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Know Thyself

So you lost the sale. Who's to blame? You are.

Forget the stereotypes you've heard about what it takes to be good in sales. Yes, top sellers have strong egos, they are self-motivated and, in some form or another, they are pretty aggressive. But the real key is they know themselves, at least professionally.

For example, every salesperson can recite the story of his or her greatest sale. The really good salespeople can tell you exactly why they made the sale, how they almost blew it and what obstacles or objections they were forced to overcome. Some of that knowledge comes from experience. But even if you're new to sales and marketing, with a little effort, you can still do a good job of determining your strengths and weaknesses.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to make a list of what tasks you like and don't like to do in sales and marketing. If you like it, it's probably a strength; if you don't, a weakness. For example, if you really hate cold-calling, as most salespeople do, you're probably lousy at it, as most salespeople are.

If you really enjoy servicing the customer--making follow-up calls, solving problems, being someone your customers can lean on--then that's an obvious strength. Many salespeople get a bigger thrill out of landing new accounts. They have to make a point of following up with current customers. But that's not because they don't care about the customer once they make the sale. Rather, their overwhelming job satisfaction comes from closing the sale.

Quickly jot down recent successes and failures. These should come readily to mind, and you don't have to conduct a detailed analysis of plans; a brief description will do. More than likely, there will be a pattern. Perhaps efforts to get publicity haven't worked, or a recent telemarketing campaign didn't pan out. It's important to be very honest here, without beating yourself up for failures.

The key is to ask yourself why. Why did you get the sale? Why didn't you get the sale? Why did a marketing plan flop or succeed? In almost all cases, you should take the blame for the failure. Particularly if you're new to sales and marketing, it's the only way to learn. A salesperson who always blames other people or situations for his or her mistakes is never a salesperson for long.

Making any kind of list is, of course, meaningless if it's not acted on. If an examination of your marketing skills shows you've had little success with direct mail, it doesn't do any good to note it unless you make an effort to improve by taking a course, doing research, talking to peers or trying some other method to mend your ways.

Another effective way to evaluate yourself is to spend 10 or 15 minutes at the end of each day, or maybe an hour or so at the end of the week, examining every contact you had with a customer or prospect. Did you say something inappropriate to a client? Were you a poor listener? Did you stay on the phone too long? If you screwed up, admit it. Maybe you shouldn't have tried to oversell a client. It was a mistake and something you have a tendency to do. Keep that in mind, and move on.

Look for simple answers to problems. For example, your product or service may be great, but your presentation weak. It's your company, and you have a lot invested in it financially and emotionally. That may be getting in the way. Excitement is good, but perhaps you're not emphasizing the benefits of your product or service to customers. It's so great in your mind, you can't understand why others don't want to place an order immediately. Make sure you're giving them specific reasons to buy from you.

Also examine your appearance, particularly if you're new to sales. Salespeople must dress appropriately for clients. Dressing wrong--which is different from dressing poorly--can cost you sales. Don't overdress or be too flashy if you call on tool shops, or too casual if calling on financial institutions. Make certain you dress stylishly, but lean toward the conservative side.

Remember, this shouldn't be just an exercise to find your weaknesses; look for your strengths, too. Perhaps you'll find you're good at writing pitch letters or you've picked up quickly on Internet advertising. Maybe you're better at phone sales than you thought. It's important to know this and play on those strengths.

Finally, you have a built-in advantage over many people in sales and marketing: You automatically love the company and what it has to offer. Your enthusiasm is real, and customers will see that. They know how much the company and its success means to you. Use that. It's an advantage not one of your large competitors can touch.

Bill Kelley is a business writer in Arcadia, California.

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