EDUCATION GUIDES MOST professionals through their careers. If you are a lawyer, you studied law. If you are an accountant, you studied accountancy, and if you are an engineer, you studied engineering. However, what about sales professionals? There is no Bachelor of Applied Sales, no Degree of Haggling, or Doctorate in Negotiation. So how does someone become skilled in the sales profession? Experience alone does not make a sales person great – merely experienced. What are the characteristics of a ‘qualified’ sales person?
This is the question I pose to my trainees at the beginning of my sales training seminars. Once considered, they gather in small groups to fill a flip chart with adjectives, often arguing amongst themselves in the process. Many adjectives appear regularly: professional, intelligent, diligent, etc. These are all good qualities to be sure, yet these are simply the qualities of any successful business person. Yet, they do not specifically identify the key qualities of a salesperson.
Qualities that make a sales person great!
There are five qualities that a great sales person must have in order to break away from the pack. In fact, if you meet a sales professional with more than a few years experience you can be sure they have these qualities. Research indicates that only one out of two sales people succeed past their first year in the business, so those who last must have these qualities. I know from experience, for I have developed these qualities and coached others to build them for over18 years in sales and managing sales people in Australia and China. It is truly remarkable, watching sales professionals who apply these tools rise above their colleagues time and again, simply by focusing on these critical qualities. They earn exceptional well for themselves by excelling in all of the following factors:
• Product knowledge
• Ability to uncover needs
• Charisma, in order to build goodwill
• Persistence in making the sales calls and entering the data into the CRM system
• The habit of following through with promises
They all work together in concert, so let me explain each in turn.
I am amazed at how little some salespeople know about their products and services. Mind you, because I am in sales, I tend to quiz service staff (both mine and those I encounter) more than the usual customer, and generally I am unimpressed. That’s not to say that sales ability in China hasn’t improved over the 10 years that I have lived here. It’s just nowhere near international standards quite yet, so those who achieve a high level of product knowledge immediately set themselves apart from the pack. Knowing every detail about your company’s products and services gives your staff and more importantly your clients greater confidence in your products and services. How can you improve your team’s product knowledge? Training and Testing!
If you manage a sales team in China, conduct regular service and product knowledge tests with your team.
If you manage a sales team in China, conduct regular service and product knowledge tests with your team.
Ability to uncover needs
Once a sales person knows their products, they need to know their clients and their needs. In my book, ‘Selling Big to China’, I highlight the importance of uncovering needs, and the method by which these needs can be uncovered. This technique is called funneling and unfortunately, again, few salespeople have been taught this invaluable skill, out of I consider myself lucky because I learned to funnel early into my career (15 years ago), so I have been able to uncover needs and learn about my clients’ needs since the beginning. It has catalyzed my sales career and that of my company’s sales force ever since. Funneling is a three step process. In a nutshell, it involves first asking open, non-leading questions, followed by open, leading questions and finally closed, leading questions. Interspersed between the questioning, the salesperson summarises what the client has said. This clarifies understanding, while building goodwill through the use of positive language. This technique, is known in some circles as the ‘rolling whys’, and when used correctly results in uncovering the client’s hidden needs. Once uncovered you can then match these needs with your company’s features, to demonstrate a benefit and presumably propose a sale. How can you improve your team’s ability to uncover needs? Practice, practice, practice!
Make sure you are confident with funneling before “going live” and questioning clients during meetings.
Role play, role play and more role play is the best way for sales people to become comfortable with asking question
Charisma, in order to build goodwill
Just because you know your products and you understand how they can help your clients will not guarantee that you can close the deal. Goodwill is vital in sales, and research claims that it occupies as much as 37% of the pie in terms of a successful sale. While I am sure this percentage changes with each contract, there is no doubt that it is important to a sale. Salespeople without charisma appear slimy, cold or untrustworthy. In a market such as mine with many providers, clients will choose the provider they have the best relationship with – provided most other things are equal. Even when I offer a product superior to that of my competitors, I still need to develop goodwill and trust to ensure my client will choose my company consistently. Often times goodwill can even trump a better price. Many people think charisma is something you are born with. While this is not true, unfortunately, charisma is not easily learnt.
Many people think charisma is something you are born with. While this is not true, unfortunately, charisma is not easily learnt.
How can you improve your team’s ability to build goodwill? By taking a good look at themselves! Start with a review of each salesperson’s current level of charisma. This can be achieved through a 360 degree analysis, or a smaller Johari Window exercise. Regardless of the methodology, each salesperson should be aware of how others perceive their personality, so they can take action to improve. Once they have an action plan, it is only a matter of putting it into practice!
Persistence to make those calls and do the Legwork
There is no substitute for discipline. Having the knowledge, the questions, and the relationships is useless if they are not turning these qualities into sales. Being able to check in every day with clients and develop new relationships is the only way to grow a sales business. In China, some believe that Guanxi (connections) alone is the deciding factor to be a great salesperson. I disagree, and I believe today’s market will more than support me in this position. With the speed of business in China, Guanxi will only get your career started. However, if you don’t have the quality of persistence to gain new businessthen you will have dried up all of your connections after only a few years. While guanxi will not hurt a career, it cannot be enough to compete with a market expanding year after year. New connections and clients must be developed and this requires measurable persistence to keep relationships growing. There are many ways to monitor a salesperson’s development and diligence. In my firm, we measure this quality of persistence in the form of the ‘Quality Score’. This continuous 30 day score measures the amount of smart legwork that each of our salespeople makes and gives them a running total. To ensure persistence, all sales staff maintain a ‘Quality Score’ of 1000 points or more, and they achieve this by e-mailing (1 point), making phone calls (5 points), attending networking events (15 points) and having face-to-face meetings (20 points). Maintaining 1000 points each month shouldn’t be difficult to maintain, as it is only slightly less than 50 points a day. As I watch this metric, it is easy to see which new salespeople will excel, who needs a little motivation, and whose head is just not in the game. More than any other quality, persistence will yield sales and therefore make or break a career. How can you improve your team’s persistence? Create measurements and rewards to encourage constant diligence and improvement.
Create and embed activity measurements into your salespeople’s KPIs – not just results
The habit of following through with promises
And finally, sales staff not only have to get their clients’ signature on the dotted line, they also need to follow through with their promises. Any gap between what they promised and what was delivered will damage the probability of repeat business. We all know that it costs 5 to 20 times more to secure new business than simply maintaining a pool of delighted customers. Unfortunately, some sales people are ideal ‘hunters’, but are poor ‘farmers’. As many companies require their salespeople to carry out both functions, it is important that processes are in place to help those forgetful amongst us, to commit to keeping our promises. It will save everyone time and money to keep promises than to always play “catch up” when things fall short. How can you improve your team’s habit to follow through with promises? Maintain a diligence strategy with your CRM system!
Make sure sales professional keep in regular contact withtheir current clients. Many of your sales people would rather be meeting new clients, than adding content into calendars and diaries of old relationships and finished deals. Nevertheless, I’ve seen sales people who have excelled at the four other qualities, only to be let down by a lack of follow through on promises. Sometimes this was as simple as forgetting to send contracts to their client! Therefore, ensure your CRM system provides reminders and also allows line managers to have an overview of the days, weeks and months activities of their entire team. Keeping clients and sales staff in regular contact should ensure satisfaction on both sides of the relationship. Being ‘qualified’ is not as simply defined in the field of sales as in accounting or engineering. However, hitting targets and maintaining a pool of repeat business is far more practical for a business than any degree or certification, which does not ensure success by any means. By focusing and measuring the above five qualities you will be able to assist each member of your sales team to become truly qualified, in what is arguably the most important function of a company.