What does it take to be the type of salesperson who produces positive results year after year? Just ask any sales manager or salesperson this question. Each one will have a ready answer. Not surprisingly, it usually mirrors the way they think of themselves.
But that aside, we all seem to think we know what it takes to be a sales pro. “He’s a great closer.” “She won’t quit until she gets the appointment.” Martha is relentless when it comes to follow-up.” “You can count on George to up-sell every customer.” “There’s no one in banking that Richard doesn’t know.” “He’s great at cold calling.” And “No one can hold a candle to Liz when it comes to building relationships.” On it goes.
But there’s more to quality selling performance than even outstanding traits. And there’s more to it than even spotting the right traits. What¹s often missing in identifying sales excellence is a profile of behaviors. These form a constellation of qualities that separate the average from the extraordinary salesperson.
Being friendly, personable, and attentive are helpful, of course. So is being aggressive and persistent. But even more critical are such easily identifiable behaviors as these:
1. This is the salesperson who invests time understanding customers rather than simply “qualifying” them. The difference is as wide as the Grand Canyon. This is the salesperson who asks lots of questions to gain an in-depth understanding of the customer¹s operation with the objective of uncovering what is being done well and where there are unresolved and often unidentified problems. Never even thinks about asking, “Who makes the buying decisions?” or “When do you expect to place the order?” Such issues will be addressed normally through the information gathering process
Of course every salesperson should be adept at qualifying customers. No one wants to spend time getting the order only to discover that there are credit problems. But “qualifying” has another meaning figuring out if the person is ripe to buy. The right salesperson wants to make every possible sale, but recognizes that from today¹s contacts come tomorrow¹s customers as well. This is quite different from a commitment to understanding them so they see you on their side, and not just another salesperson looking for a quick sale.
2. This is the salesperson who uses knowledge to attract customers. Although there is something to be said for relationships fostered on common interests and other forms of compatibility, more is needed today; frankly, much more. The primary task for salespeople is getting customers to want to do business with them and no one else. The right salesperson recognizes that products and services change, as do customer needs. Therefore, this salesperson builds a knowledge bond with customers that is based on bringing their expertise, ability to analyze problems, and articulate solutions to bear on customer issues.
It’s easy to test this behavior. Customers often ask, “Even though it has nothing to do with what you sell, could I run something by you?” The attraction is knowledge.
3. This is the salesperson who stays close to customers because buying decisions take longer than ever. The right salespeople know that customers are unpredictable when making buying decisions. For example, they have made presentations and six months or a year later, the customers call and indicate they are ready to move ahead.
They have also discovered that writing off a customer too soon can be a major mistake. After one or more meetings the salesperson decides this particular customer isn¹t going to buy. Then a year or so later, a competitor gets the business. More often than not, it is failing to stay in contact with the customer that causes the problem. The customer perceives the lack of contact as a lack of interest.
There is always that initial flurry of calls and meetings and when the prospect fails to buythere¹s silence. This sends the message that the salesperson is no longer interested. Should it be surprising that the customer looks elsewhere when it¹s time to sign the order?
Every salesperson knows that decisions are taking longer than ever. Because of this, it’s a mistake to assume that the customer has no genuine interest in buying.
4. This is the salesperson who expects prospecting to be company-driven. This one is a hot potato! While the right salesperson is always alert to spotting new business opportunities, he or she refuses to spend valuable selling time simply trying to get through someone¹s door. John R. Supinski of Maryland, a Registered Health Underwriter, has been in sales for 17 years. Along with so many others, he recognizes the fundamental shift that has taken place in selling. “Cold calling is the worst thing I¹ve ever doneŠit¹s demoralizing.” Is he lazy, obstinate, or just a pain? From the viewpoint of the customer, his point is well taken. The day of “spending valuable time trying to get your foot in the door” is gone. The major task is establishing conditions so you will be invited through the door. Customers are turned off by the “office or home invasion” techniques used by so many salespeople today. Their actions are blatant indications that making the sale is more important than anything else including meeting customer needs. When the salesperson is “invited in,” the atmosphere is welcoming, professional, and non-defensive.
