At SalesGym, we’re constantly on the alert for sales executives that have interesting and unique perspectives into selling, top performers, coaching, and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with Didier Martin, V.P. North America Sales Organization at Red Hat, Inc., he shared some fresh perspectives into how sales teams can generate better results. His insights included:
- Top Performers Plan To Win
- Discovery Before Solution
- The Sales Cycle Has Changed
- Better Sales Messaging with Strong Storytelling
- Practice Is Often the Missing Link
- Fundamental Advice for Sales Managers
Early in the interview, D. shared with us what he’s observed in terms of what truly separates top performers from the rest,
“Top performers are more methodical in planning out their success not only for the year but for the quarter, month, week, and day. They don’t run by the seat of their pants but really have an action plan and look at the bigger picture. They break it down into smaller chunks of what they’re going to achieve. That has to be the starting point, if you don’t do that in sales you’re going to struggle. Planning is one of the differentiators I see from the top performers and and how they work versus everyone else that operates a bit more haphazardly.”
For many, planning is a difficult skill or habit to acquire. Good planning requires visualizing the future, making decisions in advance, anticipating problems that need to be addressed and, ultimately, self discipline and sacrifice of short term freedom for long term success. We’ve found, in working with good and not so good sales organizations over the last 30 years, that the best sales leaders instill a planning mentality into their sales teams and it’s a big part of creating consistent success, year after year.
Discovery Before Solution
In the last year, we interviewed over 200 leading sales executives and every one of them told us a major problem a high percentage of salespeople have is the inability to ask good questions that are relevant to the conversation and listen. D. explains,
“Top performers ask the right questions and listen to that customer rather than talking about the product. The best sales people don’t talk about products until the last 5 or 10 minutes of a call or presentation. So many salespeople dive right in because they are chomping at the bit to say, “I’ve got the best widget”.
Curiosity and listening play a big role in generating rapport, lowering resistance and increasing receptivity. Listening to understand, as Stephen Covey wrote in his bestselling books, is truly one of the habits of highly effective people. D. has noticed that good salespeople have a real advantage,
Good salespeople can apply other areas of their life experience and put themselves in the customers’ shoes and address their issues. - Didier Martin, V.P. North America Sales Organization at Red Hat, Inc. Click To Tweet
“Good salespeople can apply other areas of their life experience and put themselves in the customers’ shoes and address their issues. A salesperson that has worked in healthcare and now is selling software to a auto repair shop can relate a car repair to a patient in a hospital realizing that the auto repair company needs to get cars repaired at the highest possible quality in the least amount of time. The best salespeople incorporate what they hear into their next sales calls and build confidence around that and utilize it. Lower performers don’t feel confident and struggle with that, despite the number of times you might take them through those types of experiences.”
The Sales Cycle Has Changed
The internet and easy access to information along with how sales companies have built their websites to put their value proposition and competitive advantages out there has made a big impact on the sales cycle as D. explains,
“Customers are much more informed and much further down the decision making process before they’re talking to a vendor or a partner. It’s a different environment for salespeople now than it has been in the past. The days of breaking down the sales cycle with part of it being education are gone. You’re not spending that much time doing that anymore because the customer is so much more knowledgeable about your product or service before you even have your first contact with them. The dynamics of the sales call has changed and how you manage the team and how you prep them for the sales call needs to change as well.”
This is a big factor behind the insight led selling approach so popular today. Information about products is not as important as insights that can help the customer think more clearly and tap into what other cutting edge companies are doing. The best salespeople have a way of impacting the decision maker’s buying criteria and are less focused on presenting the features of a better product. Most buyers prefer working with salespeople like this because they bring useful intel and ideas to the table.
Better Sales Messaging with Strong Storytelling
It’s interesting to me that the last three corporate events I attended as a speaker, on the program for the sales team was a dedicated workshop on storytelling. More and more sales leaders are becoming proactive in teaching salespeople to incorporate better storytelling skills as D. has noticed,
“The best salespeople will take scripting they have been provided with on the right way to handle objections or critical points in the conversation and instead of regurgitating that script when they get to that point in the conversation, they tell a story. That’s when you actually connect with the customers. High performers tend to do that as opposed to regurgitating what the customer could probably read online or a script of what they have been told to say.”
Practice Is Often The Missing Link
The best sales organizations we’ve come across approach training and practice differently from the rest. They incorporate practice into weekly activities of the entire sales team and don’t look at it as special events. D. emphasizes the importance of consistent practice,
Practice is one of the most underutilized tools in developing salespeople. - Didier Martin, V.P. North America Sales Organization at Red Hat, Inc. Click To Tweet
“Practice is one of the most underutilized tools in developing salespeople. To a certain extent we have become victims of technology where we tend to do this as virtually as possible. We invest and spend money on doing video tutorials of how to give a presentation or videotape a salesperson and then critique it. It’s like expecting to go to the Super Bowl after practicing virtually for one week.”
More and more sales organizations are learning from elite sports teams in terms of how they execute practice and training. Although it’s certainly important to organize the sales messaging and sales process information in a way it can be learned in a classroom or online, what’s more important is the day-to-day practice and follow up.
“I have never been happy with the two or three-day intense trainings. It’s like any habit, if you’re not using it every day for 30 days you start losing it to the point where you get five or ten percent of it. As opposed to doing two or three-day trainings we started doing 2 hour training sessions each week over the course of weeks or months. It was more digestible for the salespeople and they gained more out of it as opposed to after a day after day and a half everyone’s got ADD. This allowed our teams to do some training and then some practice/role-playing which were probably some of the most valuable trainings that I’ve been involved in.”
D.’s Advice to Sales Leaders
D. ended his interview with three pieces of advice to sales leaders:
- The best sales leaders are very involved in the development of the sales plan and the sales calls. Only to the extent where they don't take control, but allow the the front line salesperson to drive the conversation and add value where appropriate. It's being intimate in the sales process and the sales planning without being overbearing.
- The best leaders develop that next level of talent while they let that talent flourish. Whether it's in the planning process of a campaign or on a sales call, it's adding water but not drowning.
- Great sales leaders allow their sales team to do what they do best. Then, particularly with first-line managers, they are a facilitator of leveraging the right resources within the organization for their sales team. The best leaders know the right resources, have great relationships, whether it's with the services organization, the partner organization, the credit organization, or finance. They become that resource for their sales team in accelerating opportunities.
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.