Eight tips to boost your sales career

One of the practices of successful sales professionals is their engagement in careful career planning.

Now is a good opportunity to take a few moments to evaluate your own sales career goals and identify the steps you'll need to take this year to reach them.

The following are eight suggestions to help increase the quality of your selling - and your life - in the coming year.

1. This is the year to make a career plan.
If a salesperson put just 10 percent of the amount of time into becoming a better salesperson that he or she would put into becoming a doctor, attorney, mechanic, etc. imagine how much better a career the person would have.

Most salespeople learn only enough to achieve a certain standard of living or just get by, whatever getting by means to them. By contrast, a professional salesperson is proactive, developing well-constructed goals and mapping out a solid plan to achieve them.

2. Start delivering results.
Was 2007 a good sales year for you or were there areas that were disappointing? Perhaps you lost steam midway through the year or maybe you were hit hard by the recent waves in the economy. Whatever the case, now is an opportunity to get energized and start producing results. Truly successful individuals measure their progress based on being more successful this year than they were last year. With the right focus and commitment, your success this year can outpace last year's - and make up for any losses as well.

3. Upgrade your selling skills.
If you seem to be losing more sales than you're closing these days, now is the time to enroll in some sales training to learn an effective methodology that will help you succeed. Knowledge is power, but thinking you know everything there is to know about selling is proof that you don't. As golf superstar Tiger Woods says, "You can always become better." A professional salesperson has a commitment to a calling and that calling is to be of service to the customer.

To achieve that, he or she must have the education, commitment and training that an amateur does not. School is never out for the sales professional. The most successful salespeople are always the ones who show up first to every training session, actively participate and are always eager to learn new ways to improve their selling skills.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
In this age of e-mail, instant messaging and voice mail, nothing replaces personal communication. When was the last time you dropped in on your clients, shook their hands, asked how their business is going and really connected with them? You may learn how things have changed or how well - or unwell - your product or service is working for them.

To keep all of your sales sold, nothing beats a face-to-face check-in. Never forget your customers - and they'll never forget you.

5. Banish your "yes" men.
While every salesperson needs colleagues and clients who compliment and buoy them up, too much flattery can lead even the most down-to-earth salesperson to rest on their laurels. To grow, it's important to be shown what you're doing wrong, whether by a coach or a mentor. Constructive criticism, when given in a truly constructive manner, can be your best learning tool. Make 2008 the year you find the right coach or mentor and "get real" with the things you're doing right - and wrong.

6. Start saying thank you.
The great philosopher, William James, once said that the greatest need of a human being is to feel appreciated. If you're the type of salesperson who forgets about a client as soon as you've left that office, it's time to mend your ways. Invest in high-quality thank-you notes and send them to every client with whom you close a sale. Send them to people who've referred prospects to you as well as to your vendors.

The more gracious you are, and the more visible your appreciation, the greater your repeat business and referrals will be. The investment you make in simple thank-you cards or the time spent stopping by or making calls will return to you many times over in repeat business and referrals. After all, the easiest person to sell is a referral from a happy, satisfied customer.

7. Have an attitude of gratitude.
Give your way to being successful. With the recent surge in philanthropic activity from billionaires such as Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Barron Hilton, the personal benefits of giving have never been so well-illustrated.

I took a core philosophy from the founder of Parade magazine, Arthur H. "Red" Motley, who coined the phrase, "Nothing happens until somebody sells something" and expanded on it to say, "Nothing happens until somebody gives something." Just as the old adage says, you get what you give - and the more you give, the greater the intrinsic reward.

8. This is the year to reward yourself.
Many salespeople fall victim to a work-work-work mentality, become exhausted and often lose perspective. A healthy sales career should never come at the expense of an ailing personal life.

If you're prone to burning the candle at both ends, this is the year to reward yourself with a well-deserved vacation or getaway, regular spa treatments, fine dinners out or attendance at sports outings and other activities. When you participate in these activities, you allow your body, mind and spirit to rest and rejuvenate. As a result, you'll return to your work life refreshed, renewed and balanced.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.