Consistency – conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy, or fairness.
I’ve put consistency as the last ingredient on the list because it tends to be the final piece that makes all of the rest work together very well. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has had sustained success in anything they do including sales without being consistent in their approach and work ethic.
There are tens of thousands of examples of short term wins by sales reps or maybe even hitting or exceeding their quota in a given year but it is the consistent professional who time after time continues to chop away and stay in the ring long enough to get to the next round. A Rocky metaphor is apropos here. There are always going to be bad months or quarters but when you continue to hone your skills, build up your book of business, and bring the right attitude to your work then you will only continue to succeed.
It is the sales professional who thinks they have figured it out, has a few big whales padding their pipeline, or is arrogant about their current place on the team that ends up getting complacent and ultimately frustrated when others pass them. These are the folks that tend to churn out of organizations at around the 9-15 month mark when their “ramp” is over and they’ve been found out by the rest of the team.
Consistency allows you to do a few things:
Build Repeatable Systems
Having systems that you can go back to over and over again can only be useful when you are consistent in the way you work both internally and with potential clients. If you continually do a lot of the same things and build repeatable processes behind those then that can ultimately help you carve out some of that wasted time mentioned above. Repeatable systems might be crafting similar email templates that you can customize on the fly, document client information the exact same way (I used OneNote and the Description section in my specific Opportunity), or can ask similar/specific questions in client interactions. This helps make sure you are working toward the partnership in the right way versus missing key information from one call to the next. Building these types of consistent systems in place can do wonders for your productivity and partnership discussions
Create Sound Habits
When you are organized in your efforts and understand how your week generally flows it helps you put up barriers to corner your time and not let the “time robbers” get in the way of it. When you focus like this great habits start to take form like proper time for “pipeline hygiene”, prospecting time, administrative work, and ultimately more time to spend in front of potential clients working through great partnerships. Habits take time to build but if you put the right systems in place and then focus on how to tackle those and what new habits can help achieve better results like task lists, blocking time, batching emails, etc it all starts to come together nicely.
Keep Ahead of the Game
As I said earlier, you are going to have bad months and quarters (sometimes just bad weeks if you are lucky) but they are inevitable. If you don’t get complacent in your efforts and strive to out-pace projections then this can help set you up for success down the road and not get behind. If you have a few good months and try to coast through the rest of the year you are hurting yourself because since nobody can see the future you can’t predict if some of the partnerships you thought were coming in will actually come to fruition. Get ahead and stay ahead and this can be beneficial in more ways than one.
Consistency tends to get thrown around a lot like a thing that everyone wants to get better at. I believe that building systems to narrow your focus on all the different things you come across in a given week needs to be prioritized in order to be consistent. When this takes form, you begin to week out a lot of the wasted time and can spend it on the right things.
Then it’s rinse and repeat. It’s not sexy but it’s effective. It generally is the people that are the least flashy and stay head down on their goal that tend to win in the long run. They know that staying consistent will generally beat out almost every other person in the long run when others get tired, complacent, unmotivated, or in a rut.
Consistency is a skill that can be learned and it just means to suck it up sometimes despite many barriers. Ultimately, once those minor barriers get worked out you have achieved a lot more than you thought you could and are that farther ahead.
If you want to succeed in almost anything and you have to have others involved then having and gaining respect throughout the process should be a high-value focus item for anyone. In life, respect is so critical and as you get into a sales role when you are working directly with your peers and potential clients, it becomes extremely critical.
Respect – a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
Looking inside of an organization, I have found that respect has had a profound impact on being able to get things accomplished and arrive at a better place as a collective organization. When you are respected by others you are able to have your thoughts and ideas echoed and cheered for which might have a greater impact on helping them get adopted. Remember, this doesn’t always mean every idea will be great or accepted but it gives you more slack to be able to offer up those ideas and speak through them. I’ve often found that the most respected individuals also had the loudest voice because they spoke their mind, professional of course, and came at whatever situation it was with passion and exuberance. Others see this and get on board with the mission because they trust and respect you are also looking out for their best interest as well. As a sales professional, you are on the front lines with potential clients and hearing the good and bad about the company, industry, landscape of the market, etc and your voice has to be heard. However, if you haven’t earned the respect of your peers then it is going to be challenging to have your spot to share and have your ideas accepted.
