At the SalesGym, we interview hundreds of 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 Brad Fosser, VP of Sales at HomeAdvisor, he shared some timeless insights into top performing salespeople and what he has observed about them throughout his career. Brad has managed some large sales teams and has a lot of experience in understanding what it is that makes top performers different and explains what he’s observed about ideal top performers…
The actual practical and tactical things that top producers do differently than a medium producer oftentimes is they don't overcomplicate the sale. -Brad Fosser, VP of Sales at HomeAdvisor Click To Tweet
“The actual practical and tactical things that top producers do differently than a medium producer oftentimes is they don’t overcomplicate the sale. They keep it short and simple and relevant to the person they’re talking to. They also have a high volume of activity, they’re not stopping just because they’ve made a hundred dials, they stay focused on what their next hundred dials is going to bring in.”
It’s important to understand there is no cookie cutter explanation for top performers as they’re certainly not all the same. We can, however, identify some common ground in terms of their focus, how they spend their time and how they approach the art and science of selling. Brad has identified some of the most important traits top performers across all industries have in common:
- They reduce distractions to a minimum
- They simplify and shrink the sales cycle
- They maintain a high activity level with high potential decision makers
- They spend more time practicing and sharpening their skills
- They are eager for feedback from a competent coach
Managing top performers…
As much as sales managers want sales to increase, it’s important to consider that the approach and tactics needed to move middle performers up can actually distract or even demotivate top performers. Top performers typically need a different kind of support, but it’s important to first clearly and honestly understand why they’re top performers in the first place. Is their success…
- Consistent, year after year?
- A result of their hard work, persistence and extra effort?
- More related to their territory and having accumulated the right accounts over time?
- Somewhat luck and being in the right place at the right time related?
- Coming from a good mix of existing accounts and new business development?
- A result of well executed long-term relationship building that’s easy to overlook?
- Being generated because they create sales that other team members can’t?
Often, some of the top producers are not setting the kind of example we’d like in order to influence the rest of the sales team. Sometimes, however, these top producers are building relationships that the sales manager is simply under valuing because they want that top producer to be hungrier and do more prospecting. This is a problem that compensation and incentives can often address as in creating short-term premiums on new business that is brought in.
Brad reminds us that some of our top performers, especially the ones that set the example we’d like the rest of the team to follow, need a lighter touch…
“I never have to talk to my top producers about things like activity or attendance. They already get that this is their career. They understand that every second that they spend away from their core focus, is a distraction unless it’s going to make them better.” This is important to consider as many top performers have told us they become frustrated with their company and start looking for another job when they feel undervalued and over pressured by their manager. We’ve seen this many times. More of a micromanaging approach is necessary, at times, for salespeople that are not performing, but it can really backfire if applied to everyone.
Brad reminds us that we can really leverage top performers…
“We listen to what are our top producers are doing and saying and get that out as a best practice. When you can attach what they are saying to results, then the salesforce has an immediate buy in on that.”
Listen to how your top performers sell…
One mistake some sales managers make, often because they were so good at selling, is trying to get everyone on the team to sell the way they did. Success in selling comes from skill, process and personality and some of the determining factors that made a sales manager successful are not easily transferred to the rest of the team. It’s important for the sales manager to recognize this early.
When we start a new consulting or training project with a company we haven’t worked with before, the first thing we do is interview a cross section of top performers to hear, in their own words, what they feel is their formula for success. Sometimes these top performers have exciting and compelling personalities, are high energy and are just out there making things happen. Many top performers do not fit this mold at all and generate results in a more low key way as Brad has observed…
“As a sales leader, sometimes you’re not even terribly impressed with what you hear from your top producers. You expect to listen to their calls and just be blown away. In reality the reason they are so good is because it’s not over complicated, and it’s not overly salesy, and it’s not like they have some magic bullet that nobody else has; they have a methodical process that they know works for them. They take everybody through that process, and at the end of that process they either ask for the business or they assume the close. Having that confidence level of, ‘I know that I’ve walked you through this, you’ve agreed with what I’ve said, we’re going to do business together,’ is probably the one thing that separates top performers from the middle.”
What’s important, is to create an environment where salespeople with different personalities can thrive. The very best sales managers make it easy for the entire team to see and understand what top performers are doing to create their success and allow those different ideas and approaches to influence positively the rest of the team.
