Recently, we had an opportunity to speak with and interview Keith Schwartz, SVP of Sales with Curtis 1000. and get his perspective on what separates top-performing salespeople from the rest and what gives them their competitive edge. We also talked about the role of practice in terms of building a stronger sales team. Keith shared a number of unique ideas focused around:
- Two Things that Separate Top Performers from the Rest
- Focus on Customer Outcomes, Not Fact-Finding
- How Top Performers Capitalize on Trigger Events in the Market
- Keith’s Key to More Effective Practice
- The Power of Call Rehearsals
Top performers really are different and sales leaders have differing perspectives on what truly sets them apart. From Keith’s perspective, it boils down to two important factors. He explains,
“When it comes down to it, there are two things that separate top performers from the others. The first is doing the work and being prepared before you go into a sales call. These guys understand the industries and companies. The second thing is when they go into a meeting, they spend less time fact-finding and more time identifying the outcomes the customer is looking for.”
What we find, in terms of the top performers we meet and work within the SalesGym, is they have a skill at asking better questions that get to business problems and not just obvious needs. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about how to get more salespeople to sell with the more assertive insight-driven “challenger” approaches and one of the real keys ties into what Keith has noticed. Outcomes and results are much more compelling than product features and specifications.
Focus on Customer Outcomes, Not Fact-Finding
Keith shared more of what he has learned about what he calls outcome-based selling,
“Outcome-based selling is identifying the issue the buyer has and finding the outcome that solves that issue for them.”
The truth is, however, that a relatively small percentage of salespeople are having those kinds of interactions and are often asking less insightful questions and, even worse, overreacting and moving into responding before they ask enough questions to fully pull out the entire opportunity. Keith has noticed something similar,
“I believe that salespeople don’t ask insightful questions because a lot of them don’t feel like they have the right to ask those questions. When a salesperson sits down with a C Suite level executive, I feel it is not that they are afraid to ask questions, but rather, they feel like they lack the authority to ask.”
When we don’t plan good questions to ask, don’t bring meaningful insights to the conversation, and don’t think in terms of how we can impact high priority outcomes, then our sales interactions become less impactful, as Keith explains,
“One thing that holds salespeople back from being great is falling into a routine of having meaningless interactions with clients. These are the people that can maintain a relationship but add zero value to that relationship. When you actually sit down and have a meaningful conversation with the customer, you will find that there are actually a lot of opportunities for account growth that were always there, but you couldn’t access due to superficial interactions.”
How Top Performers Capitalize on Trigger Events in the Market
Change creates many things for us and our customers. It causes stress, prompts us to examine our current processes and suppliers and, in many cases, can lower our resistance to new ideas. Successful salespeople are aware of this, as Keith has noticed,
“Good salespeople are always looking for “trigger” events in the market. Trigger events being, things that happen in the marketplace that may change the behaviors of the clients. The best reps are constantly keeping a pulse on the industry so that if something changes, they can be informed advisors to their clientele.”
On the flip side, too many salespeople are so focused on what they’re selling and on finding new people to talk to about their products and services, that they miss the broader picture. It’s really about finding opportunities to solve problems and you can’t do that if you’re not focusing on the bigger picture, as Keith explains,
“Poor performers are typically out of touch with the customer, the industry, and the market. They are incapable of helping when the customer needs help.”
Keith’s Key to More Effective Practice
It’s easier to identify the challenges that sales teams have and point out their weaknesses than it is to fix them. Sales leaders we speak with every day are amazed at the amount of training, support, coaching and follow-up that doesn’t seem to have much impact on mediocre performers. Keith shared with us that consistent practice is one of the keys,
“When it comes to practice, the most successful people have a well-defined process and follow it. Through good practice and post-call coaching, underperforming individuals are able to develop a sales process that can make a world of difference.”
Keith believes in the post-call debrief as a core coaching approach that creates real, lasting improvement. He explains,
“It is hard to replicate situations where you need to pivot with a client in a controlled environment. That is why the success that we have seen with practice has mostly come from in the field coaching after a sales call.
The risk you run when you have somebody practice with the client is the potential to lose revenue. When you are in a coaching situation, where the meeting is going very poorly, it can be very uncomfortable to let the salesperson fail. However, when you allow them to fail and make mistakes, you can then have a very constructive feedback session where you can outline things they need to do in order to grow. That kind of practice and coaching puts them in a perfect position to improve. So, it’s an expensive way of doing it, but it’s the most effective in the long run.”
The Power of Call Rehearsals
In the SalesGym, one of the things we do on projects where we’re brought in to coach the coaches and work with front line sales managers is to demonstrate and coach them how to rehearse for upcoming calls, which for most sales managers, is something they rarely do. As Keith mentioned, debriefing calls is very important and so is preparation and rehearsal for important upcoming calls.
Think of how elite sports coaches prepare their teams and players for upcoming games. They rehearse new plays, formations, and strategies. They get on the practice field and simulate real game-time pressure. Michael Jordan said many times that the key to practice is to simulate pressure so when the real pressure of hitting a buzzer-beater happens, you can handle it without tightening up. Sales Managers that learn the call rehearsal approach and do it every day are affecting performance before the mistakes happen
More call rehearsals will lead to better post-call debriefs!
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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