Back to School for Salespeople


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Five homework tips to make you a best-in-class salesperson.

Last week, my 14-year old daughter came running into the kitchen and yelled, “I am so excited! I just found out about my freshman class schedule. I can’t wait to mask up and get back to class!” (Ok, I might have added that mask up part myself.)

My first reaction was, “That sounds great!” And my second thought was, “Are you really excited to get back to school after being off since March?” Well, I wasn’t about to stifle her enthusiasm, but it made me think a bit more about it. What is it about this strange 2020 and the beginning of the school year that is making kids reenergized? Perhaps it’s the same thing that makes us old people pumped up to someday put COVID-19 behind us and get back in the sales groove.

But like students, it’s important to realize that much of the success that will come from our own “school” year will be determined by how much homework we do. So while it’s important to show up for class and pay attention, we must realize that it is equally important to show up fully prepared to succeed come test time. Test time for us is that huge customer Zoom presentation, that live and in-person lunch meeting with a high-level executive, and that first prospecting call we make when the bell rings in the morning.

The following is your fall semester class schedule that your sales counselor has set up for you. And unfortunately, none of them are electives.

LinkedIn class

For those salespeople who jumped all in on LinkedIn months and even years before the virus, you quickly learned you had a head start on those who didn’t. This is because you had already invested the time in connecting with people in your industry (and other rock stars). And because you had already developed a network, you quickly found out it became easier for you to search and find decision-makers that you never even met before – but needed to. LinkedIn is the single greatest tool to research existing prospects and to find new ones.

Homework assignment: Over the next three months, dedicate 15 minutes a day to do nothing but connect with people within the organizations you’re hoping to serve, as well as other company associates who also may sell to that client. Once you connect with one person in that building, it’s a lot easier to connect with 10. If Jan. 1, 2021 rolls around and your network still only consists of two cousins and a stranger from another country, there’s a good chance you are getting an “F” in this class.

Cold prospecting class 101

Question: Why did we sign up for the LinkedIn class?

Answer: So we have high-value prospects to target.

There is no value in having a ton of great prospects on LinkedIn if you don’t actually try to reach out, build a relationship, and see if there is a way for you to add value to them (and them to you). So let’s say you got that big-time decision-maker to accept your connection on LinkedIn. Your first step is to not reach out and throw them some cheesy product sales pitch.

Think about it. How much would you like somebody who you just met at a social event if they immediately started hitting you with a product presentation? The same rule applies to LinkedIn. It is appropriate, however, to send them a casual “Thanks for connecting, Sue.” Once connected with “Sue,” you now have access to her email in the Contact Info section of her Profile.

Homework assignment: Wait a week and send her an email or phone call to see if there may be interest in your company or solutions.

Cold prospecting class 202

When reaching out to your new connection via phone or email, you need to know exactly what you are going to say or write that will create one emotion – curiosity. How do you do that? With value, pain and a name drop. You can use these alone or in any combination. Below is an example of value and a name drop combined:

“The reason for my call is that we work with veterinary organizations like VCA and Banfield to help them find ways to better care for pets during and after this COVID-19 crisis.”

The goal of this statement isn’t to tell them about my solution. It is merely to make them curious to want to learn more. If the person on the other end of the phone is not a decision-maker, they will often pass you off to somebody who may actually care about what you’re selling. When that person comes on the line, deliver the same value/name drop pitch.

Homework assignment: Get with your manager or other teammates and develop value, pain and/or name drop pitches that you can use when reaching out to customers. Will they all work? No. But too many salespeople in our industry have no idea what is about to come out of their mouth when somebody picks up that phone. (If you need help building your scripts, reach out to us at [email protected] We have a cool software program that can help you develop them.)

Vendor class

Whether you’re in distribution or manufacturing, your homework assignment starting this school season is to suck as much knowledge as possible out of the brains of industry vendors. Company A rep who calls on the same client base as Company B rep (non-competing products) can tell you a ton about how to best approach a prospect. But guess what? You have to be the one to initiate the contact.

Homework assignment: Write down five vendor reps who are high performers. Then schedule a specific time
to meet. But remember, you need to be specific in WHY you are meeting. Lunch or Zoom meetings for the sake of “networking” can be construed as a big waste of time. Tell them what you hope to accomplish and how you might be of service to them.

Virtual presenting class

Zoom, Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting are no longer new to you. I want to put your mind at ease as it relates
to virtual selling. While the vehicle to delivering your presentation may be different, it shouldn’t be that different. In short, if you show enthusiasm about your solution when meeting live, it should be just as easy when your computer camera is on. If you ask great questions when live, you should also ask great questions virtually. If you don’t normally use slides when presenting live, don’t use them when presenting remotely.

Homework assignment: In short, just be you, but be the best virtual version of you. Practice presenting virtually and you will realize that there really isn’t that big a difference. The technology just means you don’t have to jump on as many planes or sit in traffic nearly as long.

The reality is, nobody knows if our kids’ schools will remain open. And who knows if/when our company offices are going to let everybody back. But so what? School is always open and class is always in session. Now is the time to do all you can to make the final months of 2020 the time in your career when you did what was necessary to become an A student and the teacher’s (or CEO’s) pet.

About Brian Sullivan

As president of PRECISE Selling, Brian Sullivan helps improve sales, customer service, negotiations, leadership, and presentation skills through seminars and Internet training programs. He is also the author of the book, “20 Days to the Top-How the PRECISE Selling Formula Will Make You Your Company’s Top Sales Performer in 20 Days or Less.” To learn more, go to

Photo credit: Dutton