How do you gain respect as a new sales team member:
Respect others and be graceful and polite in your approach
Speak up and share ideas – it still may take time to gain respect but often the new people have a fresh perspective on the issues they see so others are willing to listen. When you have your chance, articulate what you are seeing, be thoughtful in your approach, and try to present a solution along with the problem. Doing this early on will start to plant that seed of respect
Offer help – the easiest way to gain respect is to show you care. Help other peers when you see them struggle, listen in on calls and be interested in how others perform their job, ask other departments to shadow them to learn about their roles to make the relationship better, etc.
These are just a few ideas but it is really simple. Come in with eagerness to learn and share and that starts to rub off on people. If you show you are a team player from day one then you gain instant street cred for being approachable and genuine in your dealings with your peers. If you act as you know it all and come in with all the answers, that won’t go over as well. Be mindful of the situation and the groundwork others have laid and try to build upon it and not tear it down.
I’ve mentioned other ways that respect starts to be gained in a client relationship. Honesty, Candidness, Punctuality, Humility, and so on. There is no secret answer here. It’s that you just want to be a good human being with good intentions and communicate in a way that helps your potential client get further ahead.
Being polite goes a long way. Simple things like:
Do you use their correct name or ask them the name they prefer (Mike vs Michael)
Do you interrupt or them off often
Do you regularly show up late for meetings
Do you avoid answering their questions and change course
Do you take forever to follow up on emails
These are a few examples but it’s basic etiquette. I boil it down to how you might act on a first date. You’re going to be your best self (i hope). Do that every time when working with a potential client. The more you do it the more it becomes a habit.
Remember, this should be an easy one to remember but it’s hard sometimes and that’s why I think these characteristics are so important to work on and improve. Respect is earned and by proving that you are an honest, trustworthy individual who is looking out for the potential clients best interest then you have the chance to build respect early on. When you gain respect, it opens up a new set of doors with the relationship.
More information gets shared, Your calls get answered or returned quickly. You are the first to know of any changes in timeline or scope. It makes it easier.
It doesn’t mean you will earn every partnership, far from it, as there are other factors at play. However, wouldn’t it be nice to know if you didn’t earn the partnership and why very early after the decision versus emailing and calling a bunch to finally get a bland answer.
Focus on building the relationship early and often and the level of respect you receive from your potential clients will be in line with others in your organization even family and friends. That’s when sales get really fun when you can have a mutually beneficial relationship with a potential client and cut out all the noise that sometimes gets in the way.
Punctuality – the fact or quality of being on time
There are so many different paths to success that really knowing the perfect combination is going to be hard to pinpoint. The attributes I’ve laid out so far are what I have observed and experienced myself that are cornerstones to top-performing sales professionals. Punctuality is probably one that can be argued either way but I’ll share why I think it is paramount to any successful person, sales, or otherwise.
There is a great saying that goes, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” I think it fits well into this example.
When you are on time it generally means that you are prepared and organized. If you are prepared and organized then one can assume that you are good at the work you do, thorough, and always follow-up through on expectations.
Those go a long way when serving your potential clients. They recognize the little things in your interactions with them. Politeness and punctuality are generally two of the most glaring. I’ll assume everyone knows how to be polite so we won’t focus on that here. Remember, selling is as much about the product fit as it is about a trusting relationship. You are an extension of the company you sell for and therefore if you are professional, polite, and punctual in all of your interactions with the potential client then they are going to assume that’s how the organization is run as well and they’d be a great long term partner to have.
The flip side, which I was reminded of just last week, is not where you want to be. I was on a first discovery call with a potential client and we had built rapport throughout and the conversation was fluid so when they brought up that they had been exploring some other products I made sure I pried in a bit more and here’s what came out.
Brian: That’s great you all are doing some exploration to see what’s out there, who have you looked at so far?
Potential client: Just one other one at this point…like Gov something..or you know I can’t remember their name exactly
Brian: (in jest) I guess they didn’t make a great impression then, huh?
Potential client: Oh you don’t know the half of it. We called and had a conversation and scheduled a demo of their product and then when the time came for it the sales rep didn’t show up. They didn’t send a message or anything. So we called in later to find out what happens and not only did they not have a good excuse they weren’t even remorseful for missing the call in the first place. Let’s just say they didn’t leave a good impression on us.
