Aug 17, 2011

[Call Centers] Sales - More A Mindset Than A Skill

Prior to my current career in call center marketing / business development, I spent a good number of years in the training profession. Strangely enough, over the years I found myself teaching sales class after sales class even though people who had known me in school would never have associated me with being a salesman of any kind. But then the way my call center career has developed, I have found myself back in the sales sphere time and time again and I'd like to think I've developed a pretty good grasp of how it works - something I've made sure to factor into all of my sales training classes to the best of my ability.

Flickr: Erwin Bolwidt (El Rabbit) - Happy salesman from Qom
Happy salesman from Qom
by Erwin Bolwidt (El Rabbit) via Flickr.

In all my encounters with call center agents in the Philippines, time and time again I've encountered a lot of folks who are very particular about what jobs they can perform. In other words, once an agent has started a track in customer service or technical support (for example), they'll almost always say that they can't do sales. A lot of folks even make very principled stands when it comes to this question and adamantly protest that sales is not the kind of job for them.

So why is that? Is sales all that bad, really? Does getting into sales inevitably mean steeling yourself to violate personal ethics in order to succeed? These are the kinds of questions I've had to address in training classes over and over again, and I thought it might be interesting to document some of the things that I end up discussing, if only for future reference.
While there are many skills and techniques that one can learn when it comes to the sales game, the very first step is always making sure that you have the right mindset for sales. If your core consciousness is still living in that paradigm of "I'm just trying sales out" or "I'll never be very good in sales" or even "I'll take his sales post until I can transfer out" Regardless of your reasoning, a person's mindset is just as important (or perhaps even more) as all the different skills and rebuttals that you'll learn in training.

And like any other job, if you're heart isn't in it, then you're more likely to fail.

Flickr: tseoeo - Haggling
by Ivan Dimitrov / tseoeo via Flickr.

First, Accept That Sales is a Part of Your Life - seriously. Many people feel that they can't do well in the sales world simply because they have never held a position with the word "sales" in it. And yet all throughout our lives we've exercised the same skills needed for sales in various activities. Have you ever tried to bargain down the price of something with a vendor in the market? Those are the same negotiating skills you'll need in a sales job. Have you ever tried to defend your position or ideas in a school debate or even just among friends? That kind of thinking factors into handling objections and overcoming resistance. And the list of examples go on and on and on.

Understanding that you've probably in a situation in your life that could come in handy when a sales job comes along can help you significantly. It helps make the whole process seem less alien.

Next, you need to understand that Sales is a Science. We've come a long way that mere snake oil salesmen telling tall tales to get you to buy a product. An amazing amount of thought, research and development has gone into the worlds of sales and marketing to get us to this point where we know just how the mind words when it makes that decision to buy. Keeping yourself open to learning the various tricks of the trade (which happen to have a lot of roots in modern psychology) will help you move forward in this world.

Flickr: gab - supermarket
by Gabrielle Marks / gab via Flickr.

In all of my sales classes I try to explain some of the nuances of the secrets of the sales world and the various systems and processes that have been built into every day life to get us to buy things. And this goes beyond advertising - that's just the most visible and most obvious part of the equation. There's a lot more thought that goes into why certain products are developed, the packaging and even how the stores are laid out. In fact, I recently tried to document some of my thoughts on what I tagged as The Science of Supermarkets, which probably isn't an original title for a blog entry about this sort of thing. But it should give you a good idea of the ways that the sales process is so interwoven with daily life that it's hard to get completely away.

Third, you also need to accept that Sales is NOT Evil. Being in sales alone will not make you an evil and immoral person. Like any other job, you should only perform tasks or your work in general in a manner that allows you to sleep at night. The sales world does not operate on some separate special set of rules that somehow absolves it from committing crimes. It's only because of high profile crooks that the sales world gets a bad name whenever these bad eggs decide to go outside the system, blatantly lie to customers and do whatever it takes to make more money, even if only in the short term period before they are discovered and fired.

Flickr: iamdavidmoore - Dont Call Me on Vimeo
"Don't Call Me" on Vimeo
by David Moore / iamdavidmoore via Flickr.

Many people feel this is the biggest source of stress when it's really a non-issue. You are not committing a crime just by being in a sales post, regardless of whether it's inbound or outbound sales. The evil side to things is really up to the individual - the one who stops believing that sales can mean giving customers products that they need as opposed to forcing useless crap on them just for the agent to make a quick buck.

