Recently, we had an opportunity to connect with Paul Curto, Vice President, Global Sales Advocacy and Enablement at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company, 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:
- Attitude, Behavior and Habits Determine Results
- It Takes A Village To Win in Enterprise Level Selling
- Getting vs. Giving Information
- Paul’s Perspective on Practice
- Some Thoughts on Sales Coaching
Early in the interview, Paul said something that framed the rest of our conversation … “The behaviors that really impact performance at the highest level are your attitude, your behavior, and your habits as you approach sales as a profession.”
Salespeople have to be able to control their attitude, emotions and interpersonal skills in situations where pressure, obstacles and frustration are happening all at once. Selling is a performance-oriented profession, similar to sports or performing arts, where there are moments where our performance, under extreme pressure, determines our results. Decision makers don’t just give away the business, it has to be won and that means competing, under pressure and beating the competition. For top performers, pressure takes them to a higher level of performance and this is somewhat unique to selling, in comparison to other roles in corporations.
It Takes A Village To Win in Enterprise Level Selling
More and more, what we find when we interview Sales Leaders and top performing sellers, is selling is about orchestrating a deal, especially at the enterprise level. Paul explains, “It takes a village to win. A lot of times the sales rep thinks of it as, ‘I need to go and do all this activity,’ but in fact, they should see themselves, especially in the big accounts, as the GM of the business. If you’re orchestrating and managing the activity, anything that you can leverage is something you want to look at using to move the sale or relationship forward. Those things certainly would include your partners, any relationships that they might have, and also the ecosystems of market, technology, and industry partners you are working with.”
It’s about bringing in the right team members, at the right time and preparing and rehearsing them to be successful at the right moment that often determines the outcome.
Too often, less successful sellers don’t take the time to rehearse with other team members before an important meeting. The more people that are in the room, the harder it is to keep a meeting on time which will allow plenty of time at the end to bring in action steps to move the process forward. Rehearsing and setting time limits for different elements of the meeting will often determine whether the sales call ends with business generating commitments or process delaying follow-up calls to “get back to someone in a couple of weeks.”
Getting vs. Giving Information
We have asked hundreds of Sales Leaders what they believe is the #1 bad habit that limits sellers’ success and by far, the most frequent answer we get is talking too much and not asking enough of the right questions at the right point in the conversation. Paul explains, “A habit that limits the performance of salespeople, on average, across the board, is that they are better at giving information than they are at gathering high-quality data. They also tend to rely on what is comfortable for them and what they know and also who they know and who will talk to them. So, there’s a comfort issue that comes along with that.”
Gathering the information we need to move the sales process forward and lower resistance happens in every step of the sales process, as Paul points out: “Every time that you’re meeting face-to-face with a customer is an opportunity to gather data. It also doesn’t have to be the seller. It could be anyone in your selling organization that is meeting with that customer that has an opportunity to gather data. So how often are we really leveraging those touch points?”
A great habit for sellers to get into is using summaries frequently in the conversation. This helps break the habit of responding too quickly to an opportunity that might surface when there are other opportunities to discover with a little more patience and disciplined listening and question asking. Often, a summary of the last meeting is a great way to start a new meeting and a summary can be the perfect pivot from gathering information into presenting ideas. A summary that ends with a simple question, like … “what would you add to what I’ve just summarized to help me understand your situation even better” … works miracles for salespeople that get good at using summaries.
Paul’s Perspective on Practice and Enabling Success
In our interview, Paul made four great points about practice:
- “I think certainly practice is important. 10,000 hours of practice, for lack of a better term, will eventually make you an expert.”
- “Remember you bring certain expertise to the table, but you also need to understand what’s driving their business and how you can bring them value. Being able to give a compelling reason to get that meeting and deliver the right message is a skill that you need to practice.”
- “Sales is a skill that needs to be constantly honed and developed. You get this situation with a lot of seasoned sales veterans where they have the ‘you-can’t-teach-an-old-dog-new-tricks’ kind of mentality, but you have to realize that past performance doesn’t always guarantee future success. So, what I see the best of the best doing is constantly re-evaluating, refining, retooling, and upscaling so that they’re always at the top of their game.”
- “Some of the better salespeople I see are those who are genuinely inquisitive. They have a set of go-to questions that they practice and have ready when they need specific types of data.”
Some Thoughts on Sales Coaching
When we interview Sales Leaders, rarely do we hear them tell us that sales coaching is a strength in their organization and most are frustrated at how difficult it is to get front line Sales Managers to do the kind of sales coaching that creates results. Paul explained how he is building stronger coaches at Hewlett Packard,
“Lately, we have been focusing on coaching as a skill and the importance of coaching. Being an effective coach really means that you have the ability to hold a salesperson accountable to what we need them to do, like developing a new skill or a new habit. But in doing so, do it in a constructive way so that the salespeople are not seeing it as judging or belittling you like a trip to the dentist.”
“We train a lot on selling skills related to managing complex opportunities, and what we try to show is that the more you use these skills, the better you’re going to be. So, we need to make sure that we have some ability to reinforce that over time, and the best reinforcement is going to come from front line sales managers. So, we need to really focus on them to make sure that they understand this material and are comfortable and confident with using it. Then, we need to develop the skill of coaching so that it becomes like a muscle that we’re flexing, and over time what we have is a sales culture that we have created around that selling and coaching skill.”
“If you don’t hold the manager accountable, it’s unlikely that the seller is going to deliver consistently and up to a level of standard that you can measure very easily.”
Thanks to Paul for the interview and solid tips on how to generate stronger sales teams!
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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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