Going back to the dating analogy from a prior post, if you were to stand up a date and then not even feel bad about it when they called you do you think that relationship will progress anywhere? It’s disrespectful to the other person and shows that you are thinking about yourself more than them.
Besides scheduled meetings, being prompt with proposals, emails, etc are also very important. I don’t believe you have to reply the minute a message comes in but I like to at least get back to someone within a half of day or at worst by end of day. If the message comes in during the afternoon then certainly first thing the next morning. If you are needing to gain additional information internally prior to responding at least take a minute to acknowledge their email and tell them that you are on it and will return the message soon (or put a more defined time on it). This goes for proposals or other important documents. When you agree on a time then hold yourself accountable to that time (or earlier). It amazes me how simple this notion is but yet it can be missed without properly organizing your efforts.
I’ve written a lot about outward-facing activities when working with potential clients as it relates to these attributes but it should be noted that many of these, including punctuality, is extremely important when working internally with other teams. Showing up to meetings on time, being respectful of getting back to emails that ask for your guidance/insight, and completing tasks when your voice is needed are all things that show you care about the greater mission and are helping the other members of your team succeed.
Sales can seem like an individual sport but it generally takes a village to make you successful. Someone had to build the product, someone had to organize sales materials, someone had to define the ideal client that fits the product, someone had to sell and implement other partners before you so you had great references. Unless you have done this all by yourself, you need others around you to support your efforts and therefore it is important to show up for these types of activities or discussions even though it may not be your top priority. The company needs to hear your feedback in order to improve and it’s an opportunity for you to share your knowledge and help everyone get to the next level.
Remember, A rising tide lifts all boats. Start by being on time.
Persistence: firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.
I have to believe that persistence might be one of the attributes of top sales performers that won’t be questioned on this list. It’s real simple. You must have the ability to push conversations and stay on top of people to be successful because when working with humans there are a lot of commonalities that take place no matter which type of potential clients you are working with.
I could mention a ton fo them but will settle on a few of the major ones:
When They Say “No” Right Away:
This one took me a little while longer to figure out but when you understand the human psyche it actually makes perfect sense. People have been sold to in every which way throughout their lives so unless they are 100% actively searching for exactly what you say you offer then sometimes the early “no” or “not interested” is a reflex reaction that they don’t want to be bothered right now for a numerous amount of reasons you may not know about. This is where having persistence coupled with the fact that you believe you can really help the client based on the information you have can come in handy.
I had this situation come up on many occasions and one, in particular, was back in 2015 when I received a message back from an email that the person was not interested in what I was offering. Fair enough but I had some notes from conversations with this company in the past and really felt that we could help them make a difference with their business. I wrote a very professionally persistent email back explaining why a meeting for 30-minutes would be well worth his time and explained what I thought we could discuss. Long story short, he replied back and took the meeting and two months later they came in as a partner of ours. It was a great fit for their needs at the time and was a great partner and “logo” for our growing company. It turned out to be a win-win all around.
When They Say “Call Me Back In 6 Months”:
This type of conversation happens all the time and is very understandable if you are in the shoes of the potential client. This particular problem you solve is not a top priority at this time and they tell you to contact them back in 6 months or so. Happens a lot, right? Partly, this comes down to good documentation and organization of your accounts but it also mixes nice with a little persistence. Sure, you can wait 6 months and nobody would fault you for it. In fact, you’d be doing better than most sales reps who never call them back at all. However, if you know this should be a higher priority for them based on knowing their business then make a point to reach out 2-3 times over the next 6 months. Not to “check-in” but add them tremendous value. This could be an invite to a webinar that’d fit well for their business case, asking if they are attending a conference in their area, or anything similar to this. It shouldn’t resemble anything other than purely caring for them to improve and trying to help how you can. The reason this approach is helpful is most likely even though the problem you solve is not a high priority it still may be talked about internally and you should be seen as an advisor in their eyes, which makes it fitting on why you would be sending over additional information.
The Potential Client “Ghosts” You:
This should never happen if you have built a trusting relationship early on centered around respect and candor. However, in the case this does happen, use patience to first assess the situation and come up with the various scenarios as to why you haven’t heard from them. After that, persistence tempered by patience will be the winning formula.
