When we divide-up the sales population it looks something like this.
The circle represents all of those who are in the sales profession.The space between the pyramid and the inside of the circle indicates all of those in selling who are there for all of the wrong reasons. Some examples of those ‘wrong reasons’ are:
• Likes “meeting people” (so does my postman)
• Likes to be “out on the road “, preferably in a company car
• Likes travelling around and incurring expense costs in coffee bars and the like….
The Pedestrians at the lower level are those who have got into sales for the right kind of reasons — but have no realistic chance of closing the gap between what is required and where they really are in terms of capability and attitude in the here & now.
The next level up, Competent, is the widest of the bands and spans ‘just about competent to ‘highly competent’. Those in the middle strata upwards typically cover these bases:
• They tick all of the ‘given’ boxes such as: smart appearance; personable manner; good time-keeping; appropriate standard of education (literate and numerate); appropriate level of commercial awareness
• Competent people know the importance of doing their homework and wouldn’t dream of turning up at a prospect’s door without a decent understanding of the business environment they work in
• Competent people can explain credibly what they and their company can deliver
• They know how to structure a meeting properly including asking decent open questions and listening to, and interpreting, the answers
• They can summarise the key issues and present a solid and appealing solution which aligns with those issues — most notably where and how they can solve real, quantified problems.
• Competent sellers know before they engage with their customer what commitment they are seeking at the end of the discussion — or worst case, what they’ll settle for as a fall-back aim if they can’t get it.
The sales manager’s primary role, in a people sense, is moving those at the lower end of this level upwards.
The Performers are those who deliver against demanding expectations period in, period out. Some of their redeeming characteristics are:
• They know how to target and access the more senior and elusive decision-makers within targeted prospect organisations and they’ll hold out plausibly (i.e. with good reasons given) when the organisation tries to field its preferred contact (often not the real decision-maker)
• They are especially good at positioning their company ahead of its competition in an appropriate and professional manner — both before and during the meeting
• Performers know how to do their research very intelligently — they find the ‘nuggets’ which really count and can interpret and utilise them to good and impressive effect in customer meetings
• Performers aren’t afraid to challenge their customers and prospective customers (often using those research ‘nuggets’) which enables them to identify and quantify problem issues which the customer hadn’t considered fully (or at all)
• High quality presentations (formal or informal) are an important weapon in the Performer’s armoury. They are good calibre presenters who prepare well and leave nothing to chance.
• Performers get out of bed in the morning with a business value mind-set. They think value — never just price. They believe passionately in the value of their service — and know how to defend their position in the face of price pressure by being able to demonstrate to their customer where and how they add quantifiable value which more than justifies their premium pricing
• Performers also enjoy high personal productivity levels. They consistently minimise their ‘down time’ so that their active selling time is optimised. You won’t find these people doing their admin in prime selling time. They know that time is precious.
Every Sales Director (in fact every CEO) wants Stars in her team. These are the salespeople that their competitors seek (and try to poach) too…..! Actually most sales leaders are lucky if they have a very small handful of Stars working for them throughout their careers — because there aren’t many of them to go round…. and they are in the head-hunters’ black books….
• Their customers, past and present, willingly provide references for them
• They can go far and wide (very often outside of the customer’s immediate organisation) to obtain an introduction or referral to targeted top-table contacts
• They are exceptionally ‘well read’ with wide current affairs-type knowledge which enables them to talk with quiet authority on subjects which interest their customers and prospects.
• They are clever at ‘threading’ their communications with this knowledge which provides that all-important level of credibility which C-suite contacts value
• Stars ask powerful, insightful questions — not only do these questions yield better quality information — but they know that senior people respect good questions and usually respond with good answers
• They challenge regularly and credibly and earn respect because they do this credibly based on great instinct, and, above all, preparation
• Stars listen as if their life depends on it (in a way it does) — and they watch and listen like a hawk for the ‘between the lines’ nuance which tells them what their customer is really thinking…
If every CEO wants Stars in her team, she is fortunate if she passes an International Class sales professional in the street once or twice in a lifetime…..
• These people are the absolute crème de la crème — their skills are transferable to any compatible market anywhere in the world
• International Class salespeople (and that, of course, isn’t always the ‘badge’ he / she wears) have CEO-downwards credibility
• They are comfortable at all levels — and we mean ALL levels
• ‘Management gurus’ would rate them as experts in their subject matter. Someone of this quality would be happy in 1:1 conversation with the head of state of a prominent nation
• International Class salespeople virtually exist via their network — their network is their business life and they invest in it regularly. Their network is the source of the ‘entry tickets’ — their route to the top table
If an International Class sales professional wanted the Sales Director’s job, she’d probably already have it…. Think carefully about how you manage and look after this person if you are lucky enough to have one in your team……