It has been a couple of years since I have made the transition from employee to consultant. Over those couple of years, I have had to learn some new soft skills that were missing from my tool kit. These newly acquired skills weren’t ones that I thought were needed in my tool kit until I became a consultant and needed to make sure I secured a paying project in my future.
I do not consider myself a salesperson by any means. I have never been interested in a sales position and on occasion, looked at the job of a sales as one that I could never do. I have always believed that in order to be a good salesperson, you have to believe in the product or service that you are selling.
As a skeptical person, I find being in IT is rewarding because it is an industry built around ideas and technologies that can be configured, tested and deployed to show proof of the concept. Mistakenly, I had thought that with sales, you are selling the idea. This is where my thinking was flawed.
In this blog, we will discuss three areas that have been beneficial in my transformation, from thinking like an employee to being a gainfully employed consultant armed with sales skills to secure his next paying project.
The difference between soft and technical skills
Soft skills are personality or personal attributes that enable a person to interact with others socially and effectively. Unlike technical or hard skills, which tend to be specific to a certain type of task or activity, soft skills are applicable to everyone in varying degrees.
Knowing how to have a conversation with a CTO of an organization about a technology or methodology for the company’s developers is a very different type of discussion than the one you would need to have with the CFO. However, knowing how to have that conversation, and being able to switch from being a technical consultant to a salesperson does take practice. Being able to know when and with whom to have the appropriate conversations is key.
Don’t waste time discussing how a product works with the CFO who wants to know everything cost-related. Knowing how to share that information will save you time and enable you to be better prepared. If you don’t know the responsibilities of the stakeholders and who they are, you could waste weeks, perhaps even months trying to convince the wrong people to either buy or invest in you and your skills.
Use the “assumptive close” to start the conversation
One of the early jobs in my career was as an inside salesperson working for a phone company selling 800 numbers and Centrex lines for new business. I was terrible at the job, not really understanding the product and not knowing how to talk to people. I would flounder on the phone and was afraid to ask for the business. This continued for three months until an older sales rep who was also my boss, took me aside and taught me how to assume the customer had already bought the product. This is where he taught me the “assumptive close” technique when talking with a client. I have also found that this can be used in situations when you know absolutely no one, but can easily make friends.
Start the conversation with an assumption, based upon the topic or goal. My goal these days is to make sure that I secure work going forward. This means I have to ensure that the client makes some sort of commitment whether that is a phone call to schedule consulting time or a commitment to hire my services for the project.
The conversation will begin with a question such as:
When will we work together? Let’s get your calendar out and schedule that time.
This already puts them in the position of looking at time frames or scheduling. Another favorite close I like is:
So when can we expect that purchase order: tomorrow?
Again, assuming that they have already bought the product, all they need to do is give you the purchase order.
The one key thing that has to be present when using this technique is that you have to be confident with your skills and your abilities. That confidence comes from knowing the product, the technology and the organization. The IT industry is lightning-paced, and you have to be capable enough to maneuver within the cogs to get what you want as a contractor: a job. Using this technique with confidence can help get you more work.
Don’t stop learning
If you continue to work in the technical industry, you know that there are always newer and better products and technologies being released almost monthly. My advice is to always stay on top of what is out there. Stay on top of it: whether that is reading technical blogs or subscribing to journals and technical updates.
It also means that you need to study and take certifications that will help you secure gainful employment. Not every technology or company has a certification course for you to follow or acquire, but it helps to know how the product works. Read the company’s technical manuals if they have nothing else, build and install the product if you can. Doing these things on your own can make the difference between a long-term engagement or a longer-term hiatus with no source of revenue.
Some of the more prominent sites that come to mind are “TechCrunch”, “Wired.com” and one of my favorites “Gizmodo”. Treat them like you would as if you’re reading the Wall Street Journal: trust but verify.
Whether you’re just starting out as a consultant or thinking about switching your career path, there is always something to learn. Stay up-to-date with the latest tech and learn how to deal with people and organizations. This is part of being a consultant. You will amaze yourself with what you can do. Have you worked on your amazing today?
About the Author
John Lucas is a Docker Certified Associate and Accredited Instructor for Stone Door Group, a Cloud and DevOps consulting company founded by independent consultants for independent consultants. Stone Door Group takes all the guesswork out of becoming an independent contractor by providing opportunities to certify on new technologies and offering a pipeline of meaningful IT consulting jobs. To learn more, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.