You don’t need to “check-in” regularly
You don’t need to say “Hope you’re okay, haven’t heard from you”
You don’t need to tell them you’ve left several emails/voicemails and are following up.
They received them. They aren’t returning them for several reasons:
There is no new news
The timeline has been pushed back
They are swamped with other pressing matters at the moment
They are having some personal life challenges
And so on…
I tend to lean toward the side of logic in most cases and it’s probably that they are really busy with their actual day job that they get paid to perform at or they have had some challenging personal life things come up. Either way, if you come off as a pest from too many follow-ups you will seem desperate and that will lower your stock value. Continue to provide value in the ways we mentioned above but instead of every other month maybe it’s every couple of weeks especially given the timeline you might be aware of from past discussions. Keep them conversational and continue to back up the points you’ve agreed upon are important for them. Remember, if someone wants to buy something they will. If they don’t, they won’t. The need to remind them you’re there doesn’t help your case at all and can only put you in a worse position once you do get back in touch with them.
There are so many facets to persistence in personal and professional life and I firmly believe that continuing to push through when the times feel tough because you believe in what you are doing will end up paying huge dividends in the future by strengthening your relationships and adding new partners to the mix that didn’t seem possible before.
humility: a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.
There is no question that humility has to be one of the characteristics of the best sales professionals. Additionally, one of the sub-categories that are almost certainly in line with people who are humble is confidence. There are certain people that may not be confident in themselves and still be humble, but in sales I’ve found that the ones who are successful in their role often times have a nice balance of humility and confidence.
Confidence is such a big key to being successful and setting your mindset on a positive track helps you get there much quicker. When you are confident in your ability and realize that you will continue to exceed expectations then it is much easier to be humble. The reason I say this is that if you look at someone who exudes confidence then most of the time (not always) they don’t need to be told “great job” or “you’re the best” or anything like that. They act like they’ve been there before. They generally are the ones who are consistent and expect those results.
Similar to this situation, look at how the top sales professionals act when they bring in new partners. I am not saying they don’t get excited or accept the praise, I am saying that they are much more humble because they realize the hard work it took to get there and they don’t take it for granted. They don’t get a big head about it and gloat because it’s not about an “I’m better than you” mentality. It’s that they are continuing to compete against themselves and try to get better at their craft. They are confident in their abilities but humble in their approach and that balance continues to be a winning formula.
On that note, let’s make sure we don’t forget the humility needed when working with potential clients. I’ve really been speaking about internal-facing interactions but I think that being humble during client interactions might be more important, actually, they have to be.
The potential clients you are working with are fairly savvy these days. They’ve used a lot of products and services and have a good tell that almost none of them are perfect. Neither is your product. We need to look at ways of communicating with the client that exude our humbleness while articulating what we can help them with and what we can’t. If we are saying we can do everything then that’s not only dishonest but also comes off as arrogant.
We’re the #1 ____ , We’re the Top ____, We are the industry leader in ____
All of this type of fluff and the stories around it don’t make us sound like we are trying to help the client. They are self-serving and arrogant and if you’ve ever tried to buy something and heard this touted you’d know what I mean.
Let’s take the approach that “we may” be able to help the potential client as we continue to look behind the curtain and find out what they truly need. I think it’s wise to be confirming that “we can help you here” but “may not be able to exactly help there” and walk them through a potential future-state where they can envision what is the most important and what isn’t.
A piece of this is also the real possibility that you may not be a good fit and have to tell the potential client that. There is a mix of candor in that but I believe you have to truly be humble to get to this level of comfort passing up on what might be a great “logo” to work with and focus on the fact that the partnership may not be the best fit, for a number of reasons.
A lot of this continually comes back to one tried and true principle of sales.
Are you trying to help the potential client or are you trying to help yourself?
If it’s the former, you win every time, even if you don’t win the partnership.
If it’s the latter, you might win sometimes or maybe more than sometimes but in the long run, you will end up losing because your reputation will be stained and your network of people that you could have leveraged for referrals and otherwise will be shrinking.
Start with humility and try to go into each potential client call with that same air of humbleness while still maintaining your confidence and I’m sure that your calls will be much more pleasant, more trust will be formed, and you’ll have a better chance of holding your head high, win or lose.