And lastly, They Reject Your Pitch, Not You Personally. A lot of people start to really feel the burn out in a sales job when they start to take customer resistance and objections too personally. When the person says no, this is not an evaluation of you as an individual. This is not a judgement they're passing on your value as an individual. All they're saying no to is what you had to offer for today, how you offered it or sometimes it's not even any of that.There are people who don't even invest the slightest amount of mental resources into hearing what you have to say from the very beginning and so they just hang up.

Flickr: seandeanlahav - Disconnecting
by Sean Lahav / seandeanlahav via Flickr.

A lot of rookie sales agents have broken down on the call floor after one too many rejections in one day. But once you've accepted that this is just a job and it's separate from what makes you the amazing individual that you are, then you'll find that the slings and arrows of call center fortune won't be so painful. It's just a more colorful part of the territory - one that you'll always have to face in any over-the-phone interaction whether it's about sales, customer service or technical support. Sales does not have the monopoly over angry customers after all.

And this barely scratches the surface of all the things that makes sales not that different from any other call center line of business. I can't promise that changing your mindset and preconceived notions about the field will change immediately after reading this post. But once you've managed to center yourself and accept a lot of what I had to say here, then you might stand a better chance of exploring and excelling in the wonderful and very lucrative world of telephone sales.
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  1. "In other words, once an agent has started a track in customer service or technical support (for example), they'll almost always say that they can't do sales. A lot of folks even make very principled stands when it comes to this question and adamantly protest that sales is not the kind of job for them."
    --Interesting. In my previous experience as a techsupport agent for a computer hardware company, the resentment that comes from TSR's and CSR's when it comes to sales comes from the pressure by management to do well in upselling. Sometimes agents tend to skip the hardcore troubleshooting and just recommend the customer to buy a software or a part even if it's not necessary. And this sort of 'pressure' by management to put emphasis on sales sometimes puts agents in a difficult position. They tend to exhaust themselves fixing Pc's and attending to the client's concern at the end they still have to convince customers with their sales pitch. It makes their image to the customer, not as a trusty technician but a salesman who just wants to sell them something although more often than not, it's not the case. I know management would say, it's how you say and explain things, that may be true. And I'm not in any way, putting sales in a bad light. But it's hard for most agents to convince these customers of what their roles are and sometimes they end up doubting themselves if they're there to fix things or sell things.

  2. Within our culture, i have always thought that the "not-into-sales" mindset is a matter of confidence and motivation-reaction management for the self.

    My GF, Ahmie, who leads a sales team for a high-end retail establishment in Guam, once said that self-doubt arises when some Filipinos start thinking that language is a barrier especially when selling to foreigners. She found it amusing that her Sales Associates who were confident despite their lack of sophisticated English skills perform better than the ones who do. She thinks that some of us may have used the lack of English skills as an excuse. Selling does not involve too much talking, she says. She says that talking too much tunes out the customer. It takes a sharp mind like observing customer cues more. And using those cues to one's advantage.

    Would you believe Ahmie in sales? She's not talkative in person eh. But she has a way with customers, for some strange reason. And they seem to trust her a lot. Funny huh?

  3. Al:
    That's precisely the thing - segmenting the servicing and sales portions of the call from one another feeds into this mindset and makes it more difficult. When in fact, if one approaches the upsell portion as an extension of the service section instead, the transition becomes a lot more seamless and free-flowing. But because of the agent resistance, it becomes a awkward limb in addition to the rest of the call and their resentment of the process creeps into their presentations, which the customer picks up on.

    I'm not all that surprised - I've found that a lot of the "silent" types turn out to be pretty great sales people.

    Good point about the English piece though - that's another factor I haven't fully factored in. Perhaps something to discuss in a future post.

  4. Wish me luck on my new account Rocky. It has Upselling as one of the key stats. I hope to have the proper mindset next week!

  5. In that case, good luck Elmer! Just keep at it - I'm sure you'll do well. =)

  6. Kudos on another great discussion on our industry.

    I have been one of the witnesses in this transition. It was a great challenge for me some time ago. I remember the retaliation as if we were downgraded into lesser people.

    It's still not clear to me if our adapted culture prohibits us from being more aggressive into venturing into new waters or more of personal behavioral reasons.

    It took me almost a year to fully adjust to the whole mindset. Realization struck me when the money came rolling in. Harhar!

    But who can really blame me? If you do your job well and right, you get additional compensation. Beats getting tired and burned out for the same money monthly.

    Now, I can't see myself in any other environment.

    Money was my motivation. Others wanted to see their names on top of that ranking list. I hope people find their reason to have their eye on the ball.

  7. Thanks for appreciating the post and congrats on your successful transition!

    And yes, the money really does go a long way towards motivating one to remain in sales, hehe.