If the mere thought of learning sales techniques is about as palatable as jumping into a swamp, take heart: There are time-honored basics that anyone can master with a bit of effort.

By Christopher Duncan | August 2006

No matter how well your skill set matches an employer's desires, sooner or later it all comes down to convincing a real, live human being that you're the perfect candidate for their position. What this personal contact really amounts to is a sales presentation. However, the mere thought of learning effective sales techniques is about as palatable to most techies as jumping into a swamp full of underfed alligators. Fortunately, like anything else, there are certain time honored basics that anyone can master with a bit of effort.

Know The Players

First, you need to understand the product you¿re offering. Strange as it seems, no one is buying your technical capabilities. Tech skills are a dime a dozen and everyone looks like a rock star on paper. What the hiring manager is really buying is you, the human. When it's crunch time, what gets the job done is not just technical prowess but dedication, teamwork, diplomacy, inspiration, creativity and a host of other intangibles. Your task is to demonstrate that you're the perfect person for their team in every way.

The next step should be obvious, but it's not. Make a friend. This doesn't mean that you should spew superficial one-liners that sound like a bad night at the local disco. Be sincere. You're both in the tech industry and will therefore have a great many common interests. Take a little time up front to talk to them as you would any friend in the business.

What technologies are they interested in? What topics and pursuits do they find compelling? What do they do for fun? This process takes only a couple of minutes but forges an immediate, if subtle, bond. Additionally, you not only create a positive tone for the rest of the interview, you also demonstrate right up front that you're a nice person who's enjoyable to work with. In a world where everyone's a techie, this is frequently the determining factor.

What's In It For Them?

Now, ask yourself what's in it for them to hire you. The person doing the interview has been tasked with finding the perfect candidate for the position they¿re attempting to fill, and this isn't nearly as easy as you might think. If they fall short in their efforts by either taking too long or hiring someone less than optimal, it reflects negatively on the way that they do their job. This will doubtless come up in their annual review. Whether they realize it consciously or not, though this may be just an interview to you, to them it's personal.

Consequently, one of the best things you can do for yourself is find out how you can help them accomplish their objective. By asking questions and showing honest interest, you'll be amazed at how quickly they'll open up to you. If you listen carefully, they'll tell you exactly what they need to hear so that they can hire you and report to their boss that they¿ve done their job.

A big part of this process is learning to speak their language rather than your own. In other words, for the interview process your manner of communicating must take a back seat. It's their frame of reference that's important. If they talk tech, match their level of detail. If they focus on high level corporate speak, adapt and translate accordingly, and so on. Unlike your competitors who don't pick up on this, by presenting your qualities in a way they can relate to they'll be able to see that you're the perfect solution.

Objection Overruled

Another basic skill that any successful salesperson has is the art of overcoming objections. You'll frequently get the interview because you match a majority, but not all, of the company's desires. This means that from their point of view, there will be deficiencies in your abilities. Since you'll usually know this going in, it's easy for you to prepare.

For every shortcoming, including domain experience, the technical and any other lacking area, prepare a short and effective rebuttal using this formula. First, acknowledge the objection and agree with its importance. Next, segue into the talents you possess that not only compensate for this deficiency but add value. Having answered the objection, keep the conversation moving by asking them a question about another, unrelated area of their needs. Of course, they'll naturally answer this question, moving you past the hurdle.

Sometimes people will have objections that they don't share with you, and you can't fight what you can't see. It's therefore up to you to smoke out the hidden objections and get them verbalized, allowing you to answer them in a positive manner. Having contemplated your weaknesses before the interview, you'll be able to interject a, "by the way, you might have noticed that I don't have as many years of the XYZ technology as you¿d like..." to get the ball rolling. Their response then puts you in a position to address these concerns.

Closing The Deal

Having presented yourself in a sincere and friendly manner, you've shown them that you're the perfect fit for the team, and you've given them the ability to accomplish their personal objective of hiring someone. In closing, let them know that although you're delighted with how great the demand is for your skills in the marketplace, you find their position very appealing. Follow up by asking them how soon it will be before they make a decision, since you naturally don't want to accept another offer before you hear from them. When done in a casual and low key manner, this motivates them to get back to you quickly with an offer.

Whether you're shy or bold, learning even the most basic presentation skills will raise your profile so far above the competition that you'll be the only obvious choice. Best of all, you'll find that these techniques are the most effective when you're simply being yourself. Once you decide to expand your horizons and learn the art of people, the perfect job will be just around the corner.

Christopher Duncan is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Atlanta, Georgia.