How Sales is Like Gardening

About me

I’m a Partner Manager at Builtfirst where I manage relationships with SaaS partners like HubSpot, Zendesk, Brex & more. I participated in (& organized a meetup for) a startup apprenticeship program, Praxis.

You can find me at a park playing sports, a concert, or wine tasting.

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Everyone has their own preconceived notions about what a Sales job is like. 

I still struggle with these ideas myself, and I’ve been doing Sales for a few years now. 

Are you tricking people into buying something they don’t need? Forcing them to sign up today? Or are you offering them something that will improve their life at a reasonable price? 

And what does any of this have to do with gardening?

The Gardening (and Sales) Experience

Gardening is simple in concept, but it’s definitely not easy. You can plant a seed in the ground, but you’ll get no results without several months of work. The same can be said for Sales. Let’s break down the cycle starting with gardening, then identifying the parallels to the Sales cycle:

Idea:

Your ‘why’ – you know you want to try gardening. Maybe you want to live off the land, so you need something that produces well and provides nourishment – potatoes are a great choice. You might want tomatoes for fresh salsa. Or maybe you have no idea where to start, all you know is that you want to grow something. In sales, it starts with a thought or feeling. A potential customer knows they want or need your product, or they already use a competitor’s. Your product is what they need, they just don’t know it yet!

Prepare: 

You need to get ready before you plant. What kind of soil, fertilizer, irrigation, and tools should you use? Should you start from seed or seedlings? In sales, you need to be ready before you sell. Who exactly is your customer? What messaging, mediums, and software tools should you use? Should you start with cold calls, or meet them through networking?

Plant:

Now that you did hours of work, you can finally put something in the ground. Now what? I hope you weren’t under the impression you’d get fruit tomorrow! In sales, now that you know what to say, you can finally reach out and make the connection. You’ll be quite lucky if they return your call, let alone close a deal!

Nurture:

Grab your coffee and walk outside every morning ready to water your plants and pick off those pests trying to eat your plant before it’s even producing. In sales, have your follow ups ready to send every morning. If you do get a response back, be ready to justify your product over the competition.

Harvest: 

Eventually (you won’t know exactly when) your plant starts producing. I hope you planted more than one potato so you can eat well for a while! Your food supply will eventually run out and you’ll have to start over. In sales, eventually deals will start closing. Hopefully you have more than one lead so you get a solid commission check! Once you’ve collected from your closed deals, the cycle begins again. If you focus too much on closing your deals, your supply of leads will run out and you won’t have any deals to close.

What to Expect from This Process

Rather than viewing Sales as a constant grind, you should expect your customers to need to be nurtured and to take a while to close. There are always exceptions, where you get results faster or slower than expected. Sometimes the deal will close quickly, after several months, or never. But it’s a process, not an event. 

Would you get stressed if your tomatoes didn’t sprout in the first week? You shouldn’t!

There are countless strategies to make your Sales more effective. You start with the “why”, plan accordingly, plant the “seed”, nurture, and harvest. The better prepared you are, the better your results will be. 

Let’s dive into each phase of the cycle deeper.

Simplifying Sales – the Idea

At its core, Sales is connecting people with the right product to fill their needs. 

There are 2 fundamental reasons people buy:

  1. They have a ‘pain’ – this can be physical pain, a stressor, or a problem to solve
  2. They have something to gain – this can involve providing pleasure, excitement, novelty, or quality of life improvement

Now we know why our customers will buy. But where will you find them? Once you do, naturally they’re going to hesitate. 

What if your product is expensive or it isn’t clear what differentiates you from the competition?

This is where preparation comes into play.

Prepare

There are a few key characteristics that will help identify your potential customers:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Political, religious, and moral values

Once you’ve identified 2-3 of these things, you’ll be able to figure out where to find those customers by looking at the places or platforms they typically reside. 

In a future blog post, I’ll go further into the topic of marketing fundamentals, helping you identify exactly where to look.

The next step is being ready for objections, or the countless reasons people don’t want to buy your product. Regardless of whether people have no idea if they want your product – or even if they already know they want your product – they’ll have questions. Your responses determine how seriously they take you.

If you sell a product that’s more expensive than the competition, the response should be “you get what you pay for”. 

A good salesperson will use the common price objection to their advantage, taking the opportunity to show the added value of the product. If you can’t answer the question of differentiation, then you should stop what you’re doing and learn your product.

Plant

Are you ready to get out there and start selling? 

The answer is usually no, but that’s okay. 

This is the hardest part, where you face rejection. More commonly, people will simply ignore you. 

First impressions are always important. If you’ve done a great job preparing, you can address the customer’s needs before even having a conversation with them. Doing this will immediately set you apart. 

Let’s compare 2 cold emails attempting to sell payment processing services to a non-profit:

“To whom it may concern:

My name is Dalton and I am emailing you to share an awesome promotion! We are offering a free payment portal for your customers if you sign up for our payment processing service. We guarantee customer satisfaction with a free 30-day trial. Click here to learn more about this.”

Now let’s compare this to a personalized message:

“Hi Betty,

My name is Dalton, and I absolutely love your nonprofit’s cause! I wanted to donate to you, but didn’t actually see a way to donate on your website. I’m reaching out because my company is actually offering a free payment portal so you can accept donations online. We guarantee customer satisfaction with a free 30-day trial. I’d love the opportunity to help get this set up for you if you’re interested! In the meantime, let me know another way to donate. :)”

Let’s look at the key differences between the generic and personalized email:

  • The actual person and business was acknowledged, so it didn’t feel like a scripted email
  • The need was established in a creative way that supported the business
  • Direct assistance was offered, rather than a hands-off approach

Once you’ve done this for at least 10-50 people, cross your fingers that you get a response.

Nurture

Of course, you’ll need to follow up with every person about three times if you don’t get a response. 

Ideally, your follow-ups are an email and a phone call, and if you’ve gotten a response or had a conversation, your follow-ups should always be specific to the conversation. 

People will blow you off and come back 3 months later. 

I’ve done it too, that’s just the way things work. 

Rather than forcing a result, you nudge your customers in the right direction. It’s all on you to address any roadblocks that come up along the way, or even better, prevent them from happening in the first place. 

If you can’t solve the issue or objection with the customer immediately, make a note and circle back with them if you think it will be solved eventually. This is most common with feature gaps that are deal breakers for customers. 

Harvest

Congratulations, you get paid! 

But as mentioned earlier, your work isn’t complete. You need to ensure you always have a pipeline of deals closing for that consistent paycheck. Otherwise, you’ll make a lot of money every three months, which is more stressful than effective.

Use your closes as leverage for the next sale. If you come across a customer that is similar to the last, you can use that to increase both your confidence and the customer’s in your product. If you pay attention to the various ways people use your product, you quickly build momentum and close deals with greater confidence. 

You become a master of the best ways to utilize the product and that results in happy customers that refer you to others.

The conclusion here is that if you’re a gardener, you’re a natural fit for Sales. 

Just kidding. 

But framing Sales in this way should help inform your expectations and give you a path to mastery.  

Happy selling!

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