If you seek out the opinions and perceptions of others about who you are you will generally find a lot of consistency in those responses. If you can look at that objectively and take it for face value then it can be a true eye-opener to confirm the things you already knew about yourself or things that weren’t so obvious and you might want to consider working on to improve.
To that end, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly how I changed over the past handful of years but I knew I changed a lot especially in how I was speaking to all various types of people. I had one friend recently say that I had a great balance of “compassion and confrontation” which came off as very genuine and honest and they knew that I was trying to help.
That’s where I fell on Candor as a trait I believe has made me successful in sales and have seen this in many of the folks I have been lucky enough to be around in sales roles and otherwise.
Candor – the quality of being open and honest in expression; frankness.
I think it’s a 2-part equation to get there, though.
Growing up I remember hearing something on a TV show, and can’t recall the name of the person now, but I remember them saying that they don’t tell any lies at all and are completely truthful in most situations. When pressed, they added “I never have to remember my lies” and that clicked for me. I was sold. I’ve been that way ever since.
Am I going to sit here and say I haven’t lied, of course not, I certainly have at times but I’m not speaking about a “white lie” that we all tell to save a friend from embarrassment or our kids from the joys of Santa Claus. I am speaking about your communication of facts and information to the other people you are around, both personally and professionally. What has always been interesting to me is that we get upset when others deceive us or lie to us but then we can turn around and do the same exact t thing on a call to a potential client.
Deceiving a potential client to “get the sale” always comes back to bite you in the end. That could be if you are setting up an early discovery call, product demo, or bringing in the business, deceiving at all levels is a bad practice. Listen, we all know there are a lot of bad actors out there and one of the reasons why sales get such a bad rap. Don’t let that be you.
Answer questions about what your product can do completely honestly and be proud that you were able to provide the client with the correct information to make the informed decision. More times than not, that questions about features they need may end up not even being that important and they’ll appreciate your honesty in sharing the correct information. But if they needed that feature and you blatantly lied then that will be found out during implementation or early use of the product.
Remember, whether you believe it or not, most people don’t think you have the perfect product because they’ve been scorned in the past so don’t front and act like its the greatest thing in the world. It’s good to have a few warts and it’s okay to share those.
And that is why this is a two-part equation. Honesty is great but when used with Directness, it becomes much better.
Being direct has always been a skill that I’ve struggled with until much recently. I grew up a shy, unconfident, and an out of place kid and always had a hard time expressing myself to others. Additionally, when having conversations that were highly important I tended to succumb to the pressure of it all and give in. I never pressed the situation, I never came back and asked the really tough question, I crumbled.
My confidence grew slightly as I got on my own as an adult but I really don’t think the directness piece became a strength until just the last few years. I had the great fortune of being around a couple of key people that would shape the way I looked at interactions with others and how to communicate much more effectively. One of the things I learned from them is how to take my honest approach to sales, coupled with the relationships I was building, and be confident that I could make the room awkward and be okay with it.
That’s at least how I framed it. Being okay with the awkward silence or look by asking a very direct but needed question. Boy was this a tough task. But it was so needed and it was refreshing the more times I’d do it. Not thinking this would be the case, but people appreciated that I was asking the difficult questions and wanted to uncover all the issues even if they were difficult to talk about. The by-product of it was that I was also more respected when I left the room versus when I came in. My stock would go up in their eyes and merely because I was intentional about solving a problem, doing it in an honorable way, and doing it together.
For that to happen, you must inject honesty and directness into each and every one of your conversations or said more simply Candor.
The most important takeaway I want to share is that this might be the most difficult of all the attributes needed to be successful in working with potential clients. It generally is the most difficult because you may be good at one side of the equation versus the other. It doesn’t work so well that way.
As I shared above, honesty without candor is good in a way because you are giving truthful answers but if you can’t rephrase the question, pose additional prying questions, ask the importance of it all and do it in a way that comes of genuine, it can fall flat. If you take the opposite and just have directness without the honesty, then you may just come off like a complete a**hole. You haven’t shown that you are honest and trustworthy so therefore you don’t have the long leash to pry and prod deeper.
