I learned a lot over the course of my career in Outside Sales at IBM, HP, and Google. Even now, as the CEO of Badger Maps, my job revolves around sales. Some of the lessons I’ve learned are specific to sales, others are more general and applicable to different careers. Some are life lessons that probably apply outside of your job. Here are some of the key takeaways:
1. Focus on what’s important, the 80/20 rule applies in sales
Sales is an impossible job to do perfectly. There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ slide deck or a ‘perfectly delivered’ presentation. Just start attacking a problem one piece at a time. Then, read an article or blog about it to get more insight. Then tackle a few more pieces. Often times you can get 80% of the task done faster than you think.
Know when something is good enough to get the job done. Know what needs to be great. Good is the enemy of great, but a lot of things don’t have to be great, they have to be fast, cheap, or done – so know what to 80/20.
2. Character makes a great sales leader
Be the first to take responsibility when things go wrong. People often attribute their success to themselves and blame their failures on others. Great sales leaders are strong enough to shoulder responsibility when things go wrong and take the necessary steps to make it right.
If you’re doing well, acknowledge the help you’ve received from other people. No one ever accomplishes greatness alone, it’s a team sport. So be humble and thankful for your success.
3. People underestimate the importance of ‘grit’ in sales success
One of the incorrect assumptions people make is that the most successful salespeople on a team will be charismatic, extremely likeable and attractive – I call them ‘Dazzling Sales Reps’. Actually, the sales reps who perform best on modern sales teams are the ones who are the most organised, most efficient, hardest working, and who are able to leverage technology. I call them the ‘Gritty Reps’.
All of these characteristics amplify the results a salesperson is able to make. Being ‘Dazzling’ doesn’t hurt, but it only gives you a slight edge. A ‘Gritty Rep’ gets ahead by doing more prospecting, leveraging technology, and working more hours – all of which ultimately lead to more sales. Don’t feel bad if you’re ‘Dazzling’, it just means you have to be ‘Gritty’ too!
There are a million challenges and obstacles to overcome in sales and you need the grit to pound your way through them. When you run into a problem, wrap your head around it and build a strategy of attack. Then get started. People often avoid doing the hard things, but you have to do them if you want to get ahead in sales.
4. Now might be a great time NOT to have work-life balance
People talk about the importance of work-life balance, and they’re right. However, I don’t think work-life balance means you’re always in balance – there are times in your life where you’re probably better off being a workhorse, and other times where you’ll want to be on the beach.
Don’t feel like you’re a workaholic if you have a few years where you really focus on work. Sometimes being out of balance in the short-term will optimise your life in the long-term.
Maybe you want to really bust your butt when you’re 27, but when you’re 32 and have a kid, you want to decelerate for a few years. Then you can pick it up again for a few years when you have fewer responsibilities at home. Those years where you work harder and get ahead are an investment in your future.
5. Truly understand your prospect – the secret is listening
The best sales advice I ever received was from my first Sales Manager at Google, Mark Flessel. He told me to focus on understanding my prospect’s and customer’s businesses – to understand what drives them, what KPI’s are important to them and what their goals are. Then I could map my solution to what makes them successful.
I find time and time again that taking the time to understand the drivers of my customer’s business allows me to differentiate my solution over my competitors. Listen closely and you’ll learn what’s most important to them and what they’re afraid of. That allows you to bring the most relevant parts of your solution into the conversation, and leave the irrelevant parts aside. Ultimately, sales is about creating value – you educate people on how your product or service can help them by understanding their problem.
It’s also important to know and focus on your ideal client profile. You should understand who is using your product the most, who is giving you the most referrals and which customers churn the most.
Use current customer data, such as demographics and usage stats, to create a profile of hobbies, interests, influencers and other attributes to develop a direct marketing message. These are your “High Value” customers – they’re the easiest to upsell, have the best retention rate and make up the majority of your revenue. They have the fastest sales cycles and are the most profitable.
6. B2B Sales professionals are not individual contributors
B2B Sales is often thought about as an individual contributor role. Actually, it’s a team role which involves indirectly managing many parts of your own organisation, as well as using your influence to indirectly manage things at other organisations.
Great salespeople have the ability to play quarterback on a deal for lots of moving parts of an organisation. You need to work closely with people from Legal to Product Management, up and down your chain of command, with sales engineers, different stakeholders and customers.
7. As you move into sales leadership roles, hiring and recruiting are the most important things
When recruiting sales reps for your team, you should look for obvious things, like intelligence, role related knowledge, and leadership experience. But less obvious is to look for reps who have grit, creativity, and empathy. They should understand your customer’s businesses and business problems. A great rep truly understands the prospects and their individual problems and goals and communicates solutions that enable them to overcome their problems and meet their goals.
I remember the HR executives from Google saying ‘We get our best employees through referrals from current employees.’ You should encourage all employees at your company to bring the recruiting team great leads. This means you need to have employees sit down with friends of friends who come highly recommended. Then get a warm intro for the hiring manager. This keeps costs down and quality high and has been a key element of our recruiting strategy at Badger.
8. Motivating a sales team is not just about showing them the money
I’ve been a sales rep, managed sales reps, been a VP of Sales, and now I run a company that makes a product specifically to help field sales reps be more successful. Many sales managers make a mistake in assuming sales reps are coin operated, and that therefore the most important parts of motivating a sales team are the compensation plan’s size and structure. Although those are important, salespeople are much more complex, and there are things you can do to motivate them on a deeper and more sustainable level.
First, when you’re leading a sales team it’s important that they understand the big picture. A sales rep should be able to connect the dollar they earn to the company’s ability to produce a better version of the product or service they’re selling. If they understand this, it can be more motivating than just the cash in their pocket alone. Show people that they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
Second, to motivate your team, they need to know you care about their career and future. You need to give them the information, training, and knowledge they need to be successful. A sales leader should invest in his or her team. Help them develop and be more successful through regular training, feedback, and one on one meetings.
9. Make others successful
One of the key lessons in my career is that although I’m a businessperson; I behave like a coach, teacher, and mentor. I’ve always focused on making the people around me successful, and doing my best to help them along their path in life. They, in turn, have made me successful. Even when it doesn’t appear that it would help at all – and sometimes it doesn’t – I always help them out and give feedback and advice. More often than not this helps me and my organisation perform at our best.
A good example of this was the first person I was a mentor to at Google, Kyle Williams. It was his first job out of college, and he was assigned to be my inside sales person – meaning his role was to find leads and generate interest in my sales territory. I did my best to teach him everything I knew and make him as successful as possible at his first job. It turned out he was the top performing inside sales person at Google that year.
Coincidentally, I was Google Enterprise’s top performing salesperson that year. He’s gone on to have a fantastic career, which I can hardly take any credit for, but I’m sure some of his great performance that year was attributable to what I taught him. Success is a team sport and by being a great teacher and mentor, your team is far more likely to succeed.