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 Coni Rechner, SVP of Education at Discovery Education, she shared some timeless insights into top performing salespeople that presented a remarkably effective roadmap for what top performers do differently from all the rest.
Over 90% of the sales leaders we interview tell us that the most results-limiting bad habits salespeople get into are talking too much, not asking the right questions, not having verbal mastery of a powerful and concise set of relevant differentiating factors and not being able to display the patience needed, in a sales call, to uncover the bigger opportunities.
Coni shared with us what salespeople can do to move quickly toward the skills and habits that separate top performers from the pack.
Top performers go after bigger sales
When asked what top performers are doing differently, Coni shared with us …
(The) patience (to identify the bigger opportunity) will curb the instinct to jump on the early opportunity with the product that meets that first little need that's uncovered. -Coni Rechner, SVP of Education at Discovery Education Click To Tweet
“Salespeople can get into the bad habit of going for the short-term, softball opportunity that surfaces early in the conversation instead of taking a deep breath and having the patience to identify the bigger opportunity on the horizon.” Then added, “Salespeople too often go for the base hit when the next pitch is a homerun. We have to help them have the patience to ask the right questions and understand the entire picture of what’s happening with their customer. That patience will curb the instinct to jump on the early opportunity with the product that meets that first little need that’s uncovered.”
This is really essential for salespeople and their sales managers to understand. One of the most common mistakes in a sales interaction is to over react to the first opportunity that surfaces in the conversation and essentially stop asking questions and start selling and presenting. This changes the dynamic of the interaction in way that limits opportunity.
Top performers ask a series of questions knowing that the bigger opportunities lie further down in the conversation. They understand that they can take note of the smaller opportunity, but stay focused on asking more questions and saying things that add insight that pull the bigger opportunities to the surface. When they talk, it’s to prime the pump that generates answers filled with bigger opportunities.
Average salespeople are too eager to bite on the first piece of bait that hits the water and this limits their opportunities. The best salespeople fish with a big net. They troll a wide area and get a lot of opportunities in the net with lots of opportunities then go after the biggest fish when the time is right.
What Sales Managers can do about this
- Do more practice role plays and play a cooperative prospect that has several opportunities. Ask the salesperson to prepare at least 5 different questions they must ask before they can present a selling solution. This helps break the overreacting habit that leads to too much talking
- Insist, when practicing, that salespeople take notes and patiently listen. The moment they start selling and overreacting, remind them to get back into questioning and listening mode
- Teach salespeople how to summarize and ask more. Most salespeople do not use summaries nearly enough to deepen the conversation
- Repeat the role play as many times as needed until the salesperson uncovers ALL of the opportunities and experiences the level of patience and listening needed to stay in questioning mode until the bigger opportunities surface
Top performers plan and prepare
We’ve worked with top sales organizations all over the world for decades and come into contact with hundreds of top performers every year. They tend to work harder, put in more hours and a lot of that extra effort simply goes into extra preparation for sale calls. They do homework… they research the people they’re meeting with… they learn about all the decision influencers and get their buy-in… they prepare their presentations in a way that is more relevant and tailored and all of this preparation gives them more confidence that translates into better performance under pressure.
(Top performers') attention to detail builds trust and credibility, because it shows they’ve done their homework. Once you build trust and credibility, it's much easier to begin that sales dance. -Coni Rechner, SVP of Education at Discovery Education Click To Tweet
“Top performers are meticulous in their pre-planning,” Coni shared. “They do their homework. They’re prepped. Anyone who’s involved in one of their sales meetings knows exactly what’s going to happen and who the key players are. Their attention to detail builds trust and credibility, because it shows they’ve done their homework. Once you build trust and credibility, it’s much easier to begin that sales dance.”
How Top Performers Prepare:
- Do research on everyone in the meeting
- Make summary notes from previous conversations to start the meeting
- Write down the 5+ questions you must ask in the meeting
- Think carefully about the questions you’re likely to be asked in the meeting
- Determine success stories that highlight relevant decisions other prospect/customers have made you’d like this decision maker to make
- Organize possible big ideas or insights you can share in this meeting after you ask and listen
Top performers use effective storytelling
Stories are the most powerful and memorable form of communication and salespeople, at least the best ones, are great communicators. This means they get good at storytelling. Well told stories engage the prospect’s attention and create those “lean-in” moments where real influence happens.
