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 Christopher Fris, VP Sales Strategy, Transportation Industry, he shared some penetrating insights into how top performers think and stay ahead of their competition.
Chris asserts that top performers approach the buyer differently…
The biggest thing that separates top performers from medium and lower performers is understanding the buyer, the buyer's journey, and understanding how and where to plug into that. -Christopher Fris, VP Sales Strategy, Transportation Industry Click To Tweet
“The biggest thing that separates top performers from medium and lower performers is understanding the buyer, the buyer’s journey, and understanding how and where to plug into that.”
In working with hundreds of sales teams over the years, we’ve concluded that top performers come in all shapes and sizes and there are always exceptions to any generalization. It’s important to understand some top performers have an extreme advantage because of positioning within the organization and may have a much better territory or a relationship with a manager in the company that allows them to inherit big accounts and, as such, their productivity is hard to replicate.
When you look at the top performers that don’t have that luxury and create their success as a result of the work they do to find new customers and build new relationships, you do tend to find some common skills and characteristics.
Characteristics of Top Performers
- Strong drive to succeed and consistent work ethic
- Is trustworthy and can build lasting relationships
- Better time and priority management habits
- Knows how to start a sales conversation with a productive agenda
- Asks better questions, listens and picks up on what’s important to the decision maker
- Can connect the dots between the product/service, pain points, and solutions
- Can share key insights to impact decision-making criteria
Chris has observed…
Top performers know what to spend time on. Top performers know when to push and when not to and when to get out. -Christopher Fris, VP Sales Strategy, Transportation Industry Click To Tweet
“Top performers know what to spend time on. That’s probably the biggest danger of either less-skilled sales reps and certainly new ones who think everything is going to close because the prospect gave good buying signs. Top performers know when to push and when not to and when to get out. Too much talking is a critical piece of how a sales conversation goes off track. It’s not just the salesperson taking too much, it’s the clients talking too much as well. Then the conversation goes around in circles and without the skill set to recenter the call and pivot, you will end up talking about a bunch of questions that have nothing to do with the objective.”
It starts with preparation and planning
Nearly all top performers we’ve met tend to be better planners and prepare better for sales calls. Preparation maximizes opportunity as Chris points out…
“If a sales rep doesn’t have a call plan then they are taking a huge chance of missing out on accomplishing their objective. Being able to know what objective they’re aiming to end the call with and planning what they need to say and present to get the point across is critical. Only then will they be able to recenter or pivot and move the call back in the direction to accomplish the objective.”
When we interview decision makers, something we hear more and more is the element of what they call “discovery fatigue.” It frustrates them to no end when salespeople come in and ask the most basic questions they could easily have researched beforehand. Buyers expect salespeople to hit their webpage, LinkedIn profile, and other online sources before the call. Chris emphasizes…
“More and more top performers leverage social media to an advantage. They’re smart about how they put themselves out there and pick and choose the material that is worthwhile to use and find what to push and discern what not to push.”
All of this preparation gives the salesperson a distinct advantage as Chris describes…
“The critical piece is to understand how your solution fits into their business and knowing where they’re at in their journey and respecting that they believe they’re an expert but at the same time finding out where you plug in and how you can create an easy path for that buyer along that buying journey. You have to help them feel comfortable that you’re not giving them what they already have but you’re rather assisting them to sort through all the myriad of information that they just gathered on their own, and make sense of it and separate you from the competition.”
Pre-call planning areas
- Do necessary online research on the company and decision maker(s)
- Plan your agenda
- Plan your key questions
- Determine potential insights to influence decision-making criteria
- Identify how your solution contains elements your competitor doesn’t
- Identify relevant success stories highlighting decisions of other customers
Top performers practice more
At SalesGym, we’re on a relentless search for the transferable best practices of top performers that average performers can pick up on and learn. Thus far, in 25 years of interviewing and working with thousands of salespeople around the world, we have found nothing that impacts sales performance more quickly and permanently than a rigorous and consistent practice routine. Bad habits crush sales results and bad habits are broken and replaced with practice. Athletes, musicians, dancers, and first responders all improve with practice. All too often, sales managers allow their sales teams to fall into the bad habit of minimal practicing. Chris has noticed the same thing…
To use sports as an analogy, the top people go out there and shoot hoops for hours a day. Even when they are already in the NBA and they're already a superstar. -Christopher Fris, VP Sales Strategy, Transportation Industry Click To Tweet
“To use sports as an analogy, the top people go out there and shoot hoops for hours a day. Even when they are already in the NBA and they’re already a superstar. To maintain that, they just keep doing the same thing over and over and over again because that repetition sets in your mind the motion without you thinking about it. That same thing has to exist on the sales floor.”
Consistently winning teams have a practice routine, a practice system and a coach that knows how to run a productive practice.
“Role-playing is essential because there’s nothing as good as trying it on and doing the practice and coaching off of that role play is much more valuable.”
Interestingly, when we start sales projects with new clients, we ask a cross-section of salespeople how much useful practice they got with their sales manager in the last month. The most common answer (over 75%) is “none.” As such, a sales manager can get a big jump on the competition just by creating a steady practice routine. Here are some obvious skills to practice on:
What to practice
- Better agendas to start sales calls
- Competitive advantages and differentiating factors
- Insights to position more assertive questions with
- Success stories to position next step recommendations
- How to respond to the most likely questions buyers have
- How to use a summary of previous interactions to start a call
“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” — Mahatma Gandhi
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.
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