I’ve hired, fired and managed large performing sales teams, and in my experience a great salesperson has the following seven characteristics:
Sharing a Vision
A great salesperson is a great communicator. In many organizations the person who makes decisions about budget isn’t the same person who’s going to be using your product on day-to-day basis. Don’t get stuck describing your company’s great pedigree, and leave the jargon at the office.
A great salesperson is someone who can take a complex concept, make it easy to understand and paint a high-level vision that the prospect can’t wait to take part in. Be able to describe your product at the 50,000 foot view, 25K, 10K and 5K foot view based on who you’re talking to. If your grandma can’t understand the value of what you’re selling, you’re doing something wrong.
Somewhat related to vision, a great salesperson always remembers that they’re selling value not features. As a sales manager I can’t tell you how many times in my career I’ve been on a call with a rep who immediately starts a prospect conversation by listing off a bunch of product features. As VP Sales at People.ai, I encourage my reps to first listen to what a prospect has to say, and engage in discovery to find and uncover pain. What issues are they having? What business challenges are they running into? Then, and only then, is it okay to prescribe something for the pain.
Once they’ve established pain a great salesperson can judge whether their product can solve that problem. If it can, a great salesperson is able to clearly articulate how their product solves the prospect’s specific pain points, without just talking about features. Selling features makes you a commodity and encourages objections and comparisons to the competition. “Company X offers feature Y, why don’t you?” Even when most of the time, this has zero to do with the business goals and challenges the prospect has. This leads to a pricing war, and if you have a competitor that has more bang for their buck, you’ll lose 10/10 deals. Remember, In-N-Out doesn’t sell hamburgers, they sell quality and convenience.
Focusing on the Right Activities
True sales eagles understand that not all activities are created equal. Sometimes a call is going to be more effective than an email, and vice versa. The key is to understand not just what to do, but when. How do different activities interplay with one another? Does sending a follow-up email after giving a prospect a demo help increase conversions? Different prospects may want to be approached in different ways. Great salespeople are able to connect with prospects in the way that’s most likely to get results.
Trading Power for Power
Great salespeople know that the more stakeholders they get buy-in from, the more likely they are to win a deal. That’s why the best salespeople work to influence multiple contacts at each opportunity. They start by talking to the IC or gatekeeper and work their way up to the boss by asking intelligent questions that earn them access to higher levels of power.
These questions are focused around determining an organization’s priorities, budget, goals and how they measure results. In other words, what does the organization see as its biggest pain point or opportunity? What is the value exchange in return for your solution to ease their pain or realize an opportunity? How will they tell whether or not they’ve achieved their goal? What happens if they don’t fix this business challenge, what’s the impact?
It’s unlikely that an IC or gatekeeper has all the answers, so they have no choice but to bring in their boss to move further along the process. Knowing that they only have one chance with a high-level decision-maker great salespeople make sure they don’t blow it! The best salespeople get a clear picture from the IC or gatekeeper of what their boss’ priorities are so that they can come prepared to nail the showdown.
Giving a Knockout Demo
Once they’ve earned themselves time with the prospect a great salesperson makes the most of it. At least in software sales, that means delivering an unforgettable demo. You only have a limited amount of time with a prospect (particularly with key decision-makers) so you need to make sure that you’re delivering value and getting them really excited about your software, I call this the WOW factor.
The old saying “practice makes perfect” is just as important in sales as in anything else. A great salesperson takes the time to get intimately familiar with the product they’re selling and be the source of truth. If you don’t truly understand your product, and how it addresses your prospect’s specific pain points, that means you’ll likely need to bring in a Solutions Consultant. In the SMB, you’ll sacrifice credibility if you cannot sell a $25K ARR product by yourself – AE’s should do their own demos!
Fighting the Competition and Winning Deals
A great salesperson understands the competitive landscape and knows how to win deals. They never bash the competition, but they understand how to position themselves well and use phrases like “…this feature is unique to People.ai and that’s important because of X,Y and Z.”
The best salespeople are aware of their competitor’s positioning against their company. They know if the competition always says the same two or three things against them, and can warn their prospects in advance of their next call. Doing so softens the blow and costs your competition credibility against the attack.
Great salespeople never stop innovating. What worked to close deals this month might not work next month. The best salespeople stay ahead of the game by keeping up with the latest product enhancements and keep their ears to the sales floor to trade best practices with other reps.
Talking about Money
From the time we’re kids society teaches us that it’s rude to talk about money. Is it any surprise that many salespeople get nervous when it comes time to “talk numbers?” Great salespeople are fearless and get to yes just as fast as they get to a no. You’ll likely come to a fork in the middle of the road once you address money. If you have a great product that’s going to end their prospect’s pain they don’t have a problem talking price and trying to close on the spot.
Why would you? If you’ve done a good job of qualifying your prospects, understanding their pain points, laying out your vision for a solution and clearly explaining how to get there, the prospect should want to close. If you haven’t done your job, it won’t work and you’ll send the prospect backpedaling for the door. If you think you have done your job, and the prospect is still backpedaling, then this person lacks authority to get your deal done, or is clearly buying a different product.
The best salespeople are able to combine the seven characteristics above into a repeatable process that they consistently use to win deals and weed out the bad ones quickly. They’re not afraid of rejection and are willing to make mistakes as the price for constantly moving at full speed. In short, great salespeople are those few folks that hate to lose more than they like to win!