Sales is such an important topic for business owners and individuals in client-facing careers. How will people know what we offer if we are not actively selling? Sales allow us to make a much bigger impact, and yet, there are a lot of things that can get in our way when it comes to selling, which is why I was so energized to sit down with Nitya Kirat on a recent episode of Elite Achievement.
Nitya is the founder of YOSD Consulting and the author of Winning Virtually, Ten Tiny Habits For Big Virtual Selling Success. Nitya has built, delivered, and coached sales and sales leadership development programs at companies including Google, PIMCO, BlackRock, Kidder Matthews, and others. His sales strategies have been influenced by his global perspectives and his experiences living and working around the world.
I start my conversation with Nitya by asking him to share the inspiration behind YOSD Consulting. Nitya explains that he had a career in sales in the healthcare industry before moving into financial services. Following the crash of 2008 and 2009, Nitya was laid off. That layoff gave him time to think about what he may want to do, and he began consulting with a friend in sales training. “Our work was primarily with large clients, and I realized two things,” explains Nitya. “Number one, I wish I had this quality of training when I was a salesperson! And number two, I wanted what we were doing to be available to small and mid-market companies, not just the larger companies we were serving. And that was the inspiration to start YOSD Consulting.”
I follow up by asking Nitya if he always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. “Some people have the fortune of knowing what they want to do or who they want to be when they’re five years old,” Nitya responds. “Others, like myself, have the fortune of going through a journey to figure it out. So, absolutely not, I did not know I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I started my career as a chemical engineer. From there, I realized that was not the path I wanted to pursue, so I went to grad school and wanted to get into biotech or pharmaceutical marketing. During informational interviews, I discovered that many companies wanted their marketing people to have sales experience. I was reluctant but planned to do it for a year before moving into marketing, and I loved it! Moving into consulting was a little bit by accident. It began as a stopgap while I figured out what I wanted to do. But I realized that consulting was what I wanted to do, and now it’s been ten or eleven years, and I feel fortunate for the journey.”
I reflect on how it’s funny that the universe can put you in situations to guide you if you’re not figuring it out on your own. And how Nitya says he was reluctant to go into sales, which I believe is how many people feel. I ask him why he felt that way and what’s changed.
Nitya explains that, to some degree, there is a reputation that some types of salespeople have that makes sales unappealing. Another influence for him was his upbringing, which focused heavily on higher education roles like those in engineering or financial fields. “To me, some of the factors were misconceptions around what it takes to be good at sales,” explains Nitya. “The best salespeople I have seen have really strong inclinations towards process. People think sales may be related to being social or the ability to schmooze with others. And those are good skills to have, but the best salespeople are highly process-oriented people who know how to lead conversations, manage their territory, etc. They also are dedicated to continuously improving and adapting that process as the world changes.”
I love that Nitya mentioned process because even in my own business, there is an element of selling. And I struggle with outreach if I move too far from my process, which involves planning and knowing who I’m reaching out to and what services may be a fit, then following up. Following my process removes the emotional decision-making and worrying about whether or not I should reach out or what someone may think if I follow up too many times.
Nitya confirms that the better someone is at being consistent in how those discovery conversations go, the more likely they are to get to the right clients. And those clients will better understand the value of what is being offered. “I often observe salespeople after a conversation with a prospect, and they’re saying, oh, that went great, or that didn’t go well,” says Nitya. “And the reason that conversations don’t go great is because they’re winging it. They’re hoping for a good conversation! But the best salespeople control what’s about to happen because they follow a process without dominating the client.”
I ask Nitya if he thinks that clients find it reassuring when a sales professional has a process and can lead with conviction, and whether or not that helps the client say yes. And he responds by asking how anyone might feel when meeting with a new professional who seems to be confident and in control. It definitely increases the comfort level when you know that the professional has a plan.
Nitya also explains that the start of the meeting is the most essential part of the conversation because it is much easier to start the conversation well than start randomly and hope to get in what you want to say later. The other person also gets a sense quickly that the salesperson is a professional that has come ready and in a way that values their time. “Meetings go very differently when the client realizes in the beginning that it will be a good use of their time,” says Nitya.
