How Being a Sales Professional Made Me a Better Project Manager

This is the second part in a two-part series. In part one, I talked about how being a project manager made me a better sales professional. Now I am looking at the other side of the equation. What skills did I learn from selling that made me a better project manager?

Sales gets a bad rap

Nothing makes people walk away faster at a networking event then when you tell them you’re a salesperson. The first few times it happened I thought maybe I had coffee breath or had made some other networking faux pas.

No one wants to go to a networking event and have a lame, or worse pushy pitch hurled at them over cheap wine and appetizers. Understanding this helped me to build relationships and trust over a longer period of time. This way, when I did approach someone with a pitch or ask for a meeting, I could be confident that it was the right pitch at the right time.

Trusted advisor

Although I talked about this in part one of this series, it bears repeating since, in my opinion it is an incredibly important skill to have. To be able to lead without formal authority is significantly harder than leading a team that reports directly to you. As a salesperson, you’re basically the quarterback of the team. You have to coordinate with the client and anyone on their team who can impact the buying decision. It is important to understand from your client who has final approval on any purchasing decisions. In some cases, while your client may be doing the research or shopping, they have to present their findings and recommendations to their boss, who has the final say. You want to ensure you’re able to understand what your client’s boss is looking for and how to get that person to the final yes you need.

Your client isn’t the only person you need to act as a strategic advisor to. As the salesperson, you need your internal team to support you in your sales process, and ultimately implement the vision that you sell. For example, if you’re selling a Saas product and you want to close a large, enterprise client, you might promise them weekly calls with a dedicated customer success team member. Before you do that, you need to inspire the customer success team to agree to this, otherwise, after the sale closes you will have a very disappointed client calling you!

This is a skill that has helped me when managing complex projects. One of the first projects I ever had a project management role in was a large Salesforce.com implementation. The project team included the senior leaders, all of whom had very strong opinions about how the process should work. As a new project manager how could I work with my team and get everyone to come together so the project was not delayed? I was able to call on the skills I had developed over many sales conversations to help “sell

Empathy

The best salespeople are those who really believe they are helping their clients solve problems or business pain. In the Saas world, products that automate processes that can be manual and tedious are often sold by professionals who care deeply about helping their clients achieve goals and free up their time to do the work that only they can do. For example, look at Advisor BOB, a software program developed by the talented team at Ocean Ring Technologies. This program was designed to help financial advisors calculate their commissions. Prior to using the software this process was manual and prone to errors. There are different commission percentages based on a number of variables. Before Advisor BOB mistakes happened often and sometimes took months to find and correct. Bad for the company and bad for the financial advisors who were waiting on corrected commission payments. In addition to speeding up the process, advisors could focus more on selling and serving their current clients instead of checking and re-checking the math on their commission payments. This hopefully leads to additional client loyalty, more new clients and eventually bigger commission payments!

This empathy and ability to spot a client’s pain has been exceptionally helpful when managing complex projects. Being able to spot risks and blind spots in projects allows me to help guide my clients through them before they happen and ensure work continues on time and on budget, with the quality my client has come to expect from a project team I am leading. Being able to put myself in the client’s shoes and help them solve business problems is an important skill to have and has served me well.

Communication

As a salesperson, you need to be an exceptional communicator and storyteller. You need to guide your clients through the buying process, keep your internal team updated on your progress and when they can expect deals to close and keep your manager informed of your activity and progress against key performance indicators.

Communication isn’t always about delivering good news, you also need to be able to have difficult conversations when you need to. As a project manager, I have had to have many difficult conversations. With agency leaders, with project team members and even with clients. No matter the reason for the difficult conversation, my ability to be calm under pressure and deliver the news came from years of experience working in sales.

Having to tell your boss you aren’t going to make your goal that quarter or a client that you won’t be able to come down in price or get them the results they’re asking for is part of being a salesperson. Delivering the news is only part of it. How you do it and what you do next is what is really important.

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