Eleven Habits of Highly Successful Sales Professionals
There is probably no more competitive or potentially lucrative profession than sales. Of course, the work is not easy: the hours are long, dealing with the unique expectations of customers and sales managers can be frustrating, and the pressure to perform and drive revenue is relentless. For these reasons – and many more I could enumerate – selling isn‘t for everyone. If there is one master theme that defines highly successful sales professionals, it is their focus on continually elevating their performance by identifying and deploying best practices in all aspects of their business, in order to effectively overcome these obstacles day after day and call after call.
It is quite possible that there are more books, videos, training seminars and websites devoted to improving sales performance than to any other business-related topic. At Baker Communications, we have more than 30 years of experience in helping strengthen the sales performance of many of the world‘s top sales organizations, having impacted over 1,000,000 sales professionals during our history. Over the next 12 weeks, we are going to distill that insight into the 11habits of highly effective sales people, and discuss how you can deploy them to boost your own performance.
Here is a quick summary of the habits we will be discussing:
1. Get in the habit of asking yourself, “How can I help?” Instead of, “What can I sell?”
Highly effective sales professionals differentiate themselves from the average sales pro right from the beginning by the perspective they have regarding their customers. For any sales pro, the pressure to sell and close the deal is very strong; almost all-consuming. For this reason, they tend to view their customers as means to an end. It is like there is a voice in the back of their heads saying, “If I can sell this customer something today, I can still make quota for this month.” In a way that is slightly counterintuitive, highly successful sales pros tend to approach customers from a very different direction; instead of asking themselves, “What can I sell this customer?” they are asking, “How can I help this customer?” This difference in perspective is quickly obvious to the customer, and this simple shift can lay the foundation for a long-term business relationship.
2. Get in the habit of asking more questions and listening more carefully
If there is one mistake that typical sales pros make with customers on a daily basis, it is assuming that they know more than they really do about the customer‘s situation and the solution that will best meet their needs. Because the typical sales pro is focused on the wrong internal question (“What can I sell?”) they tend to only ask enough questions to set up the offer they already intended to make before they even called the customer. This shallow approach will almost always cause the pro to leave money on the table, not to mention risk losing the opportunity altogether. Highly successful sales professionals come prepared to ask a comprehensive set of questions and then listen carefully and analytically to each answer so they will know how they can best help the customer and offer solutions that have real value.
3. Get in the habit of selling value over price
Because of the relentless pressure to drive revenue and close business, all sales pros are very familiar with the temptation to discount or give ground on other terms and conditions in order to win the business. With the customer right there dangling the deal carrot, and the end of the month closing in fast, most sales pros will take the money and run, especially in a down economy, even if it means giving up margin to do it. Highly successful sales pros understand that their company relies on margins and brand reputation to maintain viability in the market place. They also know that customer are more than willing to pay a premium for extra value, if only the sales pro will take the time to connect the value dots back to the customer needs.
4. Get in the habit of being flexible and creative
It is often said that customers don‘t by products, they buy solutions. This is where the average sales pro falls down, because average sales pros are too focused on selling products. Even in the most commoditized industries, highly successful sales professionals understand that when you can create options that are aligned with the customer‘s needs, you can make your product a part of a larger solution which the customer will find more appealing. Never hesitate to explore ideas and options that are outside of the box.
5. Get in the habit of building relationships across the customer organization
In a typical sales process, the focus is generally on identifying the decision maker and doing whatever you can to get in front of them with your offer. Certainly, it is true that it is hard to close a deal without the support of the decision maker. However, in most organizations, the decision maker is connected to and supported by a larger network, at least consisting of a gatekeeper and probably others. Highly successful sales professionals never underestimate the need to build relationships and trust with the larger network in order to gain insights into the organization and create credibility for their offer when they finally get in front of the decision maker.