I ask Nitya to expand on best practices for starting a meeting and his thoughts on how much chit-chat or casual conversation makes sense. “I have a friend who says there is no such thing as too much rapport,” shares Nitya. “And it taught me to allow relationship building to take its course. Building trust and intimacy is one element of a relationship, so you want to allow that to happen. But there’s also a natural way to segment into the business portion of the meeting. If I have a thirty-minute meeting, I should be moving into business after about five minutes. It also depends on your past relationship with the person and whether you’re catching up or meeting someone new. What really matters is building rapport in a genuine way.”
In addition to process and starting a meeting the right way, I ask Nitya what other elements he considers critical to sales. “They’re all in my book,” Nitya laughs. “In chapter five, we talk about an agenda framework to help you start meetings. There have been times when I’ve been on the other side of the world doing three days of training, and when we ask what the biggest takeaway was, the answer is this framework. We all think we know how to share an agenda because we’ve started thousands of meetings, but some nuances really help create greater engagement and buy-in. Asking good questions is another key element. It’s asking the right questions in the right order, so you maximize the time and the use of those questions. And when the world moved to virtual meetings, it became even more important because, in the virtual world, you don’t necessarily have someone sitting with you for the entire scheduled time without distractions. The microphone has to move back and forth every few minutes because if one person talks for more than a few minutes, you’ve lost the other party.”
I shift our conversation and ask Nitya to explain what makes a sales development and leadership program successful. He mentions that the most successful programs often have commitment and buy-in from leadership. When leadership shows up for the first few minutes to kick off the first training session, it demonstrates to others how important the program is and the investment made. Another thing is relevance. “Salespeople will sit and listen as long as they believe they’re getting value and what they’re hearing will be applicable and help them make more money,” Nitya says. “But if the training is not relevant or at the right level, they check out and want to be gone making phone calls and meeting customers. And lastly, training has to be thought of as a process, not an event. A four-hour event is effective when you extend the impact of learning.”
Nitya mentioned that when training is not relevant, salespeople want to be making calls or meeting customers. Call reluctance is a big topic that comes up with individuals I coach, so I ask him to share his opinion on call reluctance and how to work through it. He explains there is a nature versus nurture element to call reluctance.
“There are definitely some people who are built for making calls and getting rejected while staying excited about the next call,” Nitya explains. “But the second piece is nurturing through things like goal-setting, time management, call blocking, and support from a coach or colleague. There is also an element of belief. If I believe what I am calling about can add value to this other person’s life, I’m less worried about all the people who aren’t interested because I want to find the people whose life I can impact and change. It becomes especially hard to keep getting rejected over something you’re not 100% convinced about yourself. So, with call reluctance, you might ask if you have the right people, if they have support and systems, and if there is belief in what they’re doing.”
Rejection is obviously a huge roadblock when it comes to selling, and I ask Nitya what else may get in the way. He explains two things that successful salespeople do, including following a process. Process-driven salespeople will even include things like a morning routine that may involve working out or making the first twenty calls before taking a coffee break. The second thing successful salespeople do is work harder because there is a numbers element to sales. If you’re making three times more calls than someone sitting next to you, there is a good chance you’ll sell more. “People who outwork competition also see better results,” Nitya says.
Nitya has described the dedication and discipline it takes to be successful in sales, so I ask him to share the biggest mistakes he sees sales professionals make. His first response is simply that we talk too much.
“Usually, the people sitting next to you don’t tell you that you talk too much because they know the product, they’re passionate about what you’re selling, and they don’t realize they also talk too much,” says Nitya. “Generally, this is a bigger red flag when a salesperson is newer because they’re nervous. A more seasoned salesperson understands they’ll share valuable information, but that the meeting is about understanding and hearing the client to know how something will fit and how to demonstrate value best.”
I ask Nitya how a salesperson can build confidence and move from the talking too much stage to having an eloquent sales process. He shares that, to some degree, the first step is awareness. He explains how much of his sales knowledge came from his dating experience and realizing that the more he talked on a first date, the less likely the other person was interested in continuing the conversation. It taught him to think through some questions beforehand, which also applies to sales. Be prepared with a few questions that will help you learn about the other person before any meeting. Most salespeople don’t do that, but it’s a simple way to help build rapport and start meetings on a positive note!
To learn more about Nitya, you can visit YOSD Consulting’s website or find him on LinkedIn and join him for monthly Nit Chats, which are intimate conversations with four to five sales leaders who talk honestly about key challenges and brainstorm together.
With that goal achievers, keep celebrating your weekly wins, noting your lessons learned, and identifying your priorities for next week so you can consistently pursue progress in the direction of your goals.