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On Being Young and In Sales

Tom writes: “I am 25 years old and sometimes feel as though I am not perceived as a peer to the business owners to whom I sell. Do you have any tips to combat this?”

Yes.

I started working in sales when I was 19 years old. I never thought of myself as being in sales at that time, but I was making cold calls, making sales calls, and making deals.

I wasn’t officially in sales until I was 24 years old and a mentor forced by to become an Account Executive by threatening to fire me if I didn’t leave an operational role and go outside full time. I was young. I looked young, and I wore my long hair in a ponytail. I also wore a nice suit every day. Of course, that was Los Angeles, so I didn’t look out of place at all there.

I did, however, when I came back to Columbus. Then I was 25, still looked young, and was now selling major, multi-million dollar deals.

Here’s my advice.

Be Respectful and Learn

The reason the business owners you call on don’t look at you as a peer is because you aren’t yet their peer. That’s okay, too.

The business owners you are calling on are likely entrepreneurs. They’ve taken risks. They’ve built businesses. They have a profit and loss statement and balance sheet for which they alone are responsible. They have a depth of knowledge and experience you likely haven’t acquired.

What I found worked when I was young was my insatiable curiosity to learn from people that knew more than me. Since they had experiences I hadn’t had, I asked endless questions to better understand their business and to learn from them. The more I asked for an education, the more I received one.

After some time, I knew something about a lot of different business, and I gained an understanding of how businesses generally work. Later, when I called on business similar to the ones who were tutoring me, I knew how their business worked and the questions to ask to open opportunities.

So start by being respectful of what they know, and be genuinely curious. You’ll be surprised how much people enjoy teaching you everything they know about their business.

Become a Subject Matter Expert

The other thing that I did that helped me combat my youthful appearance (and the ignorance that accompanied it) was to become a subject matter expert.

My clients knew their business, but they didn’t know mine. I sold temporary staffing, so I started to study employment. I started to read all the labor market releases. I researched legislative changes that would impact my client’s businesses. I started to develop ideas as to how I could add value by helping them see around corners, identifying areas of concern and making plans long before they were necessary.

I discovered that by having subject matter expertise, my clients and dream clients began to think of me as a business partner, as a member of their management team, as something more than just another vendor.

You don’t have to be perceived as a peer by your clients. You don’t have to be their equal right now. They’re older, and they have more experience. But you can—and should—be more than their equal when it comes to your subject matter expertise. Instead of trying to be a peer, try instead to be the member of their management team. Be someone they trust to own the outcomes that you can produce for them.

And as a final note, don’t worry about the whole “being young” thing. I promise that will pass much faster than you can imagine.

Questions

Why is being young sometimes a disadvantage in sales?

Do you have to be considered a peer or equal to sell effectively?

What should you do to be something more than equal in your subject matter?

How do you make yourself more valuable when you lack experience and situational knowledge?


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