I have been skiing a lot this year, because we have had decent amounts of snow and also because I am Austrian, and that’s what we do. I am also the Chief Sales Officer of my company, so sales success is equally important to me.
My son’s girlfriend started the sport two years ago, and while she is making a lot of progress, I am also aware how important it is for her to have a solid foundation. Skiing in New England is not always fun, because the level of other skiers’ expertise on the slopes is fairly basic. And it seems a great number of people haven’t learned proper skiing rules and etiquette (such as looking up the mountain before you push off), so it is more dangerous to ski in these areas – and that’s not because of the terrain (really not that challenging) but because accidents can be caused by inexperience.
This (of course!) reminded me of selling, and, as many of you know, I like comparisons. It reminded me that if you have never learned the basics, you won’t be able to build upon solid skills, or in the worst case scenario you will build upon bad habits. So while you might be able to ski downhill faster, you won’t ski better or safer.
The same holds true for sales. If sales people (especially in a consultative sale environment) don’t learn the fundamentals of a consultative sales process, they will just stay mediocre at best. So, what are some of the basics that are important to become a successful sales person?
- Understanding the Process
Sales is a process and it’s important to establish one that reflects the reality of your environment. By that I mean that people in a B2B industry will need to set-up a different process than companies that target end-user consumers.
- Identifying Best Targets – Most Profitable Markets & Decision-Makers/Influencers
Wouldn’t you rather get to the real decision-makers at an ideal prospect in a profitable market fast? So, it is also fundamental to understand who the decision-maker is within a prospect company as your first and, potentially, most important step. It is also fundamental to identify what industries are most profitable and which decision makers within prospect companies make up a good client profile.
- Establishing/Management of Your Database/CRM system
The backbone of every organization is the health of their database/CRM system. Another fundamental if you want to achieve success. Consistency and transparency are key in managing the data and the process. For some companies it might be enough to work off a spreadsheet (wouldn’t recommend it, but it does work), but most companies will need a CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Personally, I am a big fan of Salesforce.com. It’s not perfect, but it’s intuitive and easy to handle.
- Developing Effective Messaging
What you say and how you say it, is also fundamental when building relationships with prospects. There is nothing more annoying than sales people not owning their messages, being vague or at worst stumbling over their own words and being irrelevant.
And, if you work in an environment where the sales culture is focused on “making the numbers” rather than understanding HOW to make the numbers, it’s really hard to succeed, especially if you are new at what you’re doing.
- Commitment to sales
One of the fundamentals of building an effective sales team is the commitment to sales and providing the resources necessary to succeed. Recently, we were hired by a client in Pennsylvania to train newly hired sales people with very limited or no experience in their profession. We spent an entire week with the new recruits. Our goal was to provide them with the fundamentals of a consultative approach to sales and prospecting and to help them understand how to create their sales process so they will be able to represent their organization in the utmost professional way.
When these sales people were being interviewed, their managers (our clients) explained the sales process to them and that they would be receiving intensive sales training. They had not received those messages in previous job interviews. So, as a suggestion for all those job-hunting, when you interview for sales positions, ask questions about the company’s sales cycle, if they have established a sales process and what fundamentals they expect or will train you on. It’s important. It’s fundamental!
In Austria, most children learn how to ski in skiing school. As kids in elementary and secondary schools, we are sent to skiing camps every year and the first couple of days we don’t even get to ski. We need to listen to ski rules, climb up the mountain (on skis- sideways!), master the (very challenging) T-Lifts. It is only mid-week, once we have gone through all the basics that we are allowed on the mountain to actually ski.
Maybe that should be a standard practice for companies. Before you have a sales person pick up the phone to prospect, have them work through the fundamentals (train them on the fundamentals) so they understand what sales is all about and how to create and follow a successful process.