Everything I Need to Know in Sales I Learned When I Taught in the Gang Neighborhood

Everything I Need to Know in Sales I Learned When I Taught in the Gang Neighborhood

Sales Principle #1: If I wasn’t really selling it, they weren’t really buying it.

Teaching in a Hispanic gang neighborhood near Chicago made for a rather tough audience.  I learned quickly that if I didn’t have my lesson ready and well prepared, the kids were going to eat me for breakfast.  But, more importantly, I learned that if I wasn’t excited about the lesson, then they saw right through me.

This can be true of a math lesson or a product we are trying to sell.  The kids would start in with their objections: “Why do we need to learn this?” “I won’t really use this in my life.” So if the person doing the selling is not 100% believable and passionate about their product, why should the customer want to buy it?

You have to create a desire, spark an interest  and create it in the moment you are before the customer.  I learned when I was teaching to think on my feet, address objections quickly, and move on.  After all, this is the classroom of life. Learning is not an option here.

Sales Principle #2: Learn to handle rejection and hear “no” often. 

Is it the end of the world if someone tells us “no”?  Only if we attach that much meaning to it.  “No” only means “no right now.”

I would start to teach and my students would rise up to ridicule.  Kids can come up with lots of ways to stop things from moving forward, and I’ve seen them all.  Refusal to open the book, talking, flipping the desk over, running around the room with scissors — it was like a three- ring circus.

Imagine trying to sell to people who don’t want to look at the product, try the product or listen to you talk about the product.  What do you do, give up?  That’s what most sales people do after multiple objections.  But when I taught students with behavior problems, I didn’t have that choice.  I had to stay in the game.

So I offered rewards for compliant behavior like donuts on Friday or pizza parties.  But it all came down to getting to know the kids and building relationships with them over time.  I was the new kid on the block and they wanted to see what I was made of.  My primary job was to figure out what motivated them and really listen to who they were.

Sales principle #3: If you don’t genuinely care about your customer why should they care to listen to you? 

Build the relationship!  To the kids it was important to know who I was.  They didn’t want to listen to me till they knew if I was a Cubs fan or a Sox fan.  (This was the year the Sox won the World Series. )  Your customers may not tell you this, but they want to know you personally.  It matters to them where you have come from in life and where you are going.  Just having coffee and small talk is crucial.  Learning about family or common interests makes a difference.

Sales Principle #4: Half the battle in life is just showing up.

Don’t bring negative expectations with you.  You project what you expect, and it comes back to you.

I have seen sales people say “I knew they weren’t going to buy it.” Well, how about trying a more open approach? Every day, rise up with a new and open attitude.  Change is always possible at any time.

I have heard it said that the average sales person gives up in three or four tries: It can take up to 12.  “No” may be a smokescreen for all kinds of objections.  “No” can mean “I am busy,” “I’m having a bad day,” or “I don’t really know you well enough yet.”  When I started my first sales job, I encountered some tough customers and I just kept going back to see them over and over.  One customer I saw 12 times before making a sale.  Eventually, I got past his smokescreen of being too busy.  I could learn more about his needs each time and eventually match it with my product.

Some days teaching in a gang neighborhood the antics got extreme.  For example, all the boys locked one girl in my class in the closet.  Or the kids stole all the needles off the sewing machines when I wasn’t looking.  It was often extremely difficult for me to just face my students.  Compared to this, dealing with sales rejections was child’s play.

Sales Principle #5: Learn to laugh at yourself!

Using humor to your advantage can help as stress can make us all crazy.  One day I accidentally dropped the classroom keys down the automatic flush toilet.  My students found out and never stopped heckling me.  (“Don’t give her any keys because she can’t be trusted.”)  I just chose to laugh along with them because this made me more real to them.  I wasn’t just an authority figure: I was human.  So when my students saw me in the hallway instead of ignoring me like they used to, they had to crack jokes about whether I had flushed any more keys down the toilet.  Mistakes can be bonding experiences for others to see we are just as human as they are.

Sales principle #6: Be open to learning from someone who is more successful than you.

In the midst of the mayhem and chaos of teaching gang kids I needed help, so I was assigned a mentor.  She shared her strategies on discipline with me.  (Remove the disruptive student immediately and address them one-on-one in the hallway.

Seek out others with more experience in your field. Be teachable, coachable, and open to learning and you will go further in the game of sales.

Why not go at some sales goals with a certified and trained business coach?  Together you can go further than on your own. Let’s create that possibility!!!

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