Do great B2B sales people, regardless of what they sell, have any practices in common? In other words, do the best sales people all sell the same way?
A number of years ago, a professional association attempted to answer that question. They studied superstar sales people from a wide variety of industries and concluded: Yes!
In fact, the best sales people excel at the same things. Here are the top five practices of the very best sales people:
1. They see the situation from the customer's point of view.
2. They ask better questions.
3. They listen more constructively.
4. They are obsessed with time management.
5. They do bigger deals.
Let's look at the relationship among these items to see if there are any lessons for us.
"They do bigger deals." That is both the result of their work (that is, after all, why they are the best sales people) as well as their focus from the beginning. They start with an understanding that it is their job to bring revenue into the company, and that the more revenue they bring in, the more valuable they are to their companies and the more successful they become. And this realization leads them to what becomes an obsession.
"They are obsessed with time management." That means that they intentionally and methodically strive to make the best use of their sales time by focusing the bulk of their efforts on the highest-potential opportunities and customers. You will not find them running an errand for a "C" customer just to be a nice guy.
In my book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, I make the point that this practice - investing in the highest potential prospects and customers - trumps all other sales practices. If you are a great presenter, for example, and wonderful at closing the sale, your skills will be squandered if they are not exercised with the right people.
And what do the best sales people do with the time they invest in the highest-potential customers? "Ask better questions," and "listen more constructively." Amazing. These two fundamental communication skills are, sometimes, the earliest communication skills we learn. Yet, the best take these foundational skills and execute them better. And since they excel at these two fundamentals, they typically gain a better understanding of the "customer's point of view." Equipped with that competitive advantage, they formulate creative proposals that lead them back to where they started: bigger deals.
This should be immensely encouraging to sales people. Unlike the promotional messages from legions of sales trainers and authors, the reality is that there are no "secrets" in sales. Success comes not from hidden strategies and mysterious tactics, but rather from the excellent execution of the essentials.
The best sales people execute the most fundamental skills with excellence. And, since we can all do the things the best do, we can, if we choose, strive to do them better. And, if we strive to do them better, at some point we will arrive at the same place they are: a master sales person.
In other words, there is a path to sales mastery, and we can all follow it, if we choose.
It begins with our mind-set. We need to see ourselves as professional sales people, whose job it is to bring revenue into the company. That sounds so simple and so basic, yet legions of sales people are loath to consider themselves sales people. They are account executives, sales facilitators, mobile customer service representatives, etc. Some consider themselves to be exclusively the advocates for the customer and hand out discounts and concessions to anyone and everyone.
Since they do not see themselves as professional sales people, they do not invest in improving their sales skills. They do not understand that their behavior creates a reciprocal reaction on the part of the customer. The sales person's actions create reactions on the part of the customer. If they want more profitable actions from the customer, they need to improve their actions.
Once we have the mind-set of the professional sales person, we slowly begin to gravitate toward the opportunities and customers that hold the greatest potential. We understand that we only have a small and limited quantity of sales time, and that we must invest it, with a cold-blooded business attitude, in those situations that will bring the greatest reward. In short, effective time management becomes a daily obsession.
Now, since we are interacting more frequently with the highest potential customers and prospects, we focus on excelling at the most fundamental communication skill: asking better questions and listening more constructively. Armed with these two fundamental and powerful communication devices, we strive for continued improvement and constant development.
With this as a path, sales mastery is an achievable goal for every committed sales person.
As the best have taught us, there is a path to sales mastery, and it comes travels through excellent execution of the essentials.