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Playbook

Critical Skills for Sales Success

November 28, 2014

I’m frequently asked, “What are the key skills a sales professional must have to succeed in today’s competitive market?” The first thing training professionals need to understand if they want to help their sales professionals acquire the skills for success is to recognize that a salesperson is a professional, just as physicians, attorneys, and commercial pilots are professionals.

Three critical components work together to form a solid foundation for professional skills development that results in exceptional performance for all professionals: systems, skills, and disciplines. Each is defined as follows:

  • System: A set process or organized procedure that leads to a predictable result
  • Skills: The individual’s knowledge and ability to execute the system
  • Discipline: The mind-set of a professional; how he thinks. (This is probably the most critical component.) Discipline is about the quality of execution and it includes the individual’s emotional or mental stamina, which is required to achieve the highest standards of performance.

In short, these three areas represent knowing what to do, how to do it, and having the emotional strength to actually carry it out at a quality level.

That being said, the five most important skills required to achieve exceptional results today involve the ability to:

  1. Research and prepare: Before your sales professionals engage with a new client or a new opportunity “they must be prepared not to be prepared.” They should be so prepared that they are able to be relaxed, open minded, and ready to travel any path their conversation with a client may take them. Even highly experienced sales professionals don’t just “wing it.” They make sure they understand their client’s industry and business, and the job responsibilities of the individuals they will be working with before they arrive for a sales call. They also recognize the characteristics of a high-quality opportunity and understand they need to be ready to guide their client to a quality business decision.The exceptional salesperson does his homework to understand the very real and very complex problems clients face. He is prepared to assist them in sorting through all the available alternatives to create a solution that the client would not have been able to come up with on his own.
  2. Diagnose: The amateur salesperson “prepares to present,” but the successful professional prepares to “diagnose.” Quality diagnosis is the ability to guide the client through a conversation in a manner that brings awareness, clarity, and ownership to the client’s problem or missed opportunity.Within the client’s organization, the problem to be addressed may materialize in a number of places. Each individual impacted by the solution to the problem is responsible for a different function within the organization and each will have a different perspective on the problem, different data to contribute, and different motivations to change or do nothing. Accordingly, while the diagnostic conversation has a generic framework, no two are the same. Your salespeople will need to craft a unique conversation with each individual.The true professional creates and follows a diagnostic map and acquires the raw information needed to make an accurate diagnosis and design an efficient solution. He will ultimately understand how the absence of his solution might affect the client’s individual and organizational performance. This process allows the salesperson to become a true business advisor.
  3. Dollarize: The salesperson must help the client quantify the financial impact of the situation. The client will likely need assistance in understanding how much it will cost his company if he doesn’t take advantage of your product or service. Top professionals should be prepared for three possible outcomes:
    —The financial impact is large enough to justify the investment required, and the salesperson moves forward and does business.
    —The financial impact of the problem to be solved is not as great as other issues the client is facing. In this case the salesperson discusses when it will move to the top of their priority list.
    —The financial impact is not enough to justify the solution. Given this situation, the salesperson may have to scale back the proposed solution to match the financial impact, or it may be more lucrative to find a greater opportunity elsewhere. He is always willing to walk away from poor quality business.
  4. Collaborate: This is the ability to collaborate with the client to “codesign” a solution in a manner that provides the client with pride of authorship and the confidence to invest. This process began with a thorough diagnosis and expanded with input from the salesperson’s extensive knowledge of the industry. It is possible that the sales professional has more experience dealing with these problems than the client does. Collaborating to solve the client’s problem through open and honest communication creates trust. The professional salesperson knows if his solution is to be accepted, the client must thoroughly understand the problem to be solved, take ownership, and champion the change for successful implementation.
  5. Get your mind right. You can help your sales team make great leaps in sales performance and raise their results from average to good or good to spectacular by simply changing the way they think. What top professionals have taught us is that the foundation of their mind-set is first and foremost an intense focus on bringing value to their clients. They believe and behave as if their success is an automatic by-product of their clients’ success.

Successful sales professionals are guided by the credo of another group of professionals—the physician’s Hippocratic Oath: “First do no harm.” They know that their success is based on their ability to minister to the needs of their clients. They approach their clients thinking, “How can I help them succeed?” rather than “What can I sell them?” They see their job as a process done “with” the client rather than “to” the client and they know how to succeed: together.

 

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About The Author

Jeff Thull is president and CEO of Prime Resource Group and is a specialist in sales and marketing strategies for companies involved in complex sales. He is the author of the best-selling books Mastering the Complex Sale—How to Compete and Win When the Stakes Are High, and The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale. A chapter of his most recent book, Exceptional Selling: How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sale, can be downloaded at www.primeresource.com

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