Q&A with a High Achieving Sales Performer
I recently sat down with a good friend that is one of the more successful salespeople that I know. He agreed to share insights on his own experience and observations from the sales profession.
Q: How long have you been in sales?
A: 12 years.
Q: Can you briefly describe what you sell and where you rank amongst your peers?
A: I sell HCM (human capital management) tools that help employers manage the employee life cycle.
Said another way, I facilitate conversations that help buyers move from their current environment to their desired state. Technically you can say I sell, but really I help my clients buy and take ownership of how they want to improve their business.
I work at a Fortune 100 organization with 4,000 sales associates. I’ve exceeded quota all seven years, rank in the top 10 nationwide and top 2 in the Midwest.
Q: Were you successful out of the gate?
A: I had a very successful vision from day one that put me on a great path. After that it was a matter of time in territory, pipeline development, pipeline sustainability, learning my products/services and continually honing my craft/vision. I was Rookie of the year for the United States and haven’t looked back.
Q: Can you describe your first few sales positions?
A: Yes, I started out selling document management solutions (copiers) and then transitioned into selling residential HVAC. In both cases, I used conventional prospecting methods (cold calling and referrals) – this was before social selling channels were available.
Q: I know you've sold lots of different products/services. How important do you feel it is to sell something compelling?
A: I think having a compelling product or service is 50% of the battle. If you don’t have a market offer that is in demand, it will be tough. So I’d say having a compelling product is 50% and your selling process represents the other 50%.
Q: Have you noticed a common thread in sales professionals that produce?
A: I’ve found producers to be creative, passionate, concise and constantly focused on how their solution creates a business outcome for the client.
Q: On a day to day basis, what's your biggest challenge?
A: My biggest challenge is aligning with a buyer's priorities. Just like us, buyers have A LOT going on. It's arrogant to think that you can call a buyer one day and expect to jump to the top of their list. By aligning your solution with the buyer’s priorities, you’ll gain trust and they’ll find the buying experience refreshing. When the timing is right, you will be the partner of choice (assuming you are providing an insightful, relevant business case for change).
Q: What's your best advice to salespeople that want to excel?
A: I have a few suggestions, all of which are equally important.
If you sell properly, customers will be buying rather than being sold.
Q: Has there been a shift in how you interact with customers since you started selling 12 years ago?
A: I live on LinkedIn now. I believe that while technology has made humans 1,000x more productive in life and business, it has also allowed us to have more time for additional workload. People's margin to think creatively has all but evaporated. That means you the sales person have to be intentional about creating a business plan that will help your buyer. This also means that your buyer is busier than ever before. You need to be dynamic to capture their attention and trust.
Q: Do you utilize a selling process? If so, can you describe it?
A: Yes. I research the prospect’s company to find out how I can accelerate their current business plan. It’s imperative that salespeople know how the prospect makes money and the direction they’re taking their business. After that, it's all about tying your product or service to their revenue plan. Revenue is what trumps everything else for them. After research it's a first meeting, discovery, then feedback/business case.
Q: As you look out 5 to 10 years, where do you see yourself?
A: I see a few possible paths.
Continue for generate income through my current sales role to fund my other ideas/passions which are:
Q: Having practiced your trade for about a decade, what's the thing you're most surprised about in the sales profession?
A: I’m surprised at how many salespeople are mediocre. I find the average salesperson is hard working and means well but many are like runaway trains during customer conversations. The customer asks a question and, rather than understanding the business issue behind the question, they answer in run-on fashion (ie, feature dumper). I also link mediocrity to salespeople not having a vision or 5-year plan (I’ll elaborate more on that momentarily).
Q: Looking back on your professional experience, at what point did you find another level and what was the catalyst to the change?
A: When I developed a personal vision things changed for me. When I took this job I wasn’t sure sales was the profession for me. So I committed to developing a 5-year outlook with specific objectives and guiding principles. It all started with having a mentor that impacted me in a powerful way. As a result, I committed to the following;
Q: Okay, I’ve asked you a lot of questions. Tell us more about this vision and how you’d recommend others frame a vision for themselves.
A: Sure. Here is the outline I’d use and you’ll notice that the bullets in my 5-year outlook above all fall into one of the four following themes.
1. Learning - Sales fundamentals (Strategic Selling, Challenger, etc.)
2. Buyer Centric - "IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU." - Rick Warren
3. Hard Work - Whether you are 25, 45, 75 or 95, you are going to spend your days doing something. Whether you starting a career, in retirement, a top executive/performer or stuck in a stale career or unemployed, we will all spend our time doing something. Why not do it well? Who has to say you have to be in the 9 to 5 for 50 years? What if you crush it in business for 20 years and then call your own career shots and start a business, non-profit, manage your own portfolio, volunteer or spend more time with your kids? Hard work within a vision is the ticket.
4. Generosity - Generous people will always be blessed and find more favor. I want favor in my life. My natural tendency is to be self-serving. That is ok, but I'm not on this earth for self-gratification. Whether or not you have faith, I have seen increasing favor in business and life by focusing on helping others. It's great to help colleagues, but I would also challenge you help your neighbor, mentor a youth, intentionally make it part of your routine to give to the homeless or feed/clothe the hungry in third world situations.
It's FUN! When you make your next $20,000 commission, make it part of your income/business plan to give 10, 20, 30% every commission check. If that makes your cringe, it's not clicking for you yet.