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.

Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

For today’s post I want to look at cold LinkedIn pitches. I have run several client’s LinkedIn profiles for them and some of the messaging I have seen is beyond ridiculous. Other messages look fine but don’t elicit a response from my clients. (Sorry if you thought you were actually talking to one of my clients and it was actually me.)

I am not going to use this post to go over the basics of profile building or connecting since there are plenty of articles on this. If you want to learn the ins and outs I am happy to connect you to some additional resources.

I am going to share three examples of pitches that from the surface look okay and why they’re not ideal. I see many variations of these same themes over and over – obviously there is some bad information out there that had been spread around.

Note names have been changed to protect all parties, companies are redacted and links are changed to a generic link type so that there are no identifying company details. (Don’t @ me for putting people on blast — that is not the point of this post)

Example 1:

Hey Sally ,

I saw your profile and like what you’re doing. Pretty impressive.

I am the Founder of Blah Blah Marketing Company , we help consultants (whatever industry) like you bring in a steady flow of clients consistently. The best part, we are completely free if we are not able to bring in your leads.

We guarantee at least 20 leads in 30 days and I honestly think that your business will be able to take advantage of those leads and grow immensely. Grab an available time in my calendar and let’s discuss further. Say, this coming week? Here’s my calendar link: https://calendly.com/vanitylink 

Thanks, Jim

Why this approach is less than ideal:  While the pitch starts with a complement it could be much more specific. If Jim had actually done any research on Sally or her company he could have opened with a congratulations on a milestone, a comment on a recent article or podcast episode or something more specific to her business. Sally is also not a consultant, while she is in a business that relies on clients, she does not provide consulting services. Again, shows me that Jim hasn’t done any research and is copying and pasting his business pitch. Third, without knowing Sally’s industry, audience, pricing and goals how can Jim guarantee her 20 leads in 30 days? Now I am just skeptical and not planning to engage with Jim further. Personally, I hate when people I don’t know drop me an unsolicited Calendly link to book a call with them. If you disagree with me feel free to let me know in the comments!

Example 2:

Hi Vanessa,

I’ve passed by your profile a few times and I’m curious to see if I could help you grow your business by getting published on major online sites such as Entrepreneur.com or Inc.com? I’d love to schedule a quick call if you’re open to it. I have some openings next week.

Thanks,

Jen

Why this approach is less than ideal: While this message doesn’t necessarily look bad, my client Vanessa has been published on many leading sites and is a contributor to Forbes. The message shows me very quickly that Jen did zero research on my client and knows nothing about her needs or goals.

Example 3:

Hi Jon!

Thank you for the connect. After reviewing your profile – impressive by the way – we reached out because we are interested in speaking about your background. You may preview the opportunity and description of who we are seeking at http://www.companycareer.com If you believe you meet these requirements and foresee potential alignment, feel free to schedule an initial 5-min call to discuss potential synergies and candidate selection process. In scheduling a call, please use my personal scheduler for ease of synchronization at https://calendly.com/fakeperson.

Hope you have a great day. –

Dan

Why this is less than ideal:  Again, Dan has not done and research on Jon. Jon is an executive leadership coach. Second, the message is full of buzz words and jargon – potential alignment? synergies? I still don’t understand why Jon should book a call with Dan – and I have made certain he won’t. I see this a lot with clients who own small businesses. The other variation is recruiters looking to fill roles. Do your research! My clients have their own businesses and will not come work onsite full time for your client. It says so right in their profile.

The moral of this story is – tailor your pitch to your prospect. Ask about their goals and needs, do your research, and use plain English!

In the comments feel free to share some of the best (or worst!) you’ve ever seen!

It’s Nice to Meet You (But You Haven’t Met Me)

“It’s nice to meet you” the words smacked me in the face about twelve seconds after accepting a LinkedIn connection request.

There are many philosophies about sending requests to people you don’t actually know — or accepting requests from people you don’t actually know.

My personal philosophy is it’s a judgement call. For me I automatically say yes to people who fit my client profile, work for a former employer and/or are in a similar industry. It’s always good to see their content and you never know when a great collaboration will come from it.

Usually after connecting with someone outside of my usual network I will send (or receive) a quick note to say thanks for the connection and a little bit about why it’s great to be connected.

Catch my eye and I will be happy to grab a coffee or jump on a quick call so we can learn more about each other’s careers and what we’re looking for on LinkedIn.

I have even had some of the most fun and informational knowledge sharing calls come from random LinkedIn connections. Not to mention the number of clients I have met just by being active on the platform. It’s true what they say, your network is your net worth and if you use LinkedIn the right ways both can expand dramatically.

But this time, it felt different. There was no explanation of why the person had reached out. Just intrusive conversation. I don’t know you. I’ve never met you. Jumping in with both feet felt as awkward as a stranger walking up to me on the street and starting in the middle of a conversation .

Next time you connect with someone new, think about what it would be like in person – say thank you, explain why you want to connect and you’ll make a much better first impression. If you make a good impression and start the relationship off on a positive note, you have a better chance of getting what you want from the connection.

