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Separating the Great Sales People From the Average

So what does it take to be a great salesperson?

In terms of fundamental selling skills, the list could be endless. To just scrape the surface, a great salesperson should be excellent at pitching and persistent in their approach to selling. They should have an advanced array of negotiation skills and closing techniques that enable them to sign off favourable deals in line with their forecasts.

They should also be confident and competent at crucial aspects of the sales process, such as cold calling, objection handling and writing winning sales proposals, while they should have a positive, “get up and go” attitude to selling.

But there’s more to an outstanding salesperson than first meets the eye. What really separates an average salesperson from an extraordinary salesperson is a constellation of attitudes and behaviours that have a considerable impact on an individual’s – and, indeed, an entire selling organisation’s – sales performance.

Here I am going to run through these critical selling attitudes and behaviours that sales managers should look out for when hiring or evaluating the performance and capabilities of individuals within their sales team.

1. Does the salesperson understand the customer?

Having already qualified their prospects, the best salespeople invest a lot of time getting to understand what really drives their potential and existing clients and how they operate. They ask a lot of questions to uncover the specific needs and desires of their prospects. They also ask questions to uncover what the buying organisation is doing well and where there is room for improvement.

By asking these questions, the best salespeople are able to align their solutions with the most important needs and desires of their prospects. They are also able to uncover and anticipate previously unidentified problems which may be crucial to creating new sales opportunities.

While average salespeople are usually aware of who makes decisions in the buying organisation and have an idea of when the next orders will be coming through, the best salespeople are already one step ahead of the game. By taking more time to understand their prospects, the best salespeople know when their customers are ripe to buy. While they are eager to make each deal a success, they strike only when the iron is hot and capitalise on the buyer’s needs, desires and outstanding problems when the timing is most appropriate.

2. Does the salesperson use their knowledge to attract customers?

Outstanding salespeople are experts when it comes to their target marketplace. To customers, they are seen as industry experts. This enables them to forge great relationships with their prospects by taking a common interest in, and acquiring a great knowledge of, the buyer’s environment. In turn, the best salespeople compel their prospects to want to do business with them and nobody else.

While average salespeople spend some time to get to know the products and services in their buyer’s industry, the best salespeople recognise that products and services change. The best salespeople also understand that the needs and desires of their customers change over time.

Through their expert knowledge of the target marketplace, they are able to anticipate these changes and align their selling strategies accordingly. This enables great salespeople to build a strong bond with their customers based on a common industry expertise, an ability to analyse buyer needs, desires and problems, and the capability to align compelling solutions with these issues.

3. Does the salesperson maintain close contact with their customers?

In today’s challenging and complex selling environment, buying decisions are taking longer than ever before. With many industries facing a lack of confidence and cutbacks in spending budgets following the recent financial crisis, the sales process has thus become much more difficult and prolonged in today’s marketplace.

Consequently many salespeople are drifting away from those customers that are taking a long time to make buying decisions. Many salespeople, impatient to make sales and close deals in the short-term, are writing off these customers which seem to be taking forever to make buying decisions.

In contrast, the best salespeople are aware that buyers can be unpredictable, particularly during these unpredictable times. They know that buying decisions are taking longer than ever before. But they also know that writing off a customer simply because of a delayed buying decision could be a huge mistake, potentially resulting in lost sales opportunities and prospects being induced by the competition. As a result, they maintain close contact with all their customers – even those that seem to be taking forever to make a buying decision.

4. Is the salesperson good at networking?

The average salesperson spends a lot of valuable time trying to knock down closed doors in an effort to exploit new business opportunities. They spend a lot of time cold calling and chasing customers with whom they have previously had little contact with. Consequently, these salespeople are often perceived as intrusive, turning potential clients away and tarnishing the reputation of the sales organisation.

Although cold calling and new business development remain a crucial aspect of selling, many salespeople fail to have recognised a fundamental shift in the world of selling. They don’t realise that customers are increasingly deterred from invasive sales techniques which indicate that the salesperson is only interested in the sale, rather than satisfying their most pressing needs and desires.

Great salespeople, on the other hand, are aware of this fundamental shift in selling. They understand that their time is often better spent networking with potential clients to create the underlying conditions which will lead to being invited through the door. Rather than attempting to force their way through it and being perceived as invasive, these salespeople are welcomed into the buyer’s office with open arms.

