By William Kennedy May 19, 2017

3 Easy Sales Techniques Developers Should Learn To Boost Their Career

Every developer can dramatically improve their career if they learned more about sales.  Today, I want to break down exactly how to sell yourself using 3 established sales principles. Contrary to what some people think, sales techniques are not always sleazy. We are all familiar with Salespeople who just don’t quit, but there is a way to sell without being underhanded. In fact, you can sell in a way that has clients salivating at the thought of working with you.

Before we get into the meat of the post, let me tell you a story of what you shouldn't do.

Recently, someone (let's call him Jim) from a data analytics company contacted me via LinkedIn to see if we were interested in his company's product. Regrettably, I said “Sure, send me an email.”

In the space of 4 weeks, Jim emailed me more than ten times and then emailed my boss and my colleagues. He contacted me on my personal cell and sent messages via LinkedIn. He wanted that sale, and my opinion of him did not matter one bit.

There was no attempt to build a relationship. It was just persistent efforts purely to make a sale. It not only frustrated me, my colleagues, and my boss, but his company is now on the “do not work with” list. This is just not an effective way to make a sale or get a new client.

When it comes to selling yourself, remember the golden rule, don’t be like Jim.

Instead, the best salespeople will tell you that making a sale requires establishing trust with a client and asking them questions. By taking the time to interact with your client and understand their needs, you can “sell” yourself as a developer and get more clients. Here’s three easy sales techniques that shouldn’t be hard to incorporate into your career.

1. Understand the Bigger Game Your Client Plays

In your workplace, a game gets played around you. People talk behind your back, managers decide who's their favorite employee, and entrepreneurs are plotting their next move. Even if you are not a player in this game, it’s important to at least try and understand the rules because they impact you the most during the hiring process.

Employers and clients don't care about you – but they do care about what you can do for them. Any job can have 1000's of people apply for it; sending in your resume will make little difference to your chances. There is a better way to make a great first impression (in fact, there is a whole course on Simple Programmer for those who wish to go further).

If you want to stand out, you need to learn what is valuable to your potential client. By understanding your client’s needs and desires, you can spend the time to craft a perfect solution to their problem. Once you present them with the right solution, then they will most likely say yes.

If you are stuck trying to figure out what is important to your client, then remember that programmers are generally hired to do either of the following two things:

  • Cut Costs
  • Raise Profits

It is far better to be on the profit making side of a business than be involved with cutting costs. To see the opportunity to help a business grow, you need to have a more well-rounded skillset.

That means understanding a little bit about everyone's role in the company. For example, if you are the Rails Developer, you would be far more valuable if you knew a little about SEO, digital marketing, content creation, customer service, HR, and Finance.

Instead of boxing yourself into being just a coder, you would be a far greater asset to a business if you can leverage this knowledge to help the business grow. You can specialize in coding but take a little bit from every other field to become more well-rounded.

John has done a series of videos on his career, and one thing that stuck out for me was his versatility and appetite to keep learning – not just more languages and frameworks but numerous other topics that helped him grow.

Here is a list of books that can get you started.

2. Know Thy Client Better Than They Know Themselves

After recognizing the bigger picture, let's talk about the most underutilized skill in the world. When I worked in sales, all the best salespeople were excellent at “active listening”.  This is the art of listening to the customer and pinpointing exactly what is important to them.

One situation that reminded me of this recently was when an insurance broker emailed me looking for advice on hiring a web developer. He knew I wasn't available, but due to previous meetings with him, he felt I was the only one who understood his company and what they needed on the technical side. This trust was built up from my previous experience in the insurance industry and the work I did with his partner company.

There are 1000's of developers he could have emailed, but he picked me because he felt I was able to solve his problem.

How can you get opportunities like this?

The easiest way is through active listening – a skill I learned in college to pass my exams by presenting the argument that the professor preferred.

Active listening means rephrasing, in your own words, what you read and hear back to the person whom you are listening to. This skill not only gets you a high mark in Sociology 101 but is applicable in real life.

During any contact with the prospective client, you have an opportunity to dig deep and find out their biggest problems. Asking more and more questions and listening to their responses will help you find the solution for your client. One of the toughest things techies face is the fact that your client’s problems will not be solved using the latest and greatest JavaScript Framework. Your client’s problems will be far too intricate. Your solution will usually be something like this:

“I can redesign your conversion funnel with best practices that have been shown to have X% increase in sales. “

Too many developers sell themselves based on the number of skills that they know.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter what your app is written in if it solves the business’s needs.  Most business owners do not know the differences between C and C#, but they do know that they have a problem that needs to be solved. If you can identify that problem and provide a solution, you could be on your way to closing the sale.

