Recently, we had an opportunity to connect with Anneliese Schulz, President in Asia Pacific Japan with Software AG, and listen to her 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. She shared a number of unique ideas focused around:
- It Takes Both Sales Skills and Strengths
- Superior Results Begin with Good Listening
- Planning, Persistence and Being a Team Player
- Advice on Sales Coaching
Early in the interview, Anneliese said something that really framed the rest of our conversation,
“Executives have to be able to distinguish between sales skills and strengths. Skills can be trained and built over time and experience. Strengths translate into naturally implemented habits – things that people do because they believe that they are valuable to their success and performance. Everyone has the capacity to change their strengths and habits, but this is a difficult process. It requires a change in belief and dedicated effort.”
Ideally, we can screen for and hire people that have some of those natural strengths that give them a better shot at success. Some obvious strengths we need to look for in the hiring process include:
- Good people skills. Likeable, friendly and confident when meeting new people
- Natural curiosity is a huge plus for salespeople. Although better listening can be taught, people that enjoy listening to and learning from others are more likely to succeed in sales
- Coachability is important. People that have experienced intense coaching in their past tend to be more flexible and less likely to feel bruised or defensive when getting coaching from their sales manager
- Positive energy is a big plus. Negative people rarely succeed in sales.
Superior Results Begin with Good Listening
Anneliese emphasized how important listening is to success in selling,
“The ability to listen is an important strength for salespeople to have. Too often, salespeople are too eager to share information and conduct presentations and demos without fully understanding the needs, context, and requirements of their clients. So as not to pitch blindly, salespeople need to be constantly curious and inquisitive, to uncover motivations that are not readily evident at first glance. By asking questions and listening, salespeople can better comprehend clients’ concerns and problems – which will enable them to find the right solution that fits each client’s individual requirements perfectly.”
When we test salespeople before we start coaching and training them in the SalesGym, one of the first things we look for is how long does it take for them to get to the point? The most common mistake in selling is simply talking too much and Anneliese shared insight into why this is …
“Salespeople’s talkativeness oftentimes results from knowledge insecurity. A sales rep may feel that talking more makes him more convincing to the customer. This is a misconception. After all, a sales rep needs to be able to put the solution he is offering in the context of the customer’s problem – and this cannot be done effectively if he talks non-stop and fails to understand his client’s needs.”
Good listening helps us understand what the customer needs, but it also lowers resistance and increases receptivity to our solutions, as Anneliese points out,
“Customers value salespeople who listen, take time to understand their clients’ needs, and who try to help them regardless of the problem.”
Planning, Persistence and Being a Team Player
Anneliese shared with us three strengths she has observed in top performers that can help us understand how to find and train more people for more success:
- Having focus and great planning skills are strengths that successful salespeople should have. It is easy to plan for the day, week, or year if you have plenty of time. However, in the real-world, time is scarce – so setting aside time when there are no distractions to plan and reflect on key priorities is a good practice.
- The most successful salespeople are those that are persistent and resilient. With discipline and a forward-looking, energetic and persistent attitude, salespeople can achieve great heights.
- The ability to be a team player is a necessary strength for salespeople and sales leaders to have. The best sales leaders recognize that it takes more than an individual to be successful in sales. Impactful deals and opportunities require team effort. Successful salespeople lead teams to seize and optimize opportunities together – rather than deal with matters on their own.
Advice on Sales Coaching
Coaching salespeople is the way to develop these skills and elevate the strengths or our salespeople. It’s important to understand that not all good salespeople are cut out for coaching, as Anneliese has also observed,
“Many times, we tend to think that the best salesperson would also be the best sales manager. Whilst having successful sales experience is necessary to be considered for a sales manager role, having the ability to understand your sales team’s needs and coach rather than tell should not be undermined. This is essential in becoming a good people manager in sales.”
Just like salespeople need to learn to listen more and talk less, sales managers need to learn to coach more and tell less. Demonstrations are a fantastic way to accelerate the learning process. Sales Managers should be able to demonstrate how to start a meeting off with a great agenda and how to tailor competitive advantages to the interests of specific decision-makers. When team members see and hear great demonstrations of these core sales skills, they are more likely to adopt these best practices. This is exactly how sports coaches train their athletes and more Sales Managers need to coach this way.
Sales coaching is also about asking good questions and helping salespeople grow and become better at solving problems, as Anneliese points out,
“Most of the time, people are confused about the difference between telling and coaching. Telling an individual to do something your way is not coaching. Coaching is leading someone to resolve a problem their way while considering available options.”
Thanks to Anneliese for these powerful insights into how to build a stronger sales team!
For videos on how to increase sales utilizing the SalesGym’s “Compete Selling” approach, check out our SalesGym YouTube Channel!
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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