I’m sure you’ve all met at least one 'gun' salesperson at some point in your working life? They seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to finding and closing big deals. They rarely seem flustered, attract the best and the brightest resources in the business to them and more often than not, seem to come out on top.Over the past 4 years I have conducted countless Win and Loss Reviews with customers, on behalf of B2B sales organisations. I've talked with and listened to many senior decision makers at the end of their buying cycles, to gain a better sense of why they made the decision that they made. When I conduct one of these reviews, it's a fascinating, enlightening and often surprising process and undoubtedly the highlight of my working week! Over the past couple of years I’ve formed the view that the sales profession, far from being on the decline, is actually playing an increasingly important role in helping businesses prosper.
What these decision makers told me invariably related to people, as much as it did to product or price. Over the years, a picture started to emerge of the specific types of behaviours, character traits and personal attributes that were consistent across many of ‘the best of the best’ salespeople I was hearing about. I compared these insights with the really great salespeople I had known and worked with during my own sales career and saw a close correlation between them.
In this article, I’ve tried to distill down years of interviews, feedback surveys and customer conversations, coupled with my own sales experiences into 7 key learning's about what sales winners do differently. It was a pretty hard task and I’m sure I have left out some important points, but hopefully at least a couple will resonate with you. If I've missed some out or you violently disagree with some of my choices, please share your feedback, I'm always keen to learn from others. OK so here goes:
7 simple secrets of sales winners
- They are humble – Despite their many successes, most great salespeople put the focus on their customer. They don’t make assumptions, they don’t talk about their company, their solution or their experience in the industry until they have earned the right to do so. But its more than just patiently waiting their turn to talk about themselves, they genuinely don’t want to put be in the spotlight. Great salespeople realise that putting the spotlight on their customer, their partners or their team is a far better and more productive strategy in the long run. Although the perception of salespeople is often loud, brash and arrogant, what customers are telling me is that many of the best are quiet, considered and very humble.
- They are great listeners – In my experience, most of the best salespeople have mastered the art of active listening. For those not familiar with this technique it requires "the listener to feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard and confirm the understanding of both parties”. Applied poorly, active listening can be awkward and stilted for both parties. Done well, it allows a conversation to flow, while extracting really meaningful and valuable insights. Not only do they listen, they capture the insights that the customer shares and uses them to build up a complete picture of the organisation and key stakeholders.
- They educate – I’m constantly hearing senior decision makers say they are looking for salespeople to educate them, bring new ideas to the table and challenge the status quo. Although I firmly believe that the role of the salesperson remains critical in the world of B2B sales, I’d be the first to admit that it has changed significantly in recent years. Prospective customers aren’t looking for human brochures, parroting marketing messages and regurgitating sales scripts. They want to hear what else is happening in their industry, they want to be educated about new initiatives and challenged on their assumptions. The really great salespeople are the ones who act like sponges for useful information and then take the time to add value at every step of the sales journey.
- They make connections – Let's be honest, lots of people can add value within a sales cycle and often the salesperson is not necessarily the one with all the answers. Many of the best salespeople have the capacity to spot a gap in their offering and find the right individual or partner to plug that gap. Even if they don’t have the right solution, great salespeople still take the time to connect their prospect with someone who does and often reap the benefits in a future sales cycle. It takes confidence and a strong will to introduce more unknowns into a sales cycle, to share your IP with other partners and potentially create more obstacles to progressing the deal. The best of the best instinctively know when to make these connections and invariably provide a much better and more rounded solution for their customers in the long run.
- High EQ, to compliment a high IQ – Great salespeople are incredibly attuned to body language, facial expressions and non-verbal cues of the people around them. It takes a high level of insight and empathy to build trust and rapport with many different stakeholders, from different backgrounds and with different wants and needs. The best of the best have an innate ability to meet someone, make a connection and then take the time to understand what makes them tick. The ability to assess someone’s level of engagement in a split second, to read the facial features of a senior exec or the body language of a decision maker, to spot the junior person who despite their youth wields a high level of influence in the decision-making process, these and many other Emotional Quotient attributes separate the good salespeople from the great salespeople.
- They understand, manage and mitigate risk – Its rarely about simply closing the deal or at least it shouldn’t be. It needs to be about ensuring a great outcome for the customer, demonstrating that you’ve done this before, that you understand where the pitfalls may occur and that you possess a safe pair of hands.The best salespeople have realised that the reputations and sometimes even the careers of their customer stakeholders are often closely related to the success or failure of key projects. They therefore take the time to emphasise to their clients exactly what steps they’re taking to reduce any unforeseen risks in the project, ensuring the customer feels looked after and protected. Never underestimate the critical importance that managing and mitigating risk can have in the final decision making process.
- They are great storytellers – The best and more successful salespeople always seem to be the ones with a vast library of stories, which they can pluck out to illustrate a point whenever they are needed. Not only do they tell great stories, they actively collect them: war stories, anecdotes, customer testimonials, whatever they can get their hands on and then liberally sprinkle them into conversations. Make no mistake, the ability to tell stories in a business context is likely to be one of the most important sales skills in the next 5-10 years.
So what can you do?
- Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and a pen, then score yourself out of 10 against these 7 behaviours.
- Before you focus on those areas where you scored lowest, spend a moment on the sections that you scored well in. Ask yourself why you think this is an area you excel at, consider whether it’s a conscious competence or something you were unaware of until just now. Make a conscious decision to improve even further in these specific areas and further differentiate yourself from your peers in the industry.
- Now turn your attention to those areas that you didn’t score so well. Be honest with yourself, is this something you don’t feel comfortable doing, something you simply weren’t aware of, or something you don’t agree with? My advice would be to pick a maximum of 2 areas for improvement and write down what you are going to do differently.
- Finally, I’d encourage you to think about customer stories, testimonials and anecdotes as little nuggets of sales gold. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, will be to start capturing these stories somewhere. Not the whole story of course, just a couple of key bullet points, the customer name, the industry, the problem they faced and how they triumphed or failed dismally! Keep adding to this treasure trove and before long, you’ll find yourself using stories in all of your customer interactions to better illustrate your point and ensure that what you say both resonates with your audience and sticks in their minds.