5. This is the salesperson who becomes one with customers. When talking about their customers, the highly competent salesperson unconsciously uses “we” rather than “they.” Nothing is contrived. It¹s so natural, they don¹t realize what they are saying. They so completely put themselves in the customer¹s shoes, they become one with the customer.
A marketing firm¹s president was telling a colleague about his work with a particular client. After a few minutes, the business associate asked, “It sounds as if you have a financial interest in the company.” The marketing executive was taken aback by the comment. “What makes you say that?” he asked. “You kept saying Œwe,¹” came the response. “We” is simply an expression of the quality of the business relationship.
6. This is the salesperson who serves as the customer¹s consultant. Some salespeople say they walk when the customers start asking for information. That’s a shortsighted view. What we¹re really discussing here is “mindset,” or attitude. And it¹s not so-called “consultative selling,” where salespeople attempt to present themselves as “consultants” but have no
intention of fulfilling the role. At the bagged feeds group of Agway, Inc., the feed company serving the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, the equine feed salespeople spend their time with owners of horses. They are welcome at farms because of the knowledge they share with customers and the resources they have available to assist horse owners.
Agway, the major animal feed company in the Northeast, trains its equine feed salespeople to serve as consultants to their customers, bringing their education and experience to bear in helping to solve problems. It so happens that the trust and confidence that develops often results in owners of horses buying Agway feeds from a dealer not the salesperson. Agway Bagged Feeds marketing and sales manager Bob Mulrooney recognizes the value of having salespeople who see themselves as consultants. “When our customers realize they can count on us for the quality of our advice, they quickly transfer this to the quality of our feed. When they like having us around for what we know, they also want the products we sell.”
7. This is the salesperson who knows how to say no. There are some sales that should not be made when it¹s in the best interest of the customer to take a pass. But most salespeople are so conditioned to get every possible order that they cannot turn down a sale, even when they know it¹s not right for the customer. They¹ve invested time and effort and they have a live one on the line. No one wants to walk away from those sales.
The right salesperson does exactly that. He or she walks away when it becomes clear that what is being sold to the customer won¹t solve the problem.
Ad agency account managers, for example, are adept at sensing when a prospective client wants to spend money on a big, glitzy brochure. Perhaps the motivation is to keep up with the competition or to satisfy some ego needs.
Yet, the experienced agency person knows that the brochure won¹t really benefit the company. But it’s an easy sale. It happens every day in every industry. And if you try to dissuade the prospect from doing the brochure, chances are they will go to someone else.
The right salesperson recognizes the fallacy of making the wrong sale.
8. This is the salesperson who understands that the company matters. For what now seems as one brief second, even though it lasted for seven or eight years, business was victimized by “free agentry.” One survey of about 1,100 employees in Silicon Valley showed that they had averaged three jobs in about 13 months. Resumes were filled with a long series of jobs that looked more like “rest stops” than they did anything else.
How times change. Today, those employers look with caution at those same resumes. Few want to hire Mexican jumping beans.
Company loyalty is back in style. Even the most competent salespeople recognize that they need all the competitive advantage they can get today. And one important component is the company they represent.
9. This is the salesperson who exhibits a commitment to the future. Everyone knows what happens to a beagle when it ventures out on a busy street. It’s sure death because its nose is down on the ground. Many salespeople have the “Beagle Syndrome.” They are only concerned about what¹s happening today and they fail to see what¹s going on around them.
“We have learned that’s the past will be a poor guide to the future and that we shall forever be dealing with unanticipated events,” states “business philosopher” Charles Handy.
“Given that scenario, organizations will need individuals who delight in the unknown.² When a salesperson says, “It¹s just become a rat race” or “I hate to get up in the morning,” this isn¹t burnout as much as it reflects a long-term misunderstanding of what selling is all about.
The right salesperson prepares his customers for what¹s coming and how to cope with change and the unknown.
Whether you call this “the right salesperson” or just “a good salesperson” makes no difference. It¹s the selling behaviors that are important, that set the competent apart from the run-of-the-mill sales rep. It¹s what they do that separates the average from the peak performer.
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