How can young sales professionals establish and elevate their careers in these extraordinary times?
Alex Dripchak, a New York City-based sales and career-readiness adviser, is here to help.
Recently, Dripchak read 27 bestselling books on sales and then carefully curated and ranked the 100 most critical skills to succeed. The end result is his brand-new book “100 Skills of the Successful Sales Professional: Your Guidebook to Establishing & Elevating Your Career” — a modern, one-stop guide for the ages.
Designed to be easy to read, use, and return to, Dripchak’s book simplifies selling in today’s complex world. It provides practical, digestible tips that can be readily implemented, covering specific skills around strategizing, influencing, negotiating, relationship building, and more.
Dripchak recently sat down with Young Upstarts to talk about his own successful sales career, share his insights about how other young sales pros can grow and get ahead, and discuss why “hard skills set the floor, but soft skills break the ceiling.”
Here is some of our conversation:
Q: Describe your sales career thus far and how it led you to write your new book.
A: My sales career thus far has been intensive, reflective, and progressive. I think about work constantly, always pursuing better practices to benefit my organization as a whole. And while I’d say that I’m more collaborative than competitive, I appreciate what competition and incentivization bring to the collective.
Also, I’m not a born salesperson; in fact, I totally rejected the idea of sales as a profession while in college. It’s this that led me to write my new book: I wanted to destigmatize and demystify selling.
In continually pushing myself to reach the next level of selling, I became a student of the game. And I was surprised that the books and practices I was studying were actually in line with my personal view of “selling as consulting.”
At first, I figured this was just confirmation bias: I was seeking out books that would affirm my beliefs. But it became a pervasive theme. I saw that old-school dealmaking and closing tactics, like the ones in the classic movie “Glengarry Glen Ross,” were no longer the sine qua non of success in sales. This not only helped me overcome my own impostor syndrome, but also inspired me to help others do the same — to see sales for what it really is or, at the very least, for what it could be.
Q: For your book, you read 27 bestsellers on sales. Then you curated and ranked the 100 most critical skills to succeed. How did you come up with such an idea?
A: The more I read, the more I asked myself: Wouldn’t it be great if someone were to boil down the most important elements from all these books into just one book? Sure, apps like Blinkist and Lucid are helpful, but they only summarize individual books. I was imagining something much more expansive — a one-stop summary to cut across professions and skill sets.
So I started identifying common themes and critical takeaways. My goal was to create a method that captured the elements that kept coming up or that had extra veracity, and to do it as concisely as possible. Also, it struck me that while a lot of people teach a particular method, few actually define the specific skills needed to be successful, let alone stack rank them according to what’s most vital or valuable.
I’ve loved lists for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I made all kinds of lists, from the greatest athletes of all time to the best places to visit in the world. And prioritization has been a pervasive theme throughout my life.
Hence, the opportunity to create a “master list” that combined my passion for writing, my profession, and my petition for a consolidated, action-oriented approach was like a dream come true. It was the fusion I’d been looking for.
Q: Some might say that a list of 100 skills is a lot to absorb. So how would you suggest that readers approach your book?
A: It’s a great question. The way I see it, many books make it difficult for readers to find practical, digestible information they can readily implement. So I wrote my book with the reader in mind, minimizing words on a page and maximizing the potential for action.
To prevent the 100 skills from becoming overwhelming or off-putting, I’d suggest to first study the six skill sets summarized at the beginning of the book. Then you can decide which one or two skill sets are most critical to your development. And if you’re not sure where you really need to improve, you can take an online mini-assessment at 100 salesskills.com.
I’d also suggest returning to the book every three months to check on your progress and consider other ideas to maximize that progress.
Q: You drill down on specific skill sets such as strategy, preparation, and relationship building. What are some other skill sets you cover?
A: Perfect segue! Here are the six skill sets, with each one including up to 28 individual skills:
1. Mindset and strategy
2. Relationship building
3. Individual preparation
4. Meeting effectiveness
5. Persuasion and negotiation
6. Internal development
My book is equals parts “compilation” and “curation” — with excellent expert advice and my unique career experiences, respectively. Its value to the reader, then, will vary depending on how much they have already read and become skilled at prior to reading my book.
I’d say that the most unique, useful information in my book is around the skill sets of meeting effectiveness and individual preparation. Much has already been written on mindset, strategy, persuasion, and negotiation, though my book certainly contributes some helpful new takeaways.
Q: Today, there are over 13 million people in sales occupations in the U.S. alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you could give them just one piece of advice, what would it be?
A: No one likes to be sold. Ever.
From an evolutionary standpoint, our Spidey-sense — the limbic system in the human brain — flags distrust or danger. So most of us instinctively respond to salespeople with our guard up.
My advice to salespeople, then, is to provide more of a third-party “evaluator” perspective. You know your industry well, and understand what your clients need and don’t need. And while looking out for your clients’ best interests may hurt your personal self-interests — like meeting quota and making money — it will serve you in the long run. Chances are you’ll have a client and advocate for life.
This reminds me of the best “worst” salesperson I’ve ever met.
It was 2015, in Boston, and my friends and I were taking an Uber downtown. We were looking for an apartment, and our driver happened to be a real estate agent, too. He gave us an unvarnished view of how things actually work, so much so that at first I thought he must really hate his job. But I enjoyed our conversation and especially appreciated his candor. I asked for his card and soon made him our broker of choice.
The great paradox of selling is that the more you want it, the worse you’ll do. It’s best to strike a balance between enjoying your desired end result and the work itself.
Q: You say: “Hard skills set the floor, but soft skills break the ceiling.” How should young professionals in particular interpret this in their careers?
A: As a society, we spend our precious time and money pursuing validation of our hard skills, from degrees and certifications to ongoing coursework. But we spend next to no time on enhancing our soft skills.
The irony here is that most of the highest-paying jobs rely more on soft skills, even leading HR pros and hiring managers to rebrand them as “power skills” or “essential skills.” They power careers and are essential to continued progression.
In my own career, no executive has ever said that attending HTML5 boot camp was the reason for my success or that my degree in mechanical engineering got me to where I am today. Sure they have opened some doors and offered a certain gratification, but they are limited in their long-term elevation.
Young professionals, in particular, are good at being reactive “prescription fillers.” At work, they find out what prescription they need to take and then go about filling that prescription. But after that, they just bemoan that they’re not advancing further.
Herein lies the problem: They are following orders for the role they are in — not the role they want — with no discernible commitment to development.
So what’s the solution? They must take a proactive approach in learning what defines success in their organization; who they should shadow in their field; the business needs that management believes are going unaddressed; and how they can go about filling those critical gaps.
Bottom line, the young professional who’s going to succeed is proactive, growth- and achievement-oriented, and more interested in their organization and colleagues’ needs than their own.