The 7 Habits of Great Salespeople
Great salespeople always want to close more deals with happy customers. The rep wins, the customer wins, and recurring business increases. Here are 7 key habits – regular practices – of successful salespeople.
- Setting the Agenda
- Finding the Common Thread
- Turning off Happy Ears
- Doing What you Say You Will Do
- Never Blaming Price
- Saying No
- Element 119
1. Setting the Agenda
Great leaders do this, presidents do this, and you can do this. While you know the details of your product/service well, the person you are speaking to does not. Even if your product/service does 15 things, your prospect most likely cares about one or two of these things at most. To make matters more complex, while you are focused on the sale, your prospect has to-dos pulling him in other directions. So it is your job to have an agenda that addresses the right things at the right time, and avoids the common desire to address everything at the same time.
So make sure you set and own the agenda. It will keep you on track, make your prospects feel like you have things under control, and allow you to define next steps – and therefore own the agenda going forward. If you do not set the agenda, you and your prospects will certainly fill the time, but it will feel like wasted time for you and, more importantly, your prospects. While it might sound like this has to be time consuming, it can be as simple as taking 15 seconds before each call to remind yourself 1) what you are calling about, 2) what you are trying to cover, and 3) what constitutes success on this specific call.
Obviously things change, and each situation is different, so great salespeople know they will be taken off course for a host of reasons. No problem: this is simply something you have to deal with as it happens. Go with the flow, but do not use this as an excuse to avoid setting the agenda. At the end of the meeting, you still own what happens next – and that is an opportunity to get back to your agenda.
One final note. It is true that agenda setting can be a bit formulaic, so you need to keep it fresh. Always remind yourself who you are contacting and why you are contacting that person. People are smart: they know when you are treating them like the 19th person on a list of 20 to whom you are trying to sell.
Ready with your agenda? Ok, great! Think. Breathe. And then… on your mark, get set, go!
2. Finding the Common Thread
Great salespeople know a sale is about the overall value one brings to the table. In addition to the product or service you sell, customers evaluate your attitude, your trustworthiness, and, most importantly, your ability to make their lives better.
To immediately put yourself ahead of the pack, build trust and reduce your buyer’s perceived risk by starting conversations with a common thread. After being exposed to 3,000 marketing messages in an average day and deleting voicemails from a host of cold calls, your future customer needs a reason to trust and to engage with you. This is important in a single transaction and absolutely critical when your business is based on ongoing support and services.
Social media tools are great for finding some common threads: LinkedIn, “monitoring” solutions such as Radian6, standards such as Twitter and Google+, and a host of others (please tweet us @IntroRocket with your favorites).
And never forget the power of a personal introduction. We all know introductions tip the scales in our favor, but we constantly miss opportunities to benefit from the existing connections between our company network and our prospects: “gosh, I wish we had known about that connection 3 months ago”, “you should have asked me, I went to school with her”, “did you ask Sarah, she plays on the same soccer team”, and similar misfires. Introductions are worth their weight in gold: delivering up to 12X higher deal close rates (bit.ly/JlJCme).
So ask about today’s weather if you want to be stuck in the middle of the pack, but great salespeople focus on using common threads to begin great discussions, reduce the risk for the buyer, and set the stage for successful, long-term customer relationships.
3. Turning off Happy Ears
We are frequently reminded about the importance of listening, and most of us need to tune in more actively. As a general rule, especially during initial discussions, try to spend ~ 75% of the time listening. If you keep this rule of thumb in mind, it will likely act as a frequent reminder to listen more and talk less.
Great salespeople focus on taking in as much information as possible rather than hearing only the things fitting their desire to close the deal. “Happy Ears” means you hear the pros and ignore the cons. This is not an intelligent sales strategy because you miss potential issues that need to be addressed at the appropriate time. The result: inefficient prioritization, wasted sales cycles, and poor forecasting.
