Whether you’re new to selling, or you’ve been a sales pro most of your career, I’ve found there are distinct things top performers do to increase their chances of consistently winning.
1. Use verbs, not nouns.
“No one buys a quarter-inch drill. What they buy is a quarter-inch hole.” – Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School
Salespeople are, in many cases, victims of how product marketing rolls out new products. Historically, when a new product is released, the sales team will be brought together for sales training. What they are really getting is a product feature dump where, over the course of one or more days, all of the hot new features are crammed into their heads. They leave the training with an in-depth understanding of the product features, but often no context of why someone would need it. They then start spewing those features -- at times completely out of context -- when they get in front of a prospect. This is a painful experience for the buyer and, as a result, a fruitless one for the seller.
Rather than focusing on noun-based product features -- what it is) -- “A players” know to transition to verb-based usage scenarios -- how people use it. In other words, buyers typically will not buy a new product until they understand why they need it, what does it help their business and how they will use it.
2. Avoid inbounditis.
There are a lot of looking cycles going on, though I’m not sure how many of them are actual buying cycles. If you are a vendor and you contacted by an interested buyer, it is critically important that you aggressively qualify that opportunity. Don't allow yourself to be used as a pawn in the game they are playing with the vendor that they really want to buy from.
When you combine the availability of information via the internet, blogs, discussion groups, LinkedIn, etc., over the last several years -- and couple it with the much touted research that suggests the majority of buying cycles are now completed prior to a salesperson being contacted -- you get the perfect formula for inbounditis. Inbounditis is the disease that causes salespeople to abandon proactive prospecting activities and simply spend their time responding to inbound inquiries.
While it’s always nice -- and easy -- to talk to people who want to talk to you, “A players” know that it is not always the best use of their time. Typically the person reaching out is a mid-to-low level individual who has either been tasked with simply gathering information or, in many cases, undertaken an evaluation with no authorization by senior management and, therefore, no real funding secured internally.
Try the “A player” approach. The next time you get a web inquiry or an email from an alleged prospect, look at the name of the company, go online and identify three or four senior executives from that company, and then proactively prospect to them rather than simply responding to the initial request for information. If there is a real evaluation underway, the executives will likely be aware of it. You may very well get delegated back to that person who initially reached out to you, but at least you will have established some visibility with the real decision makers.
3. Feel your interactions with buyers to know if you’re “Column A.”
For years I’ve educated salespeople about the advantages of being what I call the “Column A” vendor. This is the vendor whose capabilities not only align with the buyer’s requirements, but also ideally includes unique capabilities that the seller has managed to weave into the buyer’s vision.
Salespeople still ask me, “How do I know if I am the Column A vendor or not?”
While there are very few, if any, certainties in life or sales, there are definitely signs that we can look for that give us an indication as to where we might be. “A players” know how to assess their standing with prospects by evaluating the feel of their interactions with them.
If you are the “Column A” vendor, it feels like you are playing catch with a friend. You toss something their way. They toss something back to you. Everyone is interested in making sure that the other side is treated fairly, and curve balls are usually not part of the equation.
If you’re the “Column B” vendor, it usually feels a lot more like they are playing fetch with you. In other words, they are throwing things out and making you chase after them -- sayings like “get me a proposal” or “I need it by the end of the week."
4. Follow your sales process.
On a recent flight home from vacation, I picked up the magazine from the seat back in front of me. While flipping through the publication, I noticed an advertisement -- placed directly in the middle -- for a two-day negotiation skills seminar. As I perused the agenda, the thought occurred to me that if it takes you two days to learn how to negotiate, you probably didn’t sell the deal the right way to begin with.
Unfortunately for many salespeople and sales organizations, the close of business is an artificially large event in the sales process filled with anxiety and a certain level of dread on both sides of the table. This is usually a self-fulfilling prophecy and worse, a self-inflicted wound on the part of salespeople.
Why does this happen?
In all likelihood, it’s because something was missed as part of the sales process. In other words, the salesperson likely rushed through the early stages of the sales process in order to meet an artificial deadline, usually one tied to the end of their month or their quarter.
What typically gets missed? It could be any of a number of things:
- The true business driver was never identified
- There was no clear vision on the part of the buyer.
- No unique business value was established as part of the process and as a result, the seller’s offering is viewed as a commodity -- and now price is the only variable.
- The true decision maker was never identified as part of the sales process. Now, the salesperson is relegated to negotiating with someone who may not even have the ability to buy.
- There was never a mutual understanding as to the desired timeline of the prospect, so the salesperson imposes that artificial deadline tied to his/her own month or quarter end.
The quality of the job that the salesperson does throughout the sales process will dictate the ease or difficulty of negotiation at the end of the process.
5. Never be afraid to keep learning.
“Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” – Benjamin Franklin
On occasion, I get students in my workshops who are clearly there at gunpoint, compelled to attend by the people paying their salary. Whether it's the rolling of eyes, the not-so-subtle shaking of their head or just simply an obnoxious smirk, they make it clear right from the beginning that they consider this an exercise of waiting it out.
Despite their initial skepticism, most of these students will usually later have an “ah-ha” moment that is rewarding. However, every once in awhile, there is the one hardcore holdout who is unwilling to expand his/her horizons and is more interested in proving how smart they already are instead of seeking out learning opportunities.
I learn new things every single day. I read voraciously, and I go out of my way to attend professional conferences to seek out the best new ideas and perspectives. Bottom line? I proactively invest in myself as a salesperson. I think all salespeople should seek to do the same. Anyone who is unwilling to grow and learn will always be relegated to the role of individual contributor. They will never be a leader, whether in thought, sales or life.