There are certain sales techniques that have been tried, tested, and cemented over the decades, showing no sign of losing their credibility. Then there is the specific skill set that has evolved over the past two years in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which dramatically transformed the global sales landscape as we once knew it.
With a recent survey estimating that only 43% of sales reps plan to return to the office after the pandemic, it is more important than ever for sales teams to receive up-to-date training and development coaching – particularly given the challenges faced by salespeople attempting to create a personalised experience within a virtual space.
Here, we look at seven of the most critical skills that every sales manager should instil in their team, ensuring high performance and impressive returns across both in-person and virtual platforms.
The magnificent 7 of sales
1. To identify and disqualify the ‘tyre kickers’
At the most basic level, the most important elements that any sales team has are time and energy. The first lesson in Sales 101 should be how not to waste these precious entities on unlikely leads, also known as ‘tyre kickers’.
There are a number of tell-tale signs that will help you to identify tire kickers.
Firstly, if they frequently question the cost of your product, budget is probably an issue, and they are unlikely to follow through with a purchase. Secondly, if they maintain regular communication with you but show no signs of committing, it would appear you have a time-waster on your hands.
Then comes the big question – can your product offer a fitting solution to their problem? Or more importantly, do they even have a problem that needs fixing in the first place?
This is vital information to establish straight off the bat to eliminate the tyre kickers, allowing you to move on to more promising prospects at the earliest point in the exchange.
2. To create F–ing lists!
Start the day off with a list, and it’s likely to be a profitable one!
But what are F–ing lists?
- What is First on your list?
- What is Frequently popping up on your list?
- What tasks on your list deserve your Focus?
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” – U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, 1954.
Lists are great. But knowing what task to tackle first and what task to tackle next is important for any sales team. President Eisenhower created the Urgent vs Important list methodology:
- Urgent & Important: Do it.
- Not Urgent & Important: Schedule it.
- Urgent & Not Important: Delegate it.
- Not Urgent & Not Important: Delete it.
It is important to empower your sales team with a framework for decision-making that will allow them to optimise their time, otherwise, you risk having a team of well-intentioned ‘busy fools’.
Encourage your sales team to constantly maintain lists of the tasks they have at hand and quadrant them as Urgent vs Important. It will allow them to maintain focus on what’s important, weed out unnecessary jobs, and be more productive with their time.
3. To network, network, network!
Networking is part and parcel of building your profile as an effective salesperson. When you build your network, you are selling yourself as an important contact, while establishing yourself as a recognisable player in your field.
Once this network has been built, keep adding to it and engage with it constantly to stay on the pulse of activity with your industry.
While the remote and hybrid work models make networking significantly more difficult, you will benefit from using the many digital platforms at your disposal (LinkedIn, Teams, Zoom, and more) to ensure that you maintain contact with your network, and keep it live.
4. To communicate effectively through knowledgeable questioning
Being an effective communicator is one of the key qualities of a great salesperson. In this context, communication refers to the ability to strategically listen, ask the right questions, and use conversation to persuade.
As sales reps, your team’s questions need to be probing, but in a subtle way. And they need to have their questions ready to pull it off. Rather than opting for the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ questions, focus on the ‘how’;
- How did your problem come about?
- How do you see our product solving your problem?
- How would this fit within your budget for the next quarter?
- How would a successful launch look to your business?
Through our Sales Discovery programme, NxtGEN Executive Presence enables sales teams to learn what to listen for in customer conversations, while revealing how to ask questions designed to gather the needs and decision criteria of the customer. Teams are also taught how to utilise a process for responding to objections and tough questions, with real practical implementation of responding effectively.
5. To educate themselves
To be a great salesperson is a privileged position that comes with a lot of responsibility. You have to be a constant professional, a brand ambassador and a veteran of your craft.
You have to stay up to date. You have to educate yourself continuously in order to understand yourself, your client and your marketplace.
Knowledge is power.
In fact, those in a corporate sales environment could take valuable inspiration from fashion house Saint Laurent. Discussing how the luxury company thrived against the odds during the pandemic, as it heads towards the end of 2021 with a projected sales figure of over €2 billion, CEO Francesca Bellettini revealed how her customer insights served as the catalyst for such phenomenal growth.
Aware of the rewards that come with appealing to a local customer base, Bellettini chose to invest time and money into training the company’s sales staff to continue to win local custom. “A great sales force can make a difference,” she said.
“This is why we invested a lot in training. Even when stores were closed, we did a lot of e-learning about how to sell the different product categories together. I am very proud because our sales associates feel their efforts can make a difference. We work a lot on conversion.”
Bellettini’s example proves that knowledge is power, particularly when it comes to your customers.
Empowering your team to continuously educate themselves will play a vital role in their development into great salespeople. They must strive to stay up to date with their marketplace, customer base, and indeed, their own practices.
6. To find their mentor
Learning from the best is a wise tactic to adopt in every profession. With that, it is crucial to find experienced mentors to learn from and emulate. A mentor will open your mind to strategies and prospects in ways you may never even have considered.
A mentor has been there and done that, meaning they can take you through the pitfalls to be aware of and the situations to avoid. As a veteran, a mentor is also likely to hold the key to a goldmine of relevant contacts, who you can network with and in turn, learn from.
On the other hand, choosing a mentor from a different discipline can offer you new perspectives, encouraging you to be creative and think outside of the box. There is no one way to choose the right mentor.
Who are the top performers in their field?
To twist the Pareto ratio, generally speaking:
- 80% of salespeople in an organisation are just barely generating enough sales
- 15% are contributing well
- 5% are the shining stars, contributing exceptionally well
What makes the 5% different?
The reason why they stand out is they have educated themselves. They found mentors to learn from. They work effectively every day through their F-ing lists. They constantly keep their network engaged.
Find the 5%; find your mentor and you’re well underway to joining them.
7. Know your market and you will know who your leads are
Establishing new sales leads requires research and a predetermined targeting strategy, but more importantly, it takes a savvy eye to pick the rising stars out of a crowded marketplace.
To distinguish between these high earners and their less-effective counterparts, it is good practice for sales managers to reference Boston Consulting Group’s Growth Share Matrix during their training.
This adapted version of the Boston Matrix is based on the premise that increased returns can be made by dividing a business’s existing and future client base into four categories:
- The screaming children;
- The dead dogs;
- The rising stars; and
- The cash cows.
The screaming children are customers that regularly zap your time and energy, despite displaying unimpressive profitability – they should be avoided at all costs. The dead dogs are the clients or accounts that remain continuously stagnant, not going anywhere but not taking up too much of your time either.
Cash cows will usually be long-term, predictable clients that offer reliable revenue with the added plus of zero conflict. The stars are customers that showcase serious future potential. These are the customers you need to identify and win over to grow into the future. A great salesperson will have the ability to recognise these customers and get them over the line.
While we have dubbed these 7 skills as the ‘Magnificent 7 of Sales’, there are, of course, many more skills that we need to instil in our sales team to get the very best from them every day.
If you are in search of a thorough, customised training experience to help you take your sales team to the next level in terms of their skills and ability, contact NxtGEN today to find out more about our tailored Sales Discovery programme.