’m not saying, “Hi, my name is Jeremy from Ambition.” I’m accomplishing the same thing, but I’m doing it in a way that avoids that tripwire that causes the person to stop listening to what you are saying.

It’s like Pavlov’s Dog, you hear something and you have this conditioned reaction to it.

Yeah, unfortunately the only way we can get through life is by taking mental shortcuts. You don’t have the time to interpret every single thing and what it means, so we develop mental shortcuts for us to make decisions so we can operate, unfortunately. If you are doing what everyone else making cold calls has been doing to start the conversation, you are really shooting down opportunities before you even have a chance to engage the prospect.

And just want to interject---all this really strikes me as going back to an adage that they preach both in young sales professionals and in aspiring writers as well: “Show, don’t tell.” Rather than going through a really formal introduction process and telling people why you are credible, you want to skip straight to showing that you are primarily focused on the customer and his or her needs.

And then provide them a link to your website or to a customer page that shows your credibility and how you can add value. That way they can see it for themselves, which is much more powerful than you just telling them.

I appreciate you codifying that--that’s a really good way of putting it.  People like to come up with their own ideas. And people also like people who excel at things, but don’t have to declare it. So if you can give people a logical way to find out how awesome you are or what accomplishments you have earned, where it’s not like, “LOOK AT ME I’M COOL”--that is often much more effective.

Yeah, you don’t want to be that guy. 

5. APPROACHING SALES WITH AN ENTREPRENEUR'S MENTALITY

Next question: You are clearly someone who has a strong entrepreneurial spirit running through you. Prior to joining SinglePlatform, you initially were pursuing the launch of your own start-up company, Siftr. How did you apply that entrepreneurial spirit into what you did with SinglePlatform, and with sales in general?

Well, there were two sides of the sales function at SinglePlatform. There was the business development side that I was on, and then the hardcore inside sale side. So my role focused on publishers---convincing them to use us a data provider, which was what allowed our product to fully exist. What the product did was display a business’s information across all the places it could be listed online. Well, if we weren’t listed online anywhere, because the publishers took our data, then the product would really be hard to sell.

So that was my essential function--I did channel sales and I did some stuff on the enterprise side of things as well, but ultimately, man, I was on a very small team of two people in a 100+ person company. We were kind of like, special ops, in terms of--ok we want to go out and build this API network with all these customers, go figure out how to do that.

We want to go ahead and do more than restaurants--we want other people to take data from products and services listed off retail stores: go convince people to do that. Go convince people to take photos.

So it was just a constant exercise of convincing people to do things that didn’t exist yet. And man, that is entrepreneurship: having a visionary idea and carrying out the things you need to do to make that vision a reality.

So I think a lot of people out there are working in quote-unquote a “job” that is defined to them, versus creating their own product. How you make that entrepreneurial, I think, is the crux of this question. And the answer is: figuring out how you can build a more efficient process or machine. So if you are making cold calls every day, here’s your script, use it for three or four days, and then the next three or four days, add a slight variation. Test your result.

See if you get a better return or output. And if you do, okay, test another variable. The key is to never stop improving and never stop building a better machine. And if you take that mindset--I can always improve what I’m doing, I can always make something better or more efficient or more valuable to my organization--that’s how to be entrepreneurial in sales.

Great point, and it actually reminds me of something I heard several weeks ago at a tech conference. Recently, there was a massive poll of venture capitalists, asking them: what is the single trait you look for most in start-up founders whose companies are a potential investment. And the top answer--which surprised everybody, initially--was creativity. So like you said, having that creative mindset and approach to sales, always being willing to implement new ideas--that is definitely entrepreneurial at heart.

Exactly, that commitment to building a better process and better machine.

6. FINDING OUT WHAT MOTIVATES YOU & DEVELOPING COMMITMENT

Speaking of commitment, you are a former Princeton football team captain and diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan--and at one point you even interned for an NFL team and considered pursuing a career in a pro team’s front-office. You seem to have an equally powerful commitment now to sales and marketing--what drives that commitment in you?

