I began my sales career in 1986 and have been a salesperson or worked with sales people most of the years since that time. As I developed my sales-process expertise (both in sales and as a trainer and coach) I have been witness to success (and failure) from a catbird seat. I’ve observed many excellent salespeople (some of whom were not excellent at the beginning of their careers!) and found that they share commonalities in five activities. In order for you to consistently succeed as a sales superstar learn from the following best practices.
1. Be on Top of Your Numbers
The highest performing salespeople we’ve interviewed have a clearly defined sales goal broken down by quarter that takes into consideration any seasonality in their business. They then track this number weekly if the sales cycle is relatively short, or monthly if it takes them longer to close a deal (say beyond a couple of months). It’s funny; many of the sales teams I’ve worked with don’t have clear goals laid out before the year begins. And sometimes they don’t know the results of the previous month until another month has gone by. It’s critical that you know your numbers at all times, even if you have to keep track on a spreadsheet yourself.
2. Understand Your Ideal Customer
Instead of targeting every company in your territory (even if you sell something that everyone can use – like a telephone system, stationery, or sales training) clearly identify the types of companies that you work with best. Of importance:
- size of company (in sales, employees, or some other pertinent measure)
- the department you should call on
- the type of decision maker
Finally, write out the situation or need they must have resolved in order for you to succeed with the sale. Make this easier by reflecting on the best customer you have now. Describe that customer and company in detail, along with a specific description of the attributes of the decision maker in this company.
3. Review Your Won and Lost Deals
Sometimes called a post-mortem, this type of analysis can give you a great deal of information about what went well, in the case of won deals, and what went wrong when you lose a deal. Be sure to conduct this analysis with someone who knows your business like your boss, mentor, or coach. Be brutally honest about each step in the process and try to figure out specifically what you did – good or bad – or didn’t do.
When I did this I learned that when I lost a deal I often left out a critical step in my process because I thought I could take a shortcut to a faster close – I couldn’t! The last such diagnosis I performed on a lost deal revealed to me that the step I skipped was one that would have demonstrated my expertise to my prospect in a very tangible way. I didn’t give them a way to experience specifically how I help my clients – a test run or small, short pilot project. I tried to go from first meeting to proposal discussion in two steps and that was not enough for them to realize the true value I could bring to their organization to grow their sales.
4. Know (and Follow!) Your Sales Process
High-achieving salespeople follow a prescribed process for finding leads, booking appointments, conducting sales calls, presenting a proposal, and closing the sale. Every industry will be different in this regard, so it’s important that you know the process that suits — not just how you can best sell your product or service — but how your customers buy.
List out those steps, discuss them with a colleague and make sure you haven’t missed anything. A typical sales process looks something like this:
- Pre-Call Planning and Research (who should you call and what do you know about their company)
- Prospecting to Book Sales Meetings (phone calls, emails, LinkedIn requests, notes cards, Twitter follow, to name a few)
- Sales Calls to Qualify and Learn about the Prospects Goals, Needs and Challenges (this may take place over a few or very many meetings depending on your industry)
- Close the Sale and Implement
5. Block Your Time, Stick to the Right Activity, and Consider Yourself Accountable
Okay this is really three things in one, but they are interconnected. One of the first things I do when working with salespeople is introduce them to the concept of blocking their time in a weekly calendar. Once this is done we then turn to filling these blocks of time with the right activities to ensure their sales will grow.
And finally, you need to account for these activities – that is, are you doing what you know you need to do to achieve success? This will require you to list the key activity metrics that you need to follow to put a deal in your pipeline and then convert it to close:
- number of times you try to get a meeting (touchpoints) both last week and goal for this week
- number of sales meetings you have each week (first meetings, follow meetings, etc.)
- pipeline value (total value of all the deals you are working on)
- networking meetings (both in a group setting and one-on-ones that comes out of that)
- outstanding proposals
Whatever the metrics you decide to follow, be faithful in keeping a record so you can track progress and continue to gather the numbers that matter the most to your growth. This spreadsheet could be the most important revenue-boosting document you use.
To Your Success
As an avid student of the sales process I have learned a great many things over my years in sales. But the greatest lessons I have learned are on the job and in working with many high performers willing to do what it takes to be successful in this most demanding, and yet rewarding, of professions. I constantly evaluate and re-evaluate what’s working and what’s not with a trusted friend and mentor who has helped me immensely over the years. Best of luck in growing your sales business and let me know how it’s going.