Recently, we had an opportunity to sit down with Joseph D. Williams, Senior Vice President at Enterprise Sales, and listen to his thinking on what makes top performing salespeople different, what gives them their competitive edge and what sales leaders can do to train and support them. He shared a number of unique ideas focused around:
- Preparing for Success
- Learning From What Others Have Done
- What Distinguishes Top Performers
Early in the interview, Joe said something that really framed the rest of our conversation
“With so much technology available today you don’t have to do the hard work anymore, right? You can just click click click and you’re ready to go for a demo, right? That doesn’t mean that you’re really prepared for a demo.”
Preparing for Success
Outstanding salespeople tend to live in two distinct but interrelated spaces. They have one foot in the world of spontaneity and incredible performance “in the clutch” and the other foot firmly rooted in preparation, rehearsal, and practice. Top performing salespeople, almost without exception, spend more time in the latter than the former. It’s this preparation, rehearsal, and practice that imbue top performers with their seemingly supernatural ability to perform when it counts. This is a crucial distinguishing factor of top performers that less experienced salespeople often fail to grasp.
This is a phenomenon that Joe has deep understanding of, having observed it first hand for years. He described it this way,
“In today’s world, with the internet and everything else that you have available, there is still a lack of preparation. With preparation comes that confidence, that ability to have better questions, and to get more information in a way that they’re not over talking but listening. Some representatives just don’t prepare, they wing it. Some wing it because they are lazy, some do it because they’re already doing too much, some lack the maturity, but the best sales people in the world are well prepared and therefore develop a much greater sense of value to their customers.”
Joe went on to say,
“If I don’t know the audience I’m meeting with, it behooves me to do some research, to understand how our messaging could be important to him or her based on their role, without ever having met them.”
Joe hit the nail squarely on the head. After having interviewed countless salespeople and hundreds of executives, we’ve found exactly what Joe is talking about. The inability to articulate competitive advantages and differentiating factors to customers in a way that is specific to their needs and creates value is something the overwhelming majority of salespeople struggle with.
Learning From What Others Have Done
It is said that the best “break the mold”. Those that are truly great may be imitated but will never be duplicated. Top performers often have strong mentors early in their careers that make an indelible impression on that person moving forward. However, rather than mimicking their mentors, top performers add the wisdom and coaching gained from the mentor to their own experience in a way that produces something wholly unique to the top performer. This is a behavior that most top performers do naturally and it is something that Joe is keenly aware of.
Joe put it this way,
“You can’t try to be somebody else. You can certainly be trained. You can go through different methodologies. Just like any college course you take or any kind of training, you should make it your own. You learn and then from that learning you apply it in a way that also fits your personality. I think that it’s a mistake that a lot of representatives make, they try to mimic what others have done, instead of learning from what others have done and then make it their own.”
In training and development it is critical that both the coach and learner identify the participants “why”. What is it that will propel that person out of bed in the morning? What’s going to make them show up and play to win instead of just playing to not lose?
Joe knows this better than most, as someone who understands the critical role of coaching and behavior change in a sales person’s success. When we asked for his thoughts on how to reach salespeople through coaching and training, he offered this powerful insight,
“There is a certain innate desire to win. It’s a great motivator to change behavior and I do believe you can take a person who is 21 years old or a person who is 41 years old and teach them because the motivation is there. They’re in that role because they want to be successful. They are competitive and they want to make money. So that alone gives them the motivation to listen. If they believe that it will help them be more successful, they will listen.”
Towards the end of our interview we asked Joe what he feels really distinguishes top performers from the rest of the pack. He shared two key insights with us.
First Joe said,
“Often sales representatives feel compelled to fill in any dead space by talking too much and people in general want to make it a fluid conversation and are often uncomfortable with any kind of silence. “
Joe could not be more correct. According to our research, a great many salespeople feel the need to dominate the sales conversation using their features and benefits like shock and awe tactics in a hostile takedown, trying to blind the customer with an overly loud sales pitch.
Top performers on the other hand treat the interaction more like deposits in the customer’s emotional bank account. Active listening, asking insightful questions, and allowing the customer the time and ability to respond after that account is full and that will enable the sales person to make withdrawals against the account later during their presentation.
Additionally, Joe hit on something which most salespeople and sales coaches miss. That is that silence is a potent sales tool. Joe is absolutely correct that most people are uncomfortable in silence. Inexperienced sales people will frequently succumb to that discomfort and attempt to fill the dead spaces with close-ended questions and information that brings no value for the customer. Top performers, on the other hand, use the discomfort of silence as a tool which spurs the customer to engage, volunteer additional information, or provide agreement.
Second Joe stated,
“The best salesperson is the one that listens and connects people with the right value prop.”
This is something which on the surface seems obvious but precious few salespeople have mastered this skill. If a salesperson doesn’t take the time to actively listen to their client and gain a full and complete understanding of their pain points and motivations, they can’t possibly expect the customer to desire or even care about their offered solution. Additionally, you risk offering a solution which is completely disconnected from the customer’s reasons for buying.
We loved the way Joe characterized this. He summed it up this way
“… Why would you try to sell kitty litter to somebody that doesn’t own a cat?”
Thanks to Joe for the interview and solid tips on how to generate stronger sales teams!
For videos on how to increase sales utilizing the SalesGym’s “Compete Selling” approaches, check out our SalesGym YouTube Channel!
SalesGym is a research, consulting, and training company that works with and learns from sales teams all over the world and has refined a coaching and training process that trains sales teams the way elite athletes are trained. More insights and articles from us can be found on our RESOURCES PAGE.
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