Competition. [Pause].

Yeah, it was definitely a couple of things. Number one, I think sales is incredibly competitive, which makes it fun. And second, I think there’s no more interesting challenge out there than trying to convince people to take the actions that you want them to. Obviously, you want to always keep high integrity when you do that, but I think that the art of persuasion and convincing people to take the action that you want them to take is so fascinating and so interesting, and also so valuable.

And that to me is the field that I wanted to focus on. I think that sales and marketing are the highest-level fields out there. And if we are talking about being an entrepreneur or being a company, there’s a couple of ways you can think about it. I could try to become the badass engineer that builds some amazing technology, or, I could become the person that can convince two young people in every discipline to come and join whatever I’m doing, the sky’s the limit. I can do anything.

So I actually think being able to sell is the number one skill of people who want to start something.

Because, I don’t have to be the number one engineer to start a tech company. What I could do though is be so good at sales and marketing that I can convince that person to come work with me. And I could convince the number one marketing person, the number one designer, and all these people in all these disciplines to come join my merry band. And that to me man, is where sales is so powerful.

And it’s funny, I actually started my career in entrepreneurship and software, whatever you want to call. I thought I wanted to be a product manager and design the experiences of the product, and I did coding, and all this other stuff. And at the end of the day, I realized--not only did I derive the most energy from sales, but it was also what I found most fascinating and high-leverage.

And it’s kind of funny--sales is more places than people realize. My Dad told me once, regardless of whether you realize it, you are always selling--

Oh sales is everything! Absolutely. Really, even something like convincing my mom to help me with some random task, talking to a pretty girl at the bar--it’s literally in everything that we do. It’s this art of creating a value exchange.

And, in those situations, so much of it is second nature--it’s practically subconscious. 

7. SELECTING WHICH CAREER OPPORTUNITY IS RIGHT FOR YOU

Let’s get to my final question, which definitely applies to the conscious part of the brain: You have the chance to talk to someone who, like you once experienced, is on the fence between pursuing an entrepreneurial venture or joining an existing company’s sales department. The overall health of the respective companies aside, what advice do you give them when they’re making that decision?

A lot of people try to focus on the company--what the company does, the product they are selling, and all that. My personal opinion is you should focus on the mentorship you are going to get, who you are going to learn from.

If you want to become a great salesperson, selling a product that you are passionate about--I don’t think that would be as valuable as going and working for somebody that is going to want to teach you anything and everything they know. And I always tell young people, unless you want to be some kind of specialist in an industry, such as technology, go optimize your people. Figure out where the absolute best person to work for would be, and go work for them.

And I’m a good example of that. I want global businesses to succeed and I think it’s cool that business information should be correct? Dude, that is not my passion! I don’t stay up at night thinking about restaurant menus being outdated.

But, I loved my experience at SinglePlatform because I got to work with some of the best and most intelligent sales and business development people in New York City. And I got to learn everything from them. And I think we really created a constant feeling of growth and improvement.  And you are going to get that when you work with people who are interested in helping you develop that.

So my number one thing is put more of an emphasis on the people at whatever company you are going to join and whether they are interested in your personal and professional development, versus what that particular company actually does.

That’s phenomenal insight--and let’s face it, most products aren’t the most exciting thing in the world.

Exactly, so for someone in that position, it really should be all about the people, the experiences, and the mentorship opportunities when it comes to making that kind of decision.

Awesome. Well thanks so much for taking the time to have this conversation and for sharing all these great insights, Scott.

Thanks a lot for having me, Jeremy. Really enjoyed it.

Likewise. We’ll keep checking out your excellent sales blog at http://life-longlearner.com/startup-business-development-posts/ and keep listening to your podcasts on http://life-longlearner.com and iTunes. We urge anyone in sales or marketing looking for high-level strategy discussion and ideas for innovating their tactics to do likewise.

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