One of the most difficult roles in a company is that of a salesperson. In order to succeed you need to approach the journey with curiosity, diligence, and practice.
Whether you are a rookie, or a sales pros struggling to achieve your sales goals or improve your performance, or a sales manager eager to help your sales force achieve their quotas, you need to know how to sell and how to motivate those who sell with you. In his new book, “Above Quota Performance“, sales leader Steve Weinberg discusses how to build, guide, and sustain high caliber sales teams.
Weinberg recently sat down with Young Upstarts to share his insights about the new skills sales pros need to deal with the profound changes in today’s marketplace.
Here is some of our conversation:
1. You say that more than 50 percent of sales pros regularly fail to achieve their annual sales targets. That’s pretty shocking. Why do you think that is and what can be done to turn this around?
This is a shocking number, but it is well documented. I found it in research by Gartner, Harvard, Forbes, and Salesforce.com. My own experience was that about 40 percent of the sales pros in the companies that I worked for failed to reach their annual sales quota. And the consequences were often very consequential: being put on probation at the company, termination, depression, job search, lengthy unemployment, divorce, losing one’s house, and suicide.
There are various reasons for the lack of sales success of sales professionals. The 12 most important reasons (according to me) are:
- Overly optimistic targets set by management (if less than 25 percent achieved their quotas, the quotas were set too high)
- Inadequate sales leadership and unsatisfactory coaching by the sales manager
- Insufficient or unproductive prospecting by the sales pros
- Sales pros not thoroughly qualifying leads (wasting time on the wrong prospects)
- Sales pros not having enough industry and product knowledge and having not brought value to the buyers
- Lack of a compelling value proposition and pitch
- Use of inefficient sales processes or methodologies
- Poor follow-up skills by the sales pros
- Sales pros did not communicate with the key decision-maker
- Sales pro more focused on themselves and their achievements than their prospects’ success
- Unrealistic expectations of how quickly the sales pro can be productive and impatience on the part of sales management that wants instant results
- Behavioral issues, including personal motivation, fear of failure, and unwillingness to be coached
In some cases, salespeople were able to correct their deficiencies and achieve their targets in subsequent years.
The sales training offered by many companies is either used for a short time and then wanes in usage, or it is completely ignored – by both the salesforce and sales management.
The first step in fixing this problem is for companies to do a much better job of hiring salespeople. They need to find sales pros with a successful track record or aptitude, as well as the 30 characteristics of high performers that I outlined in “Above Quota Performance“. Hiring people from the same industry will decrease the ramp-up time it takes for the salespeople to be productive
Then they need to do a much better job of onboarding the salespeople. It is typical for companies to hold one half day of company orientation, following by 2 or 3 days of product training and then the sales pros are turned loose on a territory.
In recent times, there has been an effort to build up a sales enablement function at many companies. This is a much more serious and concentrated effort to take into consideration the many factors that can increase the success rate, such as a much more comprehensive onboarding process, training on how to develop leads, integration with other areas such as marketing, coaching, and role-playing, enhanced CRM training to improve skills, and reporting and shadowing successful salespeople. I think this type of sales enablement will help change the success rate.
Poor sales practices such as not properly qualifying leads and wasting time on the wrong prospects can result in poor performance. Another issue is time management. All need to be addressed.
Lastly companies must not budget for new hires to be productive until they have been in their territory for many months and not expect them to close what experienced sales pros do from day one.
Adopting my suggestions will result in less sales pro turnover, which will increase the company’s sales revenue.
2. There is a strategy that you call “Sweet Spot Selling” that can increase the chances of finding the best prospects. Can you talk about what that is and how to go about it.
I mentioned above that salespeople often chase sub-optimal prospects. This results in stalled sales and competitive losses. The solution to this is to focus on the prospects that are more likely to purchase from you and to implement a much harder qualification process.
My hypothesis is that the best prospects exist in an area that I graphically illustrate in AQP as the intersection of the prospect’s needs, your value proposition, and your product/solutions’ competitive strengths. I call this “fishing in the right pond.”
These are the prospects that you want to seek and sell to, as you will have an advantage and your probability of closing the sale is greater. Among their needs are some that match with the value you bring to the prospect and fit with your competitive strengths. These are the unique selling propositions that you need to validate during the discovery process and to emphasize during your presentation.
Finding prospects in the Sweet Spot requires the sales pro to master their value proposition and competitive strengths and then identify those companies that would likely need a solution that their company offers. It is also a radical change for many companies that requires discipline and dedication to be successful.
3. What sales training theories are now obsolete and need to be discarded?
There are a lot, because many sales trainers have been using the same material for decades.
The most flagrant is the adage “always be closing,” which is false and can be harmful to a sale. Trick sales closes should be retired as they are both offensive and ineffective, and buyers are less prone to manipulation than in the past. Also, I feel strongly that objections should not be countered or neutralized, but should be welcomed, even encouraged, as they provide valuable information. Another is mirroring or copying the buyer’s style. I think that is offensive.
4. How can LinkedIn be used to help find prospects and close sales?
I devote a whole chapter to how to use LinkedIn for business development in AQP. In summary, LinkedIn can be used to find out information about target companies and the people that work for them. It can also be used to research the targeted titles within the companies and to warmly (as opposed to cold calling) begin conversations with them.
5. As an expert at building, guiding, and sustaining high-caliber sales teams, what are the most important things for both management and sales professionals to know to achieve results?
I think it is critical for sales management to adapt to the changes that have resulted from the digital marketplace and because of the pandemic. Many companies have not done so. Buyers are much better informed, and they are more difficult to gain face to face or virtual meeting time with, which is more challenging for salespeople. Sales pros need to understand that they must gain the trust of buyers by outing the buyers’ interest ahead of their own all the time. And they need to change many of their sales practices in order to be successful in today’s highly competitive marketplace.