Two crucial salesperson traits that rarely get discussed.

Ok, not my list but Bill Golder’s article on LinkedIn:  Top 5 traits of the best sales people I’ve ever seen

The list hits on two traits that I believe are crucial to sales success.  The first is curiosity.  This trait sounds insignificant, but it is far from it.

From the article:

Every salesperson knows that you have to ask good questions and be a good listener. Unfortunately, far too many simply go through the motions based on some type of training or methodology they’ve adopted vs. truly demonstrating an interest in solving a customer’s problem.

The best sales people are not bashful about asking any question that can help them better understand how to help the prospect – even the dumb questions. Great sales people (like my 6-year old son) ask “why” a lot. Great sales people get excited to do the research in advance of an important call because they are naturally curious and want to learn as much about their prospects’ realities as possible.

Exactly.  Have you ever encountered a salesperson with whom you felt like they were using “tools” on you.  The salesperson clearly learned some techniques that they thought would help them trick you into revealing something.  There are few things in life more annoying than having a tool clumsily used on you.

A curious salesperson, on the other hand, asks questions to get to an understanding of your situation.  There is a sincerity to their questions and a earnestness in hearing your answer.  They do not have this obvious anticipation as they prepare to unleash the next tool on you.

The second trait is that the salesperson loses fast.  That’s right…loses.

Back to the article:

I once worked with a sales person who worked hard at getting prospects to say no quickly. That’s right. He pushed them to say no. He was focused on spending his selling time with only those that were qualified and wanted to make sure he didn’t waste his or his prospects precious time any more than was necessary – especially if it wasn’t going to happen.

When he received an RFP that did not provide any opportunity for interaction with key stakeholders within the buying team, he quickly wrote up a polite email declining to participate. About half of the time he would get a response that they would change the rule if he would participate. The other half he would have lost anyway.

The half that agreed to provide access often saw us immediately as a front runner compared to everyone else who were willing to submit without engaging in a dialogue. This approach was an outcome of sticking to a key criteria in qualifying prospect opportunities – those that were willing to provide access.

This trait cannot be overstated.  The most important sales skill is qualifying and the key to this skill is the ability to determine if it is time to move on to another prospect.  It is surprising how many salespeople struggle with this ability.  What happens is that it becomes easier for some salespeople to continue to contact “prospects” that have no chance of closing than to find a new prospect to start qualifying.  The familiarity of the dead-end prospect leads to expense spending on fine wines and rounds of golf…with no chance of getting an order from them.

The willingness to qualify a “no” is critical to sales success.  A strong salesperson has an ROI clock always running in their mind.  What is my return on investment for pursuing this prospect?  Can I close them in an appropriate amount of time?  Will we have a profitable solution?  Will they be a drag on our customer support?  These questions are always running in the strong salesperson’s mind.  Their desire to lose fast fits perfectly into this successful mindset.

We help companies identify these traits and skills through our unique sales assessments.

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Here is a somewhat ethereal concept I have been encountering in this present economy.  It starts with this – return on investment (ROI).  ROI has been the backbone of sales since time immortal.  This is the basis of sales in that customers pay the money to receive the solution.  As long as the customer views the return on their investment as greater than the investment, they will make the purchase (generally speaking).

The top-performing salespeople possess this motivation pattern (called Utilitarian).  They view prospects in terms of ROI – how much return ($) will I receive if I invest time to close them.  This principle has changed in the present economy.

Salespeople know that spending is tight – deals are difficult to close.  I am seeing a change in the salesperson’s approach:  they are measuring prospects based on Return On Effort (ROE).  This approach is akin to taking the long road and it is a wise strategy in these recessionary times.

Salespeople are realizing that extended sales cycles are the norm so they have to focus their effort in the most strategic prospects.  Yes, you could argue the effort is their investment and that would be accurate.  However, I talk to more salespeople who speak in specific terms of their effort to close the prospect.  Is it the deal worth it?

I think this approach is born out of the lack of deals closing.  What I mean is this – salespeople are working on qualifying and closing deals, but deals are closing slowly (if at all).  So now the salesperson is stuck with fewer closes.  Instead, they have to keep their effort level elevated even though they are not receiving the return/reward they are accustomed to receiving (a sale).  The salesperson must change the metric and focus on their effort and what they will receive for it.