The Art of Tidying Up… My Business and My Life

Well, It’s January and it seems like everywhere I look someone is cleaning out a closet, watching the Marie Kondo Nextflix episodes or talking about cleansing, changing or removing something from their life or business practices.

I was curious to see if this would influence my life or business and when. Over the summer I had found myself in a situation where I needed to empty my closets for some work being done on my home.

It was an amazing opportunity to clean out, throw away and remove items that were no longer serving a purpose – or sparking joy as Marie would say.

Now, 6 months later – I don’t feel like that was final and as I look around my cozy little home office I am finding so many things that are cluttering up my space and my mind.

On the homepage of this website (my internet home). I talk about how many clients call me because they are overwhelmed by noise. The noise of tools, resources, coaches, consultants and the internet telling them how they should run their business.

What happens when I find myself getting sucked into the noise? Last week that is exactly what happened. I looked at something online that made me the subject of every email marketer, business guru, 6 figure rainmaker and everyone in between’s remarketing campaign.

I was literally bombarded with ads including case studies of 6 figure coaches (Who wanted me to pay $10K for a mastermind!) Email marketing gurus who made a million dollars with smoke, mirrors and a 6 email drip sequence, and everyone in between.

So, instead of getting sucked into the rabbit hole of every digital marketing trick or MLM scheme I hid ads, unfollowed the creators and did what I coach all of my clients to do. I put my head down, I refined my plan and I feel ready to take on 2019 as a business owner creating content and marketing in a way that sparks joy.

On 2018: Reflections of a New Business Owner

2018 has been one of the busiest years of my life and career.

In 12 short months I have started a new job, been through a significant reduction in force, two mergers, losing a job, unemployment and finishing the year with a profitable first quarter as a business owner. During this time, I also expanded my family and adopted my partner in all things including my business, my dog, Charlie.

In the most cliche manner ever, I am now going to tell you the most valuable lessons I learned through all of it.

Fake it till you make it (everyone else does).

When I first started working for the Digital Marketing agency I was overwhelmed to say the least. At a big enterprise, when you do a project you spend a LOT of time planning and checking in on progress. Managing digital projects is like changing a tire while the car is moving by comparison. A big change in technique for a Project Manager. Now add about 25 projects, 20 people and the merging of three teams at once — I was in uncharted territory. My CEO reminded me that Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg all at one point felt the way I did . – they had never done it before either. And now, even though there are millions of business owners all over the world and they all started somewhere, no one is running the same business as I am. All I can do is take all of the experience I have and bring it to clients who need it. I have tools, training and experience enough to carry me forward. And if that fails, I can always look at some of the mistakes I made along the way and just do the opposite of what I did before!

You will fall flat on your face (probably multiple times) and it will not be a big deal.

I got fired in 2018. Even writing this makes my stomach knot up again. But it shouldn’t. Almost everyone I know has been fired once in their life and nobody died, everyone has come back from it and either learned some important lessons, or found a role that was a better fit for them. I always thought getting fired was the absolute worst thing that could happen to a person. I thought it only happened to people who “deserved it”. But now that I’ve been through it, I can honestly say it was one of the best things that ever happened. I was in a job that wasn’t a good fit, working more hours then were good for my health and most importantly, I hadn’t smiled at work in months. Once the bruises on my ego faded and I’d had some time to clear my head getting fired felt like a blessing. I spent the summer bonding with my new puppy, and shaping a future that would give me financial stability and a life and career I loved. The old cliche is true, failure is neither fatal or final (but with the right perspective it can lead to some fun).

You have more power and control than you think you do.

My whole career I felt like I had to do all the right things, climb the ladder, navigate the politics and wait for the promotion or new opportunity. My salary, benefits and promotional opportunities were at the mercy of my employer. I learned the benefit of having multiple revenue streams, not putting all my eggs in one basket and using every talent I had (while discovering new ones). This year was really about stepping into my own power and being clear when something wasn’t working for me while asking for more of the things that were working well.

The hustle is important but other things are more important.

Adopting a puppy changes your world in ways you can’t even begin to imagine if you’ve never owned a dog. Charlie demanded tons of playtime, loves being outdoors (when it’s 75 degrees and sunny), and watching him experience new things brings me joy like I’ve never experienced. One of my fondest memories was the last warm day this year. We closed the office – put on every auto responder we have and just enjoyed an afternoon out and about in our neighborhood. I never would have been able to do this if I still had a traditional 9 to 5.

You don’t have to be the best at anything you just have to do it.

In a similar vein to done is better than perfect, you don’t have to wait until you’ve won all the awards or gotten all of the certifications to make a change. Skills transfer, mentors are always available and going back to lesson number one, sometimes it’s okay to fake it until you make it. (As long as you’re taking calculated and strategic risks and have some manner of safety net).

I ended 2018 on a very high note, a full client roster heading into the new year, a great relationship with my new puppy and a plan to hit aggressive personal, professional and financial goals in 2019. I am looking forward to working with new clients and partners as I continue to learn and grow my business.