Performance Based Results interviewed 400 highly seasoned business-to-business sales professionals. With their help, we’ve identified eight qualities you want to look for when hiring the right candidate, or when coaching a current sales performer to achieve maximum results:
1) Being Creatively Persistent.
There’s a fine line between persistence and pushiness, and a smart sales professional knows how to toe that line. When good salespeople hit a wall — unreturned phone calls, no response to e-mails — they don’t give up easily, but they don’t make pests of themselves, either. Such a person will find ways to reconnect before an opportunity withers away. It’s not just a matter of leaving call after call in his contact’s voice mail. In order to connect, he’ll talk with the gatekeeper, the executive assistant, and others in the organization. He may call or even show up in person at odd hours, like 7 a.m. or 7 p.m., or even make phone calls on a Saturday morning.
When great sales people reach a sales stall, they approach the situation from a new angle. For example, one sales person was trying to reach an organization’s VP of Sales for months, with no response. So he bought notepads made to look just like a $100 bill and wrote a note to the VP reading, “Let’s turn this into real money for you and your sales team!” He crumpled it up, threw it into an oversized envelope, and mailed it to him. The client got a laugh, called him back and got his business after a great meeting that really got a good dialogue going.
2) Being Passionate.
Persistence and passion typically go hand in hand. A good salesperson is passionate — that is, he truly believes in his solution. He’s hungry, motivated and competitive. This sales rep is a doer, not just a talker. He doesn’t blame the economy, or competitors’ lower pricing, or waste time whining about possible weaknesses in his product compared to the competition. He’s got great ideas, and they’re measurable by the number and quality of his activities. Passionate salespeople create their own opportunities instead of waiting around for them!
3) Prospecting for New Business.
The key is for salespeople to actively seek out new business relationships rather than limiting their sales efforts to a dwindling customer base. Leveraging and strengthening an existing customer base is important, to be sure, but it’s all too easy to become complacent and keep calling on the same customers. Sometimes the relationship has run its course. In an economic climate like the one we’ve been in recently, a once promising customer may now be in dire straits, possibly due to mergers and downsizing, so the salesperson’s timing is off. He’s better off investing his time and efforts on fresh new opportunities. Good salespeople are always looking to develop new business relationships, not waiting until their current well runs dry.
4) Planning Before the Call.
Great sales people always bring value on every call. They plan and strategize their key accounts. A lot of sales reps like to “show up and throw up.” Depending on the complexity of the account, up to 50% of the outcome of a major sales call is determined before even one word is exchanged. Good salespeople are thinking about multiple plans. In fact, they’ve already figured out Plans A, B and C before they even walk in the door.
Checking the customer’s Web site is a good start, but great salespeople go further. They’ve done their homework, having read trade publications, talked to insiders about industry trends, researched industry blogs such as Technorati for more insider information, news of competitive threats, and political and internal issues. They keep up with issues and obstacles that can negate or catapult an opportunity. That’s why it’s vital for salespeople to become business advisors to their customers — someone who can provide value-added information to drive opportunities forward.
5) Developing New Relationships in Established Accounts.
When a salesperson wins an account and develops good rapport with a buyer, he tends to gravitate towards that relationship, becoming protective of it. But when he does, he might fall into the trap of being too cautious. He may fear that if he digs too deep in trying to build new relationships, he’ll step on his contact’s toes or offend him some other way. The sales rep may think, “If I’m going to reach out for other business relationships when I already have this relationship in place, this person will help open doors for me.” But when his contact says, “Oh, you don’t need to contact anyone here but me,” that’s a red flag signaling that he really should be reaching out to others in the organization. Relationships can turn on a dime. Even if a sales rep thinks he’s got it made with a particular account, if he suddenly loses this business relationship, he’ll find himself starting from scratch. Therefore, it’s so important to leverage existing relationships and insist on gaining access to other decision makers and influencers. As a result you and your customers will continue to grow.
6) Asking Great Questions to Uncover Buying Needs.
Most salespeople have the best intentions, but without realizing it, they’re often doing more talking than listening. Asking the right questions allows you to qualify if there is an opportunity to pursue, and if so, how pressing is the prospect’s need? Who is involved? How are decisions made? What’s the unique criteria your prospect looks for in a vendor relationship? What are the underlying motivations? What kind of budget do they have to invest with you? A great sales rep shows genuine interest and listens, but asking and listening go hand-in-hand.
7) Selling Value.
What if a good salesperson takes pride in his premium product or service, only to be told his price is too high? Not necessarily a problem if he’s already asked great questions of all the right people in the organization and done his homework. By then, the sales rep understands his customer’s needs and issues, and where the customer wants to go. Because the sales rep understands, he’s easily able to justify why the customer needs to make that initial investment in the rep’s solution over competitive choices.
Sure, the customer can pick other options, but there’s always the implication that if he were to do so, the risk would be too great. Let’s say the customer went with a lower-priced computer system of lower quality. A glitch in the customer’s computer system causes it to crash, bringing everything in the company to a standstill for the rest of the day. That could cost the customer thousands of dollars, easily wiping out what he saved when he bought that cheap system. Or let’s say a delivery to the customer’s customer was a day late. That’ll not only cost the customer big bucks, it could cost the salesperson a client! Good sales reps thrive on selling value because the additional investment in choosing a premium service fully outweighs the potential cost of doing business with a cheaper but inferior alternative.
A sales person in our study shared the following example. A doctor was looking to invest in an expensive piece of radiographic equipment for surgery on patients with spine issues. Treatment with this device costs $2,000 per patient. The doctor ended up spending a good $37,000 on the device, about 25% more than what the competition was offering. However, if he’d bought equipment of lesser quality, and that inferior machine went down for even one day, it would mean the difference between the doctor helping 12 patients (his typical per-day average) vs. being unable to help any patients! Do the math: 12 patients times $2,000 = $24,000! So you see, equipment that performs well saves money (and in this case, patients) in the long run.
8) Getting Customers to Commit.
Salespeople must make customers commit to achieving some form of closure, some kind of outcome to each sales call. Even if the salesperson doesn’t get an agreement on an order right away because multiple steps are required, that’s okay. This salesperson knows he won’t be satisfied with just leaving some literature and promising a follow-up call. He always has a purpose, a call to action. It could be as simple as the sales rep scheduling a follow-up meeting with other parties, or an appointment to return to demonstrate a product or service to the customer, or bringing the customer and his boss to visit and evaluate the salesperson’s facility — whatever it takes for the sales rep to encourage customers to continue the sales process by getting them to invest time and or resources, demonstrating a willingness to keep the sale moving forward.