Many “Happy Ears” mistakes ensue, and here are two that great salespeople avoid:
1. Not understanding who makes the buying decision. A favorite quote of mine is from Kevin Kramer at RiverBed (@kramerwork) who says “people who fill out forms do not fill out checks.” While not true 100% of the time of course, this saying makes the clear point that you can waste valuable sales cycles with someone who has no intention and/or no authority to buy. Turning off Happy Ears allows you to better understand who writes the checks and how your sales efforts link to that person or group of people.
2. Not understanding the timing of a purchase. If a prospect says the purchase will happen in 18 months, you should not be forecasting to close the deal this quarter. It may still be very smart to spend time right now creating a preference for your company (first in wins) and exploring ways to impact the purchase timeline, but Happy Ears leave you in the dark about the actual status of your deals.
Great salespeople do not have Happy Ears. They focus on finding ways to improve the lives of their customers, understanding potential hurdles along the path to closing deals, and fitting pros and cons into their mental model of success.
4. Doing What you Say You Will Do
Great salespeople deliver on the commitments they make. They set agendas, define next steps, and deliver on the plan.
While this is simple to say, it is incredibly important to do.
Consider this quote from a prospect who became a customer: “Thanks! And thanks for the help! In the sea of options one can consider, we always end up going with the one where we get support!”
By doing what they say they will do, great salespeople build credibility with their prospects, go beyond the product to establish a preference for their solution, and increase their creation of recurring customer relationships.
5. Never Blaming Price
Great salespeople know price is only one part of a purchase decision. In most cases, price is mentioned 3rd or 4th in importance after things such as the support they receive (from you), referrals from peers, and total cost of ownership. If customers are buying on price alone, your company does not need salespeople.
Great salespeople also know how and when to talk about price. Hiding the price or making it sound convoluted simply reduces your credibility and therefore your chance of closing the deal. You can and should feel comfortable discussing price – and then negotiating price at the appropriate time.
Try to negotiate price after you 1) know who the buyer is, 2) ensure the buyer understands what you are offering, and 3) understand the purchase process. Otherwise you are simply negotiating with yourself before negotiating with your buyer later in the process. Not smart.
Great salespeople know they have an opportunity to close deals when they improve the lives of their prospects, and they do not spend cycles blaming price. Instead, they focus on adding value and remaining smart about when and how they discuss and negotiate price.
6. Saying No
Great salespeople know they will lose some deals, and do not get trapped attempting to be all things to all people. They establish boundaries with a reasonable level of flexibility for them to offer a small price reduction in exchange for a customer case study, expedited delivery in exchange for a testimonial, or a free introductory training session (services) as the customer’s team ramps up. There are always variables to consider, and the objective is to remain focused on an exchange of value where you and your customer benefit. If the prospect asks for something that is not a reasonable exchange, the best salespeople know how to say “no”.
Those who do not look for reasonable exchanges often get caught in traps such as the “price trap” where you are pressured to offer a 30% price reduction in order to close a deal by the end of the month and the “feature trap” where you are tantalized to add something to the product to “get this to the finish line”. Concessions like these often do not seal the deal, they can cause major impacts to the rest of the organization (such as sudden feature re-prioritization), and they lose sight of what great salespeople already know. If you deliver value to your prospects, they are likely to become your customers.
Great salespeople focus on some basic lessons: understand the value you bring to your prospects, define boundaries with regards to variables such as price and delivery, and say “no” when something does not fit.
7. Element 119
Great salespeople have Element 119, a.k.a. Salesium.
This is a key element inside all great salespeople and it boils down to this: treating people with respect.
Whether making a cold call, working a qualified lead, or selling a $300M Boeing 747, great salespeople never forget the human element of selling. They know that prospects, co-workers, and other colleagues are people, and if those people feel insulted, bullied, or harassed, it simply reduces the chance of closing current and future deals.
Great salespeople know what they do is about the customer – it is not about the salesperson. This is easy to say, and it certainly sounds like the soft side of things, but it boils down to the very hard numbers: happy customers benefit from your product, they buy more, they refer others, and they – the customers – write the checks that enable great salespeople to lounge on beaches in Hawaii.
So remember that great salespeople, those with Element 119, get their jobs done and treat others with respect. A side benefit of Element 119 is that it reacts with other parts of life and few people argue with the value of treating others with respect at work and away from work.