Recently, we had an opportunity to connect with Mark Hogan, Senior Vice President in Commercial Sales 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:
- Listening to Understand
- Being Busy vs. Productive
- Focusing on Outcomes
- Practice Against a Live Defense
Early in the interview, Mark said something that really framed the rest of our conversation,
“It’s the individuals that really listen to understand, as opposed to listening to respond, that seem to connect with the customer. They understand business problems and they determine what resources to bring forward to help solve those business problems for the client. Those are by far the best individuals.”
When I look back on the hundreds of top performing sales professionals I’ve met and interviewed over the years, one of the things that stands out is that most of them are better than average listeners. They often have a natural curiosity and ask engaging questions that develop the conversation in interesting ways. Good listening does two things that are critically important
- Listening lowers resistance. Selling is certainly about presenting dynamic ideas and solutions, but you need a receptive audience for them. Good listening increases receptivity
- Good listening allows the seller to identify what matters most to the decision maker(s), which allows a tailoring of the message when it comes time to present the solution
Mark sees it this way,
“Salespeople often talk to showcase how smart they are and how great their understanding of technology is. On the surface they may appear strong and capable, but when you probe you learn they’re not connecting the dots.”
Busy vs. Productive
In our modern world, with a constant river of electro images and data coming at us from a variety of platforms all suggesting new tasks and to do’s, it’s easy to be busy, but that’s not the same thing as being productive. Top performers are disciplined about where they spend their time and figure out ways to budget time for the activities that build for the future. Mark explains:
“Most people in general think that just because they’re busy they’re productive. You may have a lot of meetings and a lot of conversations, but if you’re putting out fires for services that you already are delivering, then you are not really productive. So more than anything, all you’re doing is taking a defensive posture rather than educating on the offensive. Then, 80% of your time is consumed with just retaining customers and not growing share of wallet.”
Preparing for more future success is about finding time to meet new decision makers and it’s also about educating current customers on new capabilities or the capabilities we have they aren’t utilizing us for that they might need in the future, as Mark explains:
“This is all about educating your client base about your capability so that when they have a business challenge, they know that they can call you to help them. The worst thing that I could ever hear is, ‘I didn’t know Your company did that.’”
One of the most important things top performers do that average performers don’t, is end their sales calls with action steps that move the sales process forward. They carefully manage the sales interaction so near the end, they can ask the customer for the order or ask for a commitment to the next step. The biggest waste of time of all is ending sales calls in a way where no decisions are made and the next step is simply “to get back to you in a couple of weeks” … or months. Mark calls these “Barney meetings”:
“If your customer does not move forward with a purchase or some kind of commitment, what happens to them? It becomes what I call a Barney meeting. I love you, you love me, we hug each other but nothing happens, no progress is made.”
Focusing on Outcomes
Most decision makers are far more interested in how the product or service will help them solve a problem or help them achieve an objective than they are in the technical underpinnings of how it all works. Certainly, there are technical buyers that will often take a good look under the hood and we need to be prepared for that, but big purchasing decisions are usually made because a product or service does something that our competitors don’t. Mark explains:
“The individuals that can understand how to relate the technical question or the technical discussion to a business outcome can often move the needle forward on that particular opportunity. The reality is most of our customers are smarter than us and they know the technology and everything better than us, so we have to understand how to speak to and educate about the outcome.”
Communicating solutions that truly resonate is only made possible when we ask good questions up front and understand what the problem is and what the ideal situation is for the decision maker when the problem is solved. Then, we connect our product to that desired future as Mark points out:
“It’s not about knowing how the engine runs. It’s about being able to articulate that this engine is going to run more efficiently and that it’s going to get you from point A to point B quicker and cheaper. We have to understand how to get the customer to realize that.”
Practice Against a Live Defense
We asked Mark about how to prepare salespeople to perform better under pressure and he said something interesting,
“You can draw up the play as much as you want, but if you don’t run it against the live defense you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
This is truly the key to how elite sports coaches are able to get such amazing performances out of their teams. Let’s take a look at three ideas that come from observing the best sports coaches in action:
- Spend more time rehearsing for upcoming calls and less time analyzing the past. Understanding your mistakes is important, but it’s practice and rehearsal, with simulated pressure, that makes those mistakes less likely to happen again.
- Recognize that improvement is typically made in small steps. It takes constant practice and repetition to get better. Consider how many golf balls a professional golfer hits on a weekly basis looking for that tiny bit of improvement that will allow him to beat his competitors in the next tournament.
- Remember, practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. Practice with a coach that can give you corrective coaching, when needed, to take your game to the next level.
Thanks to Mark for the interview and solid tips on how to generate better results on sales calls!
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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