I’m frequently asked to describe what makes a good sales person? Are they born or can they be made? Well, I’m not going to get into that debate here, but what I though I’d do is share my perspective on what I look for when I’m hiring, or what I use to evaluate sales teams, or what I’d recommend any sales professional to consider from their own perspective to remind them perhaps of some of the basic things they might consider worth spending time on.
This is the first of three blog posts on this subject.
- In this post: Part I – The Sales Quadrant Profiler, I’ve tried to structure a model that might illuminate where you are starting from.
- In Part II – First Steps to Becoming a Dealmaker I look at four attributes that I consider essential in a Dealmaker, and
- In Part III – Are you a Dealmaker, I list 20 basic attributes or proficiencies that you might evaluate from your own perspective to see how you measure up.
I hope you find this blog series useful. As ever, I’d welcome your feedback.
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The essence of value delivered by a sales person to his or her customer is a combination of the strategic value, the sales process or methodology applied, and the specific value delivered by the individual sales professional. Whatever you think about anything else, you must take personal responsibility for the last of these. This is about you – the sales professional. No escape, no excuses, nobody else to blame – the aspects of your behavior outlined here are under your control – it’s up to you. If you left your company today, how much would your customers miss you? If it’s ‘not much’, you have some work to do. If it’s ‘a lot’, then keep doing what you are doing, and do more of it.
High-performance sales professionals tend to be more in tune with the shifting needs of their customers than their less successful counterparts. They engage in self-assessment and continuous learning. High-performers have deep industry knowledge that is applicable to their customer’s business. They act as customer advocates and are viewed by the customer as trusted advisors. They have presentation, negotiation, and communication skills that are continuously honed and refined. High-performers are ambitious, motivated, confident – but not arrogant – and have strong business and analytical skills. They understand the principles of value selling. It’s a tough proposition, and you don’t get to be a high-performer without consistent application. Winning sales professionals need to be, at once, the performer, conductor, diplomat, negotiator, confidante, expert, and partner. This can only be achieved by hard work and focus in a specific niche. We call these focused high-performers Dealmakers.
There are two axes on which success revolves for companies today – expertise and focus – and selling professionals today need to formulate their own business strategies in these terms. If the product or service you are selling has horizontal appeal, and has potential application across a whole range of different industries, please consider the benefits of adopting a vertical strategy, picking a sector you have some knowledge in, and becoming more expert than your customers in the application of your type of solution to their industry. Succeed in that sector and then look for the next closely aligned sector to dominate.
A financial software solution has, on the surface, broad horizontal application, but the application of a financial software package in the telecommunications industry varies greatly from its use in the hospitality sector. Different metrics apply in the two industries. Manufacturing software solutions differ as to their implementation in electronics and pharmaceutical sectors, the latter being focused largely on quality and compliance while the former is focused on efficiencies and cost reduction. It is much easier to discuss payroll issues with one hotel group when you have the experience of implementation with another. Reference selling is also greatly accelerated by taking a vertical or niche approach. Your customers are far more likely to talk to each other if they are in the same business.
Concerns about limiting the opportunities you can pursue, or not having enough prospects to target, will logically come to the surface as you consider where you should focus. Human nature will interfere with the science of selling and you may naturally be inclined to try the smorgasbord approach, having a little taste of each sector rather than just going for the steak. For now, let’s try to leave those concerns aside, and by the end, we hope you will understand why we recommend this approach – the steak is more filling!
Know Yourself – The Sales Quadrant Profiler
The Sales Quadrant Profiler, shows four different profiles of sales person, each with varying degrees of product expertise, industry specialization and consequent levels of success. The X-axis represents the degree of industry focus, and the Y-axis represents the level of knowledge in that industry.
In the first quadrant on bottom-left is the guy I term the Wishful Thinker, and we all know this guy. We worked with him, or hired him (I know I’ve done both). He is exuberant and fun, popular with the other departments, spends a lot of time cultivating relationships at the wrong level in his own company and the customer’s organization. The Wishful Thinker will have a big pipeline and all of the deals are due to close ‘real soon’. His problem – and it’s his manager’s predicament too – is that because he flits from sector to sector, he has little knowledge about any industry, he can’t add value to the buyer, and he never quite understands the challenges his customers face. The consequence of this is he rarely closes any meaningful deals and gets fired frequently. The problem for the company, of course, is not just that it has wasted investment in training and salary, but the sales opportunities that were missed represent revenue lost forever – probably gone to a competitor, making them stronger.
Moving along the X-axis we have the Lazy Gambler who has probably worked in the same company, or certainly sold to the same industry for a long time. Consequently, he knows the sector well, but is too lazy to research how emerging trends impact his customers or to develop creative applications of the company’s products to help his customers. This sales person is adept at identifying deals that are going to happen just because of his company’s position in a market or his company’s relationship with a particular company. He understands internal politics well and focuses a lot of his resources figuring out how he can claim the sale rather than generating his own deals. This activity was once described to us by an ex-IBM sales person as ‘chasing the blue-money’. IBM was going to get the deal anyway and the only question was who was going to get the credit, and commission, for the deal. The Lazy Gambler is just a parasite and doesn’t add any value to either his employer or his customers, and steals value from his colleagues.
In the upper left quadrant of the Sales Quadrant Profiler is the Generalist. Typically, the Generalist is very bright, but somewhat ill-disciplined and lacking in focus. Applying his intellect, he is able to think on his feet, and achieve a modicum of competence in many industries. He usually barely makes quota. But because there is no hub at the center of his activity, and because he believes that he knows just about enough to get by, he underachieves, and surrenders his innate advantage, and his edge, to his more disciplined colleagues and competitors. Believing that he has the ability to sell anything to anyone, the Generalist’s credibility suffers and he fails to develop deep sustainable relationships with customers, as he flutters from industry to industry.
Profile of a Dealmaker
The most successful salesperson I ever met lives and works in a small city in upstate New York. Matt has four very large customers whose headquarters are based nearby. Over the 15 or so years we’ve known Matt, he has had three different employers, all in technology, but he has always retained the same four major customers. The companies are in similar sectors, and Matt is considered locally to be an expert in that industry. Every year, Matt worked with his customers to develop their vision for the coming year and they looked to him for guidance and advice. For the few years that we had direct business contact with Matt, he consistently achieved more than twice his annual quota and was always one of the top three performing sales people in whichever company he worked.
Matt is a Dealmaker. His laser-like focus on the business he knows helps him identify target opportunities that he can win. Because of that level of focus and restraint, he avoids the chaos of the numbers game and he can take the time to become a ‘thought leader’ in the issues that his customers worry about. He makes connections with customers rather than contacts. In our experience, his sales hit rate was outstanding. His forecasts were impeccably accurate. His customers viewed him as their ‘go-to’ guy to help them deliver on their business initiatives. He successfully transcended the relationship barrier to become a partner, rather than being perceived just as a vendor.