SalesGym Feature Interview with Neil Zaman
Recently, we had an opportunity to connect with Neil Zaman, the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Field Operations at Cadence Design Systems and listen to his 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. He shared a number of unique ideas focused around:
- Active Listening
- Ask the Tough Questions
- Competitive Advantages
- Getting the Right People
Early in the interview, Neil said something that really framed the rest of our conversation,
“Not going back to the basics is a big issue. Basics used to teach us to know…who’s on the org chart… who’s your friend…what’s your value proposition…what’s the return on the investment that you’re giving versus your competitors? Tell me how many multi-threaded relationships have you established? After initial training, you have to keep learning more. My view is, it’s a constant learning process. If I want to learn, I call in people and see if it’s a technique I want to incorporate into my repertoire. If you stop learning you end up dying.”
Too often, salespeople depart from the blocking and tackling skills of selling without developing true mastery of the basics. Many salespeople have succumbed to the trap of thinking they are beyond deliberately practicing core skills like communicating their value proposition or asking relevant insightful questions, however, top-performers (as Neil pointed out) know better. As soon as a salesperson feels their skills are “good enough,” they become complacent and once they’re complacent, the core skills that are essential to success begin to slip. Without a deliberate and continued emphasis on the basics of selling, salespeople may be good enough but they’ll never be great.
At SalesGym, something we hear frequently from the executives we interview is that the majority of salespeople simply don’t listen actively and intentionally to their customers. This is something that Neil has seen many times. Neil told us,
“Only 25% of salespeople do a good job listening. I always tell people the reason why I love people that come from a services background is because they usually diagnose the customer’s problem and they’re more interested in a consultative sale. So they listen and can sell. Those are usually the best salespeople.”
Years of research and hundreds of hours of interviews have revealed that Neil could not be more correct. We found that over 70% of all salespeople do a poor job of asking questions and listening on most of their sales calls. Top performers understand that active listening and insightful questions are the key to discovering what their customers truly care about. Once you have determined what your customers motivations are and have demonstrated that you are aligned with their goals and care about their success, only then can you hope to make a recommendation that is customized to the customer’s unique situation and adds real value.
It’s amazing what people will tell you and how quickly they warm up if you demonstrate active listening. Neil shared this experience that really drives the point home,
“I met with the CEO of this multibillion-dollar company and I remember saying, ‘look everybody knows a lot about you. I can read it on LinkedIn or many other places. Here’s what I know… Could you enlighten me on what has taken you from just an engineer all the way to the CEO of one of the top companies in the world?” Then, he talked for 15 minutes. The best part was, there was none of that initial awkwardness you get in a first meeting where you are trying to figure each other out.”
Asking Tough Questions
It takes a certain mindset to ask questions in sales that the salesperson knows may lead to an unfavorable response. Many times, we have found, sales people intentionally do not ask direct questions of the customer in order to lower the perceived likelihood of getting a no and losing the sale. However, the problem with this type of thinking is that not asking the tough questions typically precludes the possibility of the sale all together.
As Neil points out,
“Brave people ask for the order…cowards ask for different things outside of the order…brave people get into room and say, “Look, I need this thing done. Here’s all the things that we’ve already done. What needs to happen…who will sign and by when…what are the issues on the table…and how do we get this off the table?” Those are the tough questions. People don’t ask these questions and they are the fundamental questions. They don’t ask…they don’t close.”
A shocking number of sales interactions end without the sales person having asked for commitment to the next step in the process, whether that be an appointment, a presentation, or closing the sale. Neil put it this way,
“One of the worst bad habits I see is the lack of a close at the right point in the sales call. If you don’t close, or have some actions items for your prospect or yourself, and you don’t ask for them in the next meeting, you’re done.”
At the core of every salesperson’s value proposition to their customers, should be a clearly defined and well-articulated differentiating factor or competitive advantage that makes you uniquely suited for the customer’s situation and also holds you head and shoulders above the competition. This is unfortunately one of the things missing from the repertoire of many salesperson. This is something that Neil has noticed first hand, as he put it this way,
“The other bad habit I’ve noticed is when salespeople make their proposal or when they’re talking to the customer, they don’t understand the two or three elevator pitches for the value propositions that they’re supposed to bring to the table. When you don’t have the value proposition or can’t articulate it quickly when somebody asks you very trivial questions, like, ‘why would I buy this’, your meeting is just done.”
Getting the Right People
Getting the right people in your organization is crucial for the success of your sales team. It is just as costly, if not more so, to keep the wrong people as it is to lose talented performers. Few know this as well as Neil. We asked Neil if he would share with us some of the keys to his success in building top performing sales teams. He provided us with the following insights into his thinking about hiring the right people:
“First thing I usually look for in people is likeability. The fact is, if you’re not a person that’s likable and people don’t want to spend breakfast, lunch, and dinner with you, they will not build a long-term relationship with you. People are not going to want to spend time with you and not going to want to give you money. People don’t part with money for people they don’t like.”
“The other one I look for is instincts … the ability to shut down a meeting and walk away from a deal versus doing it five minutes early and pissing off everybody or doing it five minutes later when it’s effective is all about instincts and knowing when to do it and how to do it.”
“I like to pay extra money for people who are creative in the right way…people who go above and beyond just problem solving and create upside because they’re willing to take reasonable risks. When they do that and cross the assumptions they bring in bigger deals. The key is, you must learn from your mistakes and not let it be a consistent pattern, but if you show that you’ve thought through your plan, you’ve negotiated under the ethical bounds (including working with your internal teams for finance, legal, operations, etc.) and you’re trying to do something creative to generate new business, I’ll let you do it. Under those circumstances, if you fail no problem. Keep going, keep coming up with more stuff, because one of those days it’s going to click and you’re going to land something big. But, taking a risk is not the same as using bad judgment. Bad judgment is when you do something unethically, illegally, or in violation of your company’s code of conduct. I reward risk taking, not bad judgment.”
Thanks to Neil for the interview and solid tips on how to generate stronger sales teams!
For videos on how to increase sales utilizing the SalesGym’s “Compete Selling” approaches, 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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