What’s the difference between a great salesperson and a mediocre one?
A 2016 report looked into the behavioural traits that separate ‘world class’ salespeople from everyone else. Responses were gathered around the world, talking to everyone from account managers to executives. What did they find? Out of the 1,206 respondents only 7.7% met the criteria for ‘world-class sales performance.’
So what was everyone else doing wrong? And what can we all do to make sure our teams are in that group right at the top?
1. Developing a dynamic approach: Salespeople and managers need to work together to move from random, ad hoc preparation to a more ‘dynamic’ approach, making a solid and repeatable sales process part of the daily workflow and continually assessing how well they’re performing against it. In the book ‘Marketing Management’ edited by Raju and Xardel, they define this approach as ‘the process followed by sales managers when they define and display all the appropriate means at their disposal for influencing, and also, within limits, for controlling all the factors (customers, salespeople, and middle sales management) of the selling process and to make them contribute to the firm’s objectives in the most efficient way possible.’
In short, it’s pulling it all together in one place – and using that as your base to make decisions and move forward in a coherent way.
2. Staying motivated – don’t be derailed by doubts: Losing motivation can be very dangerous – you may not be able to close a sale every day, but you can keep a record of your progress, whether that’s lead generation or follow-up calls. It’s not just about getting motivated, it’s about staying motivated too, even when you feel you’re up against it.
Many salespeople feel they’re facing an uphill struggle if they’re trying to sell to a customer who already has an existing relationship with a competitor. One report by Altify found that 70% of salespeople surveyed felt that generally a buyer will go with the ‘devil they know’. Yet that same study found that, in fact, 41% of buyers actually have no such preference and are keen to look to the broader market. So it pays to act early – in fact, around 67% of buyers engage suppliers early and 35% of buyers even bring suppliers in before they’ve fully defined the project.
Sales is about maintaining energy and persistence, so it’s up to you to stop doubts from creeping in – you can’t afford to manufacture your own psychological disadvantage.
3. Price sensitivity – accept it and learn how it works: Price sensitivity will always be there – the key is to understand what’s driving it rather than trying to eliminate it. It’s important to be able to tell the difference between genuine price sensitivity issues (eg, a new competitor making margins tighter) and procurement tactics designed to beat you down on price.
But the other key is listening and finding common ground. While you should lead with questions to garner an indication of where a price point should land, view the exchange not so much as a battle to be won but as a solution to be reached. The Altify report found ‘when both parties work more closely in a trusted relationship earlier in the engagement, the decision intelligence is improved, win rates improve and the deliverable to the buyer improves’.
In other words, finding a price that makes sense for both parties – and clearly demonstrating that’s what you’re out to achieve – is conducive to a strong, long-term relationship.
4. Be the real deal: Openness on price and working together lead us to one of the oldest stereotypes about salespeople – a tendency to seem less than sincere. But it’s true that if you’re unpleasant, faking the friendliness or coming on too strong, you’re likely to come unstuck.
There are two key points here and the first takes us back to preparation. Make sure you know your pitch inside out – know your company and crucially, know theirs. You’ll have a much easier time not coming across as a phony if you’ve taken the time to make sure you’re the real deal.
Then there’s plain old practice. Take the time to understand how you come across to others and work to improve it. Even practice in the mirror. It’s very hard to fake a smile, but what you can do is learn to project both ‘strength and ‘warmth’. In ‘Compelling People’, John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut argue that these are the two qualities displayed by successful people, whether they’re in sales, entertainment or politics. They define strength as ‘a person’s capacity to make things happen’, while warmth is the sense ‘that a person shares our feelings, interests and view of the world’. As an ambitious salesperson, you probably recognise strength, but it’s a really good idea to pay attention to warmth as well.
5. Remember to listen: Plato’s apocryphal observation that ‘Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something’ highlights the importance of listening. As a salesperson, just like anyone else, you have two ears and one mouth and should probably use them in those measures.
The Altify report found that while 56% of sellers think they ‘add value most of the time’, more than a third of buyers feel that sellers ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ add value. Rather than taking this as a blow to the vanity of the profession, it should be a reminder that you’re there to help the customer buy, not to ‘sell at them’.
Customers want to be listened to. They have problems to overcome, but unless you can understand their journey, you’ll have parted company long before you reach the destination. Use your experience with other clients and learn to see your customers’ perspective.
6. Work the room: Presenting is part and parcel of being a salesperson and it’s something that, like it or not, you need to be able to do. Human beings are social, pack animals and in a new environment we would much rather be close to everyone else than standing at the front drawing attention to ourselves. Even the most extroverted personality can fall victim to nerves, which is bad news both for you and for the room. Neffinger and Kohut point out that ‘whatever emotions you project into that room strongly influence how everyone in your audience feels’.
There are any number of self-help books that will claim to rid you of the anxieties that come with presenting, but in the end it comes down to planning and practice. Prepare your pitch, know your figures and plan for questions – for there will always be those who will delight in trying to catch you out. Remember to make it about them and not about you – you’re offering them a solution to buy, not a repertoire to applaud.
7. Hammer the phones: In his book ‘Sales Success’ Robert Hastings observes that ‘even highly experienced sales professionals experience some episodes of call reluctance in their careers’. He goes on to claim that call reluctance is ‘dormant in 97% of all sales people.’
For some people, avoiding the phone is down to a real psychological discomfort. If that’s the case and you can’t overcome it, you may be in the wrong field. Real salespeople make sales calls. Always. Whether it’s responding to new leads or revisiting old leads that might now be ready to close, good salespeople never sit still.
A study attributed to the Dartnell Corporation found that 48% of salespeople gave up on a prospect after the first call. By the fourth call, that figure was 90%. The problem is that it’s the very quality of persistence that can increase a client’s confidence in a salesperson. There’s an urban legend about the soft drink 7UP that sees its inventor trying time and again to market the drink as 1UP, 2UP, 3UP and so on. Sadly with the failure of ‘6UP’ he loses the will to carry on, only for a competitor to jump in and hit the big time with the very next logical step.
Don’t be the person who quits just before the win.
Successful salespeople know that a tiny percentage of customers will buy on that first call. What the smart people are looking to do is build opportunities, develop relationships and secure a competitive edge. That way, when the gap appears, with the right preparation and groundwork, they’re ready to fill it.