Top performers use storytelling to share what other comparable, successful customers are doing in a way that builds trust and credibility. -Coni Rechner, SVP of Education at Discovery Education Click To Tweet
“Top performers use storytelling,” Coni told us, “to share what other comparable, successful customers are doing in a way that builds trust and credibility, and then they really listen so that they can align solutions very specifically to the current customer’s needs.”
One of the things we teach in our SalesGym practice sessions is how to use stories to setup a closing or next steps recommendation. Great stories start by presenting a situation or a problem with escalating tension and details. For instance, a customer you currently had that had a problem they needed to solve. The story would outline the frustration and cost that customer was experiencing. A good story leads to a decision that customer made that solved their problem and created a positive resolution which was, most likely, to choose a solution that salesperson had provided. The story ends with the details of how that customer benefitted from that solution and if done right, a suggestion that a similar decision would work for that prospect.
Believe it or not, that’s the same story structure that 90% of the movies we see follow because it works. The decision a loyal customer made is the key to the story.
Keys to Great Storytelling
- Realize that storytelling is performance. It takes practice and rehearsal to get good at it
- Start your story with a relevant and highly correlated problem an existing customer had that relates closely to the problem your prospect has
- Talk about the frustration, costs, anxiety and stress that problem created
- Set up the decision the customer made to solve the problem as the climax to the story
- The resolution of the story is the benefits the customer experienced
- The story sets up the recommendation or suggestion to take similar action that customer did
Top performers build wide consensus with decision influencers
What we see over and over with our clients we coach, is the increasing number of people decision makers bring into the process of selecting a product or service. Decisions are made with more people to reduce risk and get more people involved in supporting the buying decision. This is a trend that isn’t going away and the best salespeople capitalize on it by generating more relationships and support with all the decision influencers.The best salespeople are really good at building consensus. -Coni Rechner, SVP of Education at Discovery Education Click To Tweet
Coni has observed,
“The best salespeople are really good at building consensus. There are a lot of people who can say ‘No’ and very few that can say ‘Yes’ so there is a lot of work that goes into identifying the key stakeholders and building consensus among them while creating a sense of urgency with polite persistence.”
Top performers build relationships
We asked Coni to share with us, based on her experience, what advice she would give to a salesperson starting their career in 2018. She summed it up well…
“If you want to be successful in sales, follow this simple advice: Be kind to others and focus on building internal as well as external relationships, because in sales, you depend on a lot of people to deliver on what you’re selling. Seek out mentors, don’t assume others are going to take care of your career. You have to advocate for yourself, never be late, always be early–especially for customer appointments–be optimistic and always have fun and have a smile on your face. Last but not least send handwritten thank-you notes whenever you can.”
There is no substitute for practice
We all want an easier, faster and more efficient way. In the age of technology we live in, the mantra of “scalable efficiency” bombards us from every direction. However, when it comes to the verbal and interactive skills of effective selling, there simply is no substitute for practice. Think of the way elite athletes and sports teams become proven winners. They utilize technology to improve their practice, not get rid of it. This is a lesson more sales teams need to understand. Salespeople learn the way athletes do and it’s practice that accelerates performance. In 25 years of working with and training sales teams, over 90% of the salespeople we meet tell us they rarely, if ever, practice their selling skills with a skillful practice coach. The best sales organization build a true practice culture by bringing in coaches that know how to practice. Often, the least expensive and most effective way to do this, is to outsource it.
How to practice like an elite athlete
- Great athletes have strong practice coaches. There is no way around this.
- Work on one selling skill at a time and master it first before moving to the next skill
- You must master your verbal ability to communicating compelling and relevant competitive advantages and differentiating factors that are concise and persuasive.
- Asking great questions listening and summarizing is a key skill you must practice
- It takes more repetition than most people realize to get good at selling. Think of how many golf balls pro golfers have to hit to master all the various shots needed to play at the highest level
- The best way to practice is with a talented practice partner or practice coach
- Track and record progress. Great athletes keep score of their practice progress
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.