5. Is the salesperson a ‘customer-centric’ consultant?

The best salespeople are highly customer-centric. By this I mean that the most outstanding salespeople have a great ability to make the prospect believe that they are on the same side as the salesperson. These salespeople achieve this by using customer-centric language when talking both to their clients and about their clients to third parties. They subconsciously use terms such as “we” and “us” rather than “they” and “them” to instil greater confidence and comfort in their customers.

By becoming one with the client, these salespeople find themselves in a better position to see things from the client’s perspective. In turn, they find it much easier than the average salesperson to nurture their client relationships while uncovering important needs, desires and previously unidentified problems. This enables the best sales people to open up a wider array of new sales opportunities, while achieving greater success at up-selling and cross-selling to existing clients.

The best salespeople also take a consultative approach to selling. By this I mean that the salesperson takes on the role of a consultant to their clients. They bring their industry expertise and superior knowledge to the table to solve their customer’s most pressing issues.

This creates the underlying conditions which enable the salesperson to subtly align their solutions with the client’s external pressures and internal pains – without being perceived as too pushy or concerned only with making the sale. Instead, great salespeople are seen as a trusted advisor by the client who is there to solve outstanding problems that face the buying organisation. Through consultative selling, these salespeople distinguish themselves from average salespeople and compel clients to want to do business with them on a regular basis.

6. Does the salesperson know when to say ‘no’?

Under many circumstances a sales should simply not be made, no matter how tempting it is to close the deal. After all, if the deal is not in the best interest of the customer it is highly likely that they will experience difficulties in the future that may jeopardise future sales opportunities.

Yet most salespeople are so driven by their targets and commissions that they have conditioned themselves to maximise short-term sales with no afterthought of the long-term implications on both the buying organisation and the selling organisation. When they meet with clients they are so eager to close the sale that they find themselves unable to walk away from deals that are not right for the customer.

On the other hand, great salespeople know when the time is right to walk away from a sale. When they know deep down that their solution is not in the client’s best interest they raise objections and come up with alternative solutions that will more effectively solve the customer’s problems. They know that, further along the line, an honest and consultative approach to selling will lead to a greater number of opportunities with that client in the future, while it will help them maintain their reputation as an industry expert and a valuable asset to buying organisation.

Again, this is all part of being a consultant rather than a traditional salesperson who is hungry to make the sale, no matter what the cost to the client.

7. Does the salesperson have a vision for the future?

Many salespeople are only driven by what’s going on right now. Driven by their sales targets and commissions, many do not stop to think of the potential future implications of their actions. As I mentioned in the previous point, many salespeople are too eager to make immediate sales and find it difficult to walk away from a sale that will later pose a problem to the buying and selling organisations.

A lack of a vision for the future also prohibits many salespeople from recognising what is really happening in the present. Without spending time to think of the future implications of their actions or business trends, they fail to prepare their customers for what’s on the horizon and struggle to cope with change and the unknown. This significantly inhibits their ability to be preceived as an industry expert, consultant and/or a trusted advisor by their customers.

Outstanding salespeople, however, are constantly thinking about the future. Their vision for what lies ahead enhances their ability to be seen as an industry expert, consultant and trusted advisor because it places them in a much greater position to prepare their customers for future events.

By having a vision for the future, great salespeople are also able to adapt their consultative selling approach to cope with any unforeseen events that might have a negative impact on their sales performance. Consequently, these salespeople are able to anticipate and adapt to future selling conditions which, in turn, further contributes towards their outstanding success.

Summary

While it is important that all salespeople are able to exhibit certain fundamental selling skills, such as closing and negotiating, it is crucial that sales management teams look beyond such individual sales techniques when hiring new salespeople or evaluating the performance of their current sales force.

To ensure that you have the right people on your side, you need to look out for these important selling attitudes and behaviours that truly set master salespeople apart from average salespeople.

By employing and maintaining customer-centric salespeople that are perceived as industry experts, consultants and trusted advisors by their prospects, sales managers can ensure that they get the best out of their sales force on a consistent basis and build up a reputation for the selling organisation that is envied by the competition.

Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director of Sterling Chase