Not everyone can sell. Contrary to the popular myth, there is no formula for success in sales. Sales is a talent that you either have, or you don’t.
According to the book Discover Your Sales Strengths: How the World’s Greatest Salespeople Develop Winning Careers by Benson Smith and Tony Rutigliano, no amount of training, knowledge and experience can help a person who has no talent for sales.
Given that the success of your business depends, to a large extent, on the quality of your sales team, your role as the business owner is to weed out those who cannot sell and focus instead on those who can really help you push your products. Your work entails discovering and harnessing individual talents.
What makes an excellent salesman? The authors define the best sales performers as those who demonstrate the following characteristics on a recurring basis:
- Able to build relationships;
- Have an impact on others (and get them to say yes);
- Discover and solve customer needs;
- Drive their individual performance by focusing on meaningful goals and rewards; and
- Find the right structure in which to perform at their best
As a business owner or a sales manager, your goal will be to “understand your talents in these areas to build the strengths that you can put to work for you every day.” You need to know and understand how to manage your sales team to get the outcome that you desire: high per-person productivity, high employee retention, highly profitable business, and great customer engagement and loyalty.
Using extensive research from the Gallup Organization, the authors provide the following tips to help you push your sales team:
1. Rehire your best.
Your best people represent your biggest threat and your biggest opportunity. Make sure that you develop a strong relationship with your best sales people. The first step is to figure out who your best performers are. Then spend time with them through face-to-face contact. Get to know your star performers and see them when they perform in the field. By developing a strong relationship, you will be able to hold on to your great sales people.
2. Appreciate uniqueness.
Never assume that everyone has the same style in selling, even if it has proven successful to you or your other employees. It could prove detrimental to your company if you insist that sales people follow a predetermined style. Talented people operate in different ways: what works for one may not work for the other.
3. Lead from strength.
The authors recommend dumping the “equality myth” which they call the “politically correct and patently unproductive” style of making sure that all are treated equally — when managing salespeople. They suggest that you match talent with opportunities and resources. The rationale for this recommendation is that it is your job to allocate resources to produce the best results. Instead of spending too much time on poor performers helping them to improve their sales skills, working with your top-notch sellers will produce better results for your business.
A Gallup study finds that the attention you dedicate to your sales people can improve their performance. However, it is important to remember that a 20 percent improvement from your best performers is worth much more to your business than a 20 percent improvement from an average or poor performer.
4. Manage the “Prima Donna.”
One of the challenges of managing a sales team is handling the superstars. The stars are rare breeds they have an incredible talent, with sales skills that are often off the charts. These are the people who can single-handedly sell more than anybody else in your business. However, they also often have their own share of idiosyncrasies. Some have egos as big as the size of their commissions. These people present a special challenge, sometimes even pushing you to choose between keeping them or getting rid of them.
5. Be a Buffer.
If you are managing a sales team, one of your roles as the sales manager is to act as the buffer between the company and your sales team. Particularly in a corporate setting, there will be times when the management will make a decision that may not be popular with your sales team, or even you. Your role will be to support an unpopular decision (even to yourself) while making sure that your sales team’s concerns are heard. More importantly, you will serve as the “glue that will bind a good performer to the company.”
6. Hire the Best.
This is one of those things that are easier said than done. While seemingly simple advice, it is not often easy to find and recruit the best.
The authors give four reasons why hiring the best can be difficult.
- First, there is the “glare,” or what the sales candidate project that we interpret as factors that contribute to sales success (e.g. being extremely likeable, impressive resume). It is not often true that applicants, who look like they can sell, can actually sell.
- Second reason is that you are constantly faced with time pressure. When a sales staff leaves, you are left with a gaping hole while trying to reach the same level of quota before your staff resigned. You naturally want to get that spot filled quickly. As time goes on, you are ready to settle for any warm body; even compromising high hiring standards you have set for your sales staffs.
- Third is overestimation of what management can do. You can teach the sales staff everything about the company and your products, but you cannot teach motivation or sales excellence if these qualities are not there.
- Fourth is hiring the best that you can afford. As a small business owner, you may not look for the best and instead simply look for the best that you think you can afford (which oftentimes may simply be average, if not mediocre). Try looking for sales talent outside your industry that you know pays less. Remember, you are looking for talent, not experience.
Original Publication Date: February 18, 2003