6. Get in the Habit of Setting Goals
Typical sales pros too often let their pipelines set their agenda, doing the best they can to follow up on whatever leads fall into their laps and working hard to close whatever business they can however it comes to them. By contrast, highly successful sales professionals are outcome-driven. They define what they want to accomplish through a series of measurable goals, and they plan their customer strategies and activities to focus on achieving those outcomes. They certainly use pipeline as a guide and a resource, but they also refine and prioritize that pipeline in order to achieve the outcomes they are aiming for. For highly successful sales pros, time and territory management is not a buzz phrase used in sales meetings, it is a focused planning tool that defines what accounts they will pursue, and when and how they will pursue them. If at any point they determine that their activities are not meeting their goals, they quickly revise, reload, and start all over again. They never waste time on activities that don‘t produce immediate, measurable results.
7. Get in the habit of regularly, honestly measuring results
Some average sales pros can‘t handle the truth. They are uncomfortable with pipeline reviews and evaluation sessions unless they have had a good month and the forecast is positive. When the numbers are off, they feel like failures and their anxiety level goes way up. Highly successful sales professionals understand that the secret to success is in the numbers – good or bad – because those numbers always have something to teach us. Are the numbers up? Good, find out why and keep leveraging that for more success. Are the numbers down? Don‘t panic, find out why and fix it. Highly successful sales professionals measure everything, not just the value of the deals at the end of the month. Quantifying and evaluating every sales activity with every customer will help uncover the truth and point the way to more success in a way that simply counting the money can never do.
8. Get in the habit of cultivating commitment
Typical sales pros are excited (and a little relieved) whenever they close a deal. Highly successful sales professionals are usually just as glad, but they understand something that a lot of less successful sales pros don‘t realize: closing the deal is simply one step along the road to even greater success if they will only stay committed to following through with this customer.
Highly successful sales professionals spend 10% of their resources educating the universe, promoting the business to the community at large. They spend 30% of their time cultivating relationship with prospective customers. But they spend a whopping 60% of their time and creative energy continuing to cultivate trust and explore opportunities with existing customers. It costs five times as much to sell a new customer as it does to make the same sale to an existing customer. Typically, the 10th purchase from an existing customer is 80% larger than the first purchase. For this reason, successful sales professionals will stay in regular contact with their existing customers to make sure that the solution they bought is working well, and to quickly address any questions or problems that arise. They treat customers more like friends than as sources of revenue. Somehow, it always pays off.
9. Get in the habit of maintaining a positive attitude
We have already pointed out that selling can be a tough business. When the economy is down or the deals aren‘t closing as well as forecasted, sales pros start hearing a lot of “Nos,” which can be devastating at times. It is not unusual for the average sales pro to lower their aspirations, and begin to doubt their abilities at times like this. Highly successful sales pros, however, don‘t allow temporary setbacks to define them. Instead, their confidence in themselves, as well as in the organization they represent and the value they have to offer serves as an anchor to steady them. Their unique blend of confidence, optimism, and enthusiasm, even in the face of short-term challenges, drives them to look for opportunities when others are making excuses.
10. Get in the habit of doing all things with integrity
There is a slightly uncomfortable dynamic that seems to run in the background of many relationships between customer and sales pro. Most customers don‘t like being “sold to,” so they can be a little bit closed and even suspicious early in a sales relationship. To overcome this resistance, sales pros sometimes feel the need to resort to subtle forms of manipulation to help close deals. Unfortunately, the sales pro may win a few deals this way, but he is not likely to win many long-term customers. Highly successful sales professionals realize that it takes openness, honesty, and a distinct lack of self-interest deployed over time to create the level of trust with a customer necessary to build a solid relationship. This includes not only delivering great products and services on time and as promised, but it also includes stepping up to the plate and working with the customer to fix problems quickly and without making excuses.
11. Get in the habit of continually learning and developing your skills
The sales field is full of people who consider themselves to be experts. They have many years of experience and they have amassed a great amount of product knowledge. In spite of that, many of them consistently underperform, and in many cases this problem is caused by the fact that the sales pro believes himself to be such an expert that he doesn‘t feel any need to expand his skill set or learn anything new. This not only leads to complacency, it also leads to the real possibility that the sales pro will be passed up by other people who constantly sharpen their skills and leverage new technologies to create advantages where others find obstacles. We call these other people, “highly successful sales professionals.”
Walter Rogers is the President and CEO of Baker Communications. Baker Communications is a sales training and development company specializing in helping client companies increase their sales and management effectiveness. He can be reached at 713-627-7700.