At SalesGym, we interview dozens of leading sales executives every year to find out new thinking and trends on top performers, coaching and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with Jeffery J. Paul, VP Sales with Red Hat (technology industry), he shared some penetrating insights into how top performers think and stay ahead of their competition.
Jeff asserts that top performers need to be managed differently…
With your top 10% to 15%, the best coaching and advice is to get out of their way. With the bottom 10% -15% percent, you need to fire them. The middle 70%, makes a huge impact on your business. -Jeffery J. Paul, VP Sales with Red Hat Click To Tweet
“With your top 10% to 15%, the best coaching and advice is to get out of their way. With the bottom 10% -15% percent, you need to fire them. The middle 70%, makes a huge impact on your business. If you can get them to do 5% better, it’s a huge impact to the business. What you have to capture is what are the top 10% – 15% doing naturally and how can you wrap that up and spoon-feed it to the middle 70%.”
We’ve found, from observing the very best sales managers, is they spend as much time LEARNING from the their top performers as they do actually managing them. Transferable best practices and success stories are far more likely to come from top performers than anywhere else and the key is to package that high potential information in a way that can impact the rest of the team.
Top performers get in front of their business…
Some salespeople are more naturally good at planning well into the future and some tend to be more reactive and focus on the immediate challenges they face. Nearly all salespeople will generate better results if they learn to think ahead as Jeff explains…
(Top sellers) consider all the potential impending events and then work right to left to get ahead of those buying cycles so they are ready when the customer is ready to buy. -Jeffery J. Paul, VP Sales with Red Hat Click To Tweet
“You need to be 9, 12, 18 months ahead of your sales cycle with your work effort if you want consistent sales. If you come down to 3 months before your customer needs or wants to buy, you’re too late. You need to give the customers time to make a decision for your technology, and proactively take out the competitive technology before your prospect has to renew it. That’s all about building a franchise around your business and better territory management. Reps that are successful at that are in the top 10%-15% every single quarter.”
We asked Jeff what specifically he meant by his intriguing idea of building a franchise around your business,
“Top sellers build a franchise around their territories. That means they tier their accounts and know what they’re going to do and what they will get their business partners to do and what they are going to get their inside sales team to do. They get executive sponsors engaged in their account. They sell every product in their portfolio and have things going on in every quarter. They come at their territory from multiple different levels. They think longer term, they don’t just think about this quarter, this year, they think 12, 18, 24 months out. A two, three or five-year roadmap is not uncommon. They consider all the potential impending events and then work right to left to get ahead of those buying cycles so they are ready when the customer is ready to buy.”
Often, good sales management comes down to asking top producers the questions that lead to this kind of planning-based thinking.
Sales managers need a transferable recipe
Top performers present a unique challenge, but so do the middle performers and, more often than not, they represent the biggest opportunity for most sales managers. We’ve found that some of the best sales managers create a roadmap or formula for steady progress and eventual success so the middle performers don’t have to figure it out, just execute. Jeff explains…
“For your middle 70% salespeople, sales is like Blue Apron. Unfortunately, what sales leaders do lots of times is say, ‘Hey sales rep, I’d like some lasagna for dinner, go for it!’ Then they drop them off in the in the parking lot of a grocery store with no recipe. No nothing. Leaders would be better served giving their middle 70% a Blue Apron box. Here’s your recipe, everything’s measured, here are the directions, this is what you’re aiming for. You do step one, then step two and step three … get this water boiling before you get the oven preheated, chop this stuff up in this order. In sales they know, now you’re going to go into this meeting and what you’re aiming for is this. You have three options, then the next is … and that’s how you package it up. Your top 10%-15%, they are chefs! You just say, ‘I want lasagna.’ They already know what to do and they’ll make up their own list. They’ll go right for it and they know right where everything is.”
When you think about elite sports teams, the coaches figure out the game plan and the plays, then teach the players to execute. As a result, players don’t have to think about the strategy or what they’re supposed to do … they think about executing the predetermined plays and this same approach is often more effective with the middle performers on sales teams.
Better practice is a key to better performance
When we start a training project with a new client, we typically interview a cross-section of salespeople and one of the questions we ask is… ‘how much helpful practice did you get with your sales manager in the last month?” 90% of the time, the answer is …”none.” One of the questions we ask sales managers is… “How does your practice system work?” The answer is usually… “I don’t really have a practice system.” This gets to the very heart of what causes so many salespeople to get stuck in results limiting habits. Sports teams use practice to break bad habits and build good ones, and sales managers need to do the same thing as Jeff explains…
Practice is absolutely important in sales, but it has to be real. -Jeffery J. Paul, VP Sales with Red Hat Click To Tweet
“Practice is absolutely important in sales, but it has to be real. Often times it’s really hard to get that repetition in but it is almost always the difference between your middle 70% and your top performers. Those top performers have more time in career, are more practiced, they’ve been doing it for a while and have that repetition.”
All too often, the training salespeople occasionally get is around products, features, and benefits and this is likely a leading contributor to why salespeople tend to talk too much on sales calls and don’t ask enough of the right questions and listen. Jeff has noticed,
“Most of the training and enablement that takes place is really around products and solutions and less around sales skills. It’s very rare that you do training on specific sales skills.”
What we’ve found is it’s nearly impossible to practice with your sales team and stick with it if you don’t have a good practice system and it all starts with identifying and documenting compact, concise competitive advantages and differentiating factors and practicing how to tailor them to specific prospects. More often than not, that’s where verbal sales fluency and confidence can be built that leads to better questions, listening and tailoring to what matters most to the customer.
Test each salesperson with this simple exercise:
- Ask them to identify a prospect they know reasonably well but aren’t doing any or much business with
- Ask them to talk to you as if you were that prospect and they have to actually answer the question you’re going to ask (they can’t answer the question with a question)
- Ask … Help me to understand what makes your company different from your competitor because I’m having a hard time seeing it (remember, you’re the prospect)
- Suggest that they end their answer with a fantastic open-ended question
- Ask ~ listen/record ~ analyze the recording ~ repeat until fantastic
“Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work.” ― Michael Jordan
The 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.