As a sales manager, it is important to keep the salesperson focused on keeping their effort level elevated.  A bad economy has a way of derailing salespeople, even good ones.  There will be a payoff in the long term for their effort.  Do not let the discouragement of extended sales cycles affect their Utilitarian motivation.

I’ve been busy over the past week or two handling a myriad of business topics and tasks which has decreased my blogging time dramatically.  One item has come up during this time at one of our customers – a battle of wills amongst managers.  This is no small battle, it has turned into an ongoing war for which I am now in the midst of the battlefield.

Without going into specifics, I can tell you where we start in these situations – motivations.  The first place to look when there is interpersonal conflict within an office team is the motivation pattern for each individual.  In the instance with our customer, we have two people with almost polar opposite motivational patterns.

Here is why this matters – neither person can understand where the other is coming from, especially in terms of decision-making.  Each person finds the other one to be inconsistent, off-base and…well, wrong.  The relationship has deteriorated into acerbic communication.

Unfortunately, this customer did not assess this employee when they were in the hiring phase.  Instead, they made an emotional hire.  This employee has the skills to succeed in this role, but the hiring manager was never informed of the employee’s motivational pattern.  If he had been, he would have known the differences between the two of them and he could have managed through them.

I’m not sure the relationship is salvageable.  I am certain it was avoidable.

Employment in this economy is a wonderful asset, to say the least.  However, this story points to an impending problem – retention.

Even Americans who are lucky enough to have work in this economy are becoming more unhappy with their jobs, according to a new survey that found only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their work.

That was the lowest level ever recorded by the Conference Board research group in more than 22 years of studying the issue.

The economy will eventually turn around though it appears it is going to be a slower process in comparison to historical recoveries.  When it does turn and hiring picks up, there is going to be a tremendous push for retaining top sales performers.

I have talked to top salespeople recently who are not satisfied with their current position, but they are unwilling to make a change right now.  Interestingly, I have had a few of them contact me to get their oar in the water for when hiring picks up again.  At that point, they will use their sales prospecting skills to find a new opportunity for themselves.

The key to improving retention is understanding the salesperson’s motivations and identifying their reward structure.  Here is an example of how it works – if you have a salesperson who has a strong Utilitarian motivation (hopefully you do), they are driven by return on investment.  They will appreciate practical, efficient workplaces that assist them in their quest to close deals.  A sales department rife with gross inefficiencies will grate on this salesperson.

Now that you know their motivation, it is important to understand what rewards them.  Here is a fine point, but an important one.  If your salesperson is rewarded by Material Possessions, you can expect them to respond to money so they may acquire the possessions they desire.  This seems logical.

However, if you have a Utilitarian salesperson rewarded by Status & Recognition, their will respond more to titles, exclusive clubs (President’s Club) or money that they can use to gain access to a higher status (e.g. private golf club membership).  Both salespeople will appear to have similar reward structures, but they respond differently based on their deep-seated structures.

If you are interested in learning more about your team, please contact us at your convenience.

Sales managers have to be part-time psychologists in their leadership position.  The best salespeople have an internal motivation that drives them to succeed.  Yet, a strong sales manager still has to know each salesperson’s drivers and how to access them when needed.

Selling Power offers a short article titled Internalizing Motivation that discusses this topic: 

Sales trainer Don Hutson recounts the story about a sales manager who approached him at one of his seminars and said, “I don’t believe in motivation because it doesn’t last.” Hutson replied, “A bath doesn’t either, but it’s a good idea to take one once in a while.”

Hutson says sales managers can’t directly motivate salespeople to sell any more than salespeople can directly motivate customers to buy. It’s an indirect process. Motivation has to come from within if it’s going to work and last. Sales managers can create an atmosphere and environment around their salespeople that encourages self-motivation.

That bath line from the above quote is priceless.  Motivation is important in that there will always be days where a salesperson could use some external motivation.  I won’t define what that motivation needs to be, but you get my point.

The first key to properly motivating a salesperson is knowing what that salesperson’s motivation is and, simultaneously, knowing what rewards they value.  These are measurable traits that can be provided to a sales manager as part of our sales development plan.