3. Positioning: You Know Thy Customer So Be Their Solution

One of the best articles ever written for programmers is based on the premise that programmers should not call themselves programmers. They suggest calling yourself anything else but a “programmer”.

So if you can't call yourself a programmer, what do you call yourself?

It's best to call yourself something that prospective employers and clients will find appealing due to the specific nature of their needs. The art of calling yourself something that appeals to your clients is known as positioning. How you position your services can have a great impact on how much you sell.

For example, when you think of Apple's customers, what do you know about them?

Apple positions itself as a luxury good that gets the higher end of the market. They always suggest their products work like “magic”. This distinction in marketing makes them extremely profitable, despite selling fewer products than their competitors. They use the words “Effortless,” “Magical,” and “Wireless” to describe their latest earphones called Airpods. They then go on to use the phrase “Finally Untangled” in the next paragraph. Using simple language helps Apple communicate directly with their customer as well as position themselves as solving a problem their customer might have experienced.

When I sold health insurance, I stopped using the word insurance. People hate the word insurance, so I substituted the words  “cover” or “protection” instead. Once I stopped using the word insurance, my sales went up. After some investigating into this phenomenon, I discovered that the word “insurance” is vague. Insurance can mean Life Insurance, Car Insurance, or Home Insurance, and many people I spoke with associated it with bureaucracy. The word “cover” turned out to be a better word to describe health insurance. After using the word cover, people would start asking me if I covered for “X” or “Y” which was a simple 50/50 response.

I was basically speaking with the customer in a language that we both understood – and it made the job a lot more fun.

When it comes to selling your services, it is best to test different ways of saying what you do.

Use phrases that best describe your services. For example:

“I build iPhone apps.”

“I build data-driven websites.”

We can do even better and get more specific.

“I build iPhone apps for large telecoms businesses.”

“I build data-driven websites for nonprofits.”

You have to keep testing different phrases until you find the one that best communicates what you do to your client. Apple found their magic phrase, and you have to as well.

How to Wrap Up and Ask For the Sale

Salespeople live and die by the acronym ABC (Always Be Closing). After you have understood the bigger picture, uncovered your client's pain points, and established yourself as the solution, you must ask for the sale.

In digital marketing, they call it a “call to action.” You must have a plan in place to offer your service/product/employment in return for something (like compensation).

There are many ways to ask for a sale. If you go to any one of my blogs posts, you will see that I have a call to action right at the end so that you can sign up for my newsletter.

Try using certain phrases like, “We can start today, as soon as we get everything on paper.” In general, it is best to use what you uncovered in the research phase to close the sale.

Company A has just spent their time telling me about a problem they are having with conversion on their site. Through various discussions and analysis, you have discovered a bottleneck on their funnel that you know you can improve.

In this case, you can close the sale with the following:

“I have identified a few problems with your site, how about I go ahead and write a report on those, along with some solutions that will help you convert more. I can have all this in writing by tomorrow, and if you are happy with my proposal, we can arrange for me to do some work on the site at an agreed rate.”

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

The first technique I shared with you was about understanding the bigger picture. This all-encompassing phrase is meant to help you see how you fit into your client’s life and business. Next, we talked about understanding the client’s needs better than they understand themselves. Finally, we talked about positioning, which is basically finding the right words to use for the services you offer. Even if you don’t use words such as “magical” like Apple does, your aim is to communicate effectively what solution you are offering.  Apple conveys more to their customers with the words “Finally Untangled” than “Bluetooth earphones” ever could. Test different phrases on people to finally come up with the phrase that resonates with you and your clients authentically.

The three steps build on each other. You can't have one without the other. Get these right, and there is no doubt you will see more sales. When I was a boy, my granny always used to tell me not to sell myself short. Even if you skipped over each of the 3 techniques and skimmed down to the end, you should endeavour never to sell yourself short.

Do you find this article useful? Leave a comment below with your favorite sales tactic.

About the author

    William Kennedy

    William is a self-taught software developer who went from a job he hates to a job he now loves. As well as writing about himself in the 3rd person, he breaks down exactly what you need to do if you want to get your first job as a software developer on his blog and newsletter.