Any average salesperson can become a peak performer because, despite what some people might believe, peak performing salespeople are not born. They are in fact trained. They practice their skills, they study the marketplace and they plan for success. They create in themselves a burning desire to be at the top of one of the noblest professions in the world
Today major changes are taking place in the way business is conducted, yet salespeople do not seem to be aware of the need to be more prepared to cope with these changes.
Stronger competition will result in the more professional salespeople getting the business. With the recent growth in the EU the door will be opened to salespeople from all over Europe to tout for business that was traditionally the preserve of the local salesperson.
In a survey of ten European countries, carried out by McGraw Hill Research, local salespeople whilst averaging more face to face calls than their European counterpart (1,109 calls per year compared to a European average of 583), were not as productive, closing a sale less frequently that their European cousins.
Who will be the winners in 2012?
Given this increased competition what can today’s salespeople do to assure their success through the rest of this decade?
First of all, if salespeople are to become peak performers, they must take a more professional attitude to the market place. What differentiates outstanding salespeople from the average ones is that the former realise that they need to know more about the business world and more about their customers’ products and services and how they do business.
Knowing the business the customer is in is more than just reading annual reports. It means understanding the their industry and the nature of the competitive environment that they operate in.
The salesperson must understand how each customer thinks, what its culture is and values are, the skilled salesperson has to be a good listener and a shrewd observer.
Professional salespeople must also know the right questions to ask and the right people to direct these questions to, in order to obtain the correct information to do what they are ultimately paid for – CLOSING THE SALE.
Secondly, today’s professionals must take a hard look at the skills they use – prospecting, fact finding, making presentations, handling objections and closing the sale.
They must continue to put a tremendous amount of emphasis on developing these skills in the same way that a brain surgeon is continuously looking for and studying new and improved ways of doing their job. However in the brain surgeon’s case it is not just whether the sale is won or lost it’s whether the patient lives or dies.
The difference between success and failure in selling can sometimes be so minute. It may be that the salesperson failed to tell the prospective customer about that one extra benefit that could have clinched the sale. Some years ago the World Snooker Championship final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor was decided on who potted the black ball in the final frame. Salespeople who are highly successful are the ones that realise that they do not have to twice as good as their competitors – they just have to have that slight edge in order to win.
In selling, developing that slight edge is not as difficult as it seems – the peak performers are the ones that attend training courses and workshops, mix with other professionals and study and read about ways to increase their skills.
In a survey conducted by leading market research company MRBI, for Creative Management, a leading sales training organisation, 95% of the salespeople who were surveyed thought that good training is essential to becoming skilled in selling. Yet, 37% of those interviewed said that they could not remember when they had last attended a sales training course. So, opportunities for the peak performing salesperson have never been greater.
Remember – a small increase in salesperson’s skill and ability may increase effectiveness by as much as 100%
Thirdly, knowing the marketplace and having the skills is not enough – the successful peak performer must have a plan or goal in order to achieve success and this plan must be in written form. A survey conducted in the U.S. some years ago found some interesting information about people and goals. Of the people interviewed 3% had had written plans about what they wanted out of life, 10% had a good idea but had not written it down, 60% had given some thought to where they were going but the remaining 27% had never given any thought at all to planning their future.
What was not surprising was that of these same people, 3% were highly successful, 10% were reasonably well off, 60% were people of modest means and the remainder barely existed with the help of social welfare.
The top two groups had the same education, talent and intelligence. The only difference that could be found was that the 3% group had crystallised their goals in writing and were outperforming the next group by as much as 10 to 1 or better.
The bottom line is regardless of the skills today’s salespeople have – just knowing what to do isn’t going to do the job – its only by setting goals that they are going to use what they know.
Written goals save time. It’s easy with the pressures and demands placed on salespeople today for them to become involved in tasks that are not productive. However, with a clearly defined written plan, they can eliminate distractions and easily focus their attention on the positive tasks that produce sales.
A goal, of course, is just a dream without a deadline. To the peak performer a deadline is like a trigger on a rifle. It is the activating mechanism for the goal. It makes the salesperson move with a greater sense of urgency. It is what focuses attention on the goal.
In most competitive sports, such as football the most exciting effort often takes place just before the final whistle.
Deadlines, of course, are the master not the servant and one mark of the peak performer is the ability to distinguish between a setback and a defeat. When circumstances alter and change, a deadline can be adjusted without abandoning a goal.
Finally, the good news. Any average salesperson can become a peak performer because, despite what some people might believe, peak performing salespeople are not born. They are in fact trained. They practice their skills, they study the marketplace and they plan for success. They create in themselves a burning desire to be at the top of one of the noblest professions in the world.
They are proud to be called Peak Performing Salespeople.
Ciarán J Newman is Sales and Marketing Director of NicoBloc PLC. He is a past Chairman and Fellow of the Irish Institute of Training and Development. He has written extensively on the subject of Improving Sales Performance and lectures regularly on the subject of Goal Setting and Behaviour Modification. www.stopsmokingnow.ie