The Sales and Marketing Skills You Didn’t Learn in College

A classroom education in sales and marketing can only give you so much. When you get into real-world successes – yes, and even the occasional failure – you get a much more intense learning experience. Learning by doing is always valuable, but here are some key lessons other sales pros have learned for you.

Sharpen Your Focus

With omni-channel marketing, sophisticated CRM systems, and a torrent of customer data pouring into your office, it’s no wonder that many sales and marketing professionals feel their attention is always divided. You can only juggle so many bowling pins before you start dropping a few, so narrow your focus to the essentials first and then move on to the wider picture. If you’re working on your customer loyalty program, for example, complete it before thinking about how your welcome, onboarding, and recovery campaigns are going to intersect with it. That’s important too, but you need to build the road from point A to point B before you plan your on-ramps and off-ramps.

Move Past “No”

One of the most challenging events new marketers face is hearing a firm no. Whether it comes from C-level executives who aren’t convinced about your latest campaign, shareholders who have their own marketing ideas, or customers who aren’t yet buying into what you’re offering, “no” may be the start of the next phase rather than the end of the conversation. Listen to objections, and you may find they contain the seeds of acceptance. If your CMO tells you the budget won’t accommodate your large-scale direct mail campaign, the unspoken corollary is that a smaller, more focused direct mail campaign or a more cost-effective email program could work. You won’t persuade everyone who tells you no, but you can often find your way to “yes” with a little persistence and creativity.

Know Your Limits

As important as it is to seek a “yes” from customers and shareholders, it’s equally important to know when to say no yourself. It’s all too easy to take on more work than you can handle and find yourself overwhelmed or incapable of delivering your best effort consistently. That benefits no one. Instead, take a step back and reassess occasionally. Can you give all your clients the attention they deserve, or is it time to share the wealth? Are you able to tackle all the projects on your desk, or are some of them feeling more like mountains to climb than hills to hike?

Embrace Your Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm presents a challenge for sales and marketing professionals. If they express it too fervently, sellers come across as over-eager or pushy. Too little, and they fail to persuade. Enthusiasm that comes from a genuine belief in what you’re selling and its usefulness to your potential customer, though, is just right. It carries others along with it, lifts them up, and helps them make decisions. It’s a little risky to show enthusiasm, especially as people tend to maintain some skeptical distance, but it’s a potent perfume. Let them get close enough to catch its scent, and buyers will often join and even surpass your own enthusiasm.

Achieve Excellence – Not Perfection

A perfect sales record, 100 percent open rates, unanimous acclaim for your latest campaign – you’re more likely to see any of these in your daydreams than in reality. Perfection can happen, but it takes a lot of luck as well as skill; you’re better off aiming for a high goal than one that’s out of your control. Instead, focus on what you can control. Set challenging but achievable benchmarks, realistic deadlines, and high but reasonable conversion rates.

Talk to Customers

Marketing professionals sometimes get so caught up in the data that they don’t see the people those data points represent. Talking to your customers – not as part of a focus group or in a transactional context, but simply following up on a previous sale or touching base – gives you deep insight into how well you’re reaching them. At its best, a conversation with a prospect or customer can also remind you why you went to school for marketing in the first place.


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