Brad reminds us that constructive feedback is the one thing the entire sales team needs..
Reps are hungrier for feedback than they are given credit for, at all levels. -Brad Fosser, VP of Sales at HomeAdvisor Click To Tweet
“Reps are hungrier for feedback than they are given credit for, at all levels. The top producers want feedback, bottom producers want feedback, they don’t necessarily like the feedback, but they want the feedback and at least the opportunity to get better.”
Impacting middle to bottom producers…
We’ve found, in working with thousands and thousands of salespeople over the years, that success predictability can be broken down into five important, measurable areas:
5 Predictable Success Measurements
- Motivation and drive
- Organization and time management disciplines
- Effective sales messaging
- Able to use a good sales process
- A likeable, trustworthy personality
It’s a good practice to look at each salesperson individually and assess their effectiveness in all five areas. Keep in mind that if they rate low in motivation/drive and a likeable, trustworthy personality, those are areas that are difficult, if not impossible to change. Training and practice can have a big impact on the other three and, in fact, if salespeople are not improving in those three areas, it’s a direct result of poor training, coaching and a lack of effective practice.
Brad points out mistakes he has observed…
“Middle to bottom performers tend to make the close more important than it is. They either hard pause and create an awkward moment, or they outright ask for the business and force the decision maker to make a buying decision instead of leading them to the right choice. When I look at struggling or my mid-tier salespeople I typically break them into two buckets; one, your newer salespeople, two your super tenured folks. With the newer people the problem is that they’re afraid to close. They don’t know where to take the conversation, so they just keep talking. They haven’t learned yet that all you have do is solve the problem and then you make the sale. The second set of people, the tenured folks, they are under producing because they’ve been around for so long that they feel this need to go give all of the information that they’ve accumulated over the years and they overcomplicate the sale. Keep it simple.”
In both of these cases, the salespeople are probably talking too much which is the most common mistake in selling and thankfully, these are areas that can be impacted with good training and consistent practice.
Practice is the most neglected secret weapon of all…
When we start a training project, we ask the salespeople we’ll be working with how much practice they typically get every week. The most common answer (well over 50%) we hear is “little or none.” Sales, at least the interactive element, requires verbal and human relations skills. Just as athletes need strength, agility speed and stamina, which can all be improved with practice and training, salespeople need to be able to:
- Communicate clearly and concisely
- Formulate and ask good, relevant questions
- Set and follow a good, customer-friendly agenda that leads to opportunity
- Listen with interest and curiosity that builds rapport and trust
- Add insights and ideas that help the prospect think more clearly
- Apply a proven sales process and keep it on track
- Identify and overcome resistance so buying decisions can be made
- And these are the skills that we can train and practice to get better at.
When asked about practice, Brad has observed…
The reality is most organizations don't enforce practice enough and blame it on time. -Brad Fosser, VP of Sales at HomeAdvisor Click To Tweet
“Most companies would love it if their salesforce got more practice in when realistically they might get only 15 to 20 minutes of practice in a week. It would be amazing if they could get more. The reality is most organizations don’t enforce practice enough and blame it on time. Salespeople will always tell you that they don’t have time to go roleplay because they’d rather be on the phone. It’s not a unique challenge.”
The founders of the SalesGym have observed and studied top performing sales teams for decades and the most important nuggets we’ve learned about training and practice are:
Nuggets about training and practice
- An hour of consistent practice every week is much more effective than a day or two of training once a year
- Top performers, sharing their transferable best practices, are a very effective component of a good training system
- Salespeople learn more from effective demonstrations and examples than from extensive analysis of what they’re doing wrong
- Training is best when it allows for enough repetition to master the easier fundamentals before moving to harder skills
- It’s nearly always best to start training on sales messaging and communicating competitive advantages and differentiating factors in a concise and compelling way
- Practice simulations or role plays are generally more effective when it’s an actual rehearsal for an upcoming call
Most sales managers we meet need help and coaching to become better sales coaches. They often want to be better at coaching, but don’t know how. Someone in the sales organization needs to become effective and dedicated to coaching the coaches, if the company wants to make a real transition to a practice culture where salespeople steadily improve.
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.