I’m not sure where I’d be without candor. It matches my personality so well but I didn’t realize I had it in me until surrounding myself with people who perfected it and helped me pull it out. That is why it is so important to listen to “top performers” on calls if you can. You are not so much trying to dissect what they say but how they say it and what the reaction is from the person on the other end. I can almost guarantee, if they are one of the top sales professionals, they have a tremendous amount of candor and you can too if you put in some time to focus on the simple equation.
When I think of sales and interacting with people, I can’t think of a word that describes having a “client-centric” mindset more than empathy. This word embodies a mix of both emotional intelligence, social awareness, and the care factor that are all necessary to work with potential clients.
To make sure we are set on the definitions
Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Sympathy – feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
Sometimes these get confused so I wanted to make it crystal clear. You certainly need to be sympathetic in certain situations that call for it but empathy is more of the “state of mind” that you can relate to what people are going through and put yourself in their shoes.
Here’s an example of a situation I found myself in:
I was speaking with a potential client and we were “late-stage” with the partnership discussions and we had a follow-up call scheduled to progress this to the final steps and get started. On that call, my “champion” shared that their boss’s spouse was gravely ill and this project was on hold for a little while longer until they could get back into the office and focus on this.
I could’ve asked questions like:
Do you have any expected timeline?
What else can I do to help move the project forward
Should I follow-up in a couple of weeks to continue discussions?
All of these would have been bad ideas because it doesn’t put the client first. Sometimes there is NO timeline. Sometimes the waters are muddy and hard to navigate through. That’s not just sales, it’s life.
The empathetic approach is to recognize that there are bigger things at play here, real humans are in pain, and this (insert whatever you are selling) is not the top of mind at the moment.
It doesn’t mean it isn’t an important project or they don’t want to proceed. It’s that the timing has been shifted due to this unforeseen circumstance.
Using this logic and stepping away from the situation and looking at it from a different perspective I did a few things:
I helped my “champion” know first and foremost that I fully understand the situation and this is definitely not a good time to discuss.
I offered up myself as a resource in the comings weeks/months if they personally wanted to have conversations around process improvements away from the software
I acknowledged that there are too many unknowns to set any next steps and that I am going to put it in their hands to reach out
This approach led me to continue our great relationship, solidify myself and my company as professional and “client-focused”, and earn the right to receive a follow-up when the times were right. I built that trust through empathy.
I’ve found that taking an empathetic approach into most of my conversations has provided me the mindset to help clients even more because I’ve already convinced myself they are likely underwater on projects, are stressed about their work, and their home life isn’t an A+. Part of this gets into Emotional Intelligence and social awareness but I still think it falls under the category of empathy. If we know our business better than anyone then we should know our potential clients and all that they are going through.
With that in mind, a couple of additional thoughts to consider in your client interactions.
Be human and express you are also going through challenges as well which helps them reciprocate the empathy in a way
Re-read your emails a second time and ask yourself “what is my tone and what am I trying to accomplish by sending the email this way?”
When you hit roadblocks, don’t take it personally and try to uncover the true reasons behind it. It might not relate to anything you all have been talking about.
Remember that you can’t fake empathy, your mindset and attitude help shape those CARE muscles and if you want to get better at this then you must change your focus and outlook on the process and your interactions with every potential client.
I feel that if I was stack ranking the eight attributes that I would put empathy as higher on my list of strengths because it’s just something I’ve always done and has been in my DNA since childhood. This comes a little easier to me but it’s also allowed me to recognize the importance of it has seen its impact over the years.
I highly recommend auditing your level of empathy, both personally and professionally, and seeing where you can turn the dial in a positive direction.
More to come on empathy as I’m sure we’ll weave it into the other core attributes because it is so important but hopefully this starts giving you some thoughts about the importance of it all.
In Part One of this Eight-Part Series, I wanted to touch on what I feel is arguably the most underrated of all attributes to have as a sales professional, Patience.
I can understand why this is the case, though. For years the adage has always been to “sell, sell, sell” and “more, more, more” and it basically has been wired into our DNA that we aren’t doing enough and need to keep pushing harder. Although sales have changed drastically in the last decade, this mindset still exists.
It’s okay to move fast, there is nothing wrong with that as long as expectations are laid out but what causes a lot of issues is when we move at a different speed than the potential client and moreover when we try to push the accelerator when the potential client and we haven’t taken into consideration the true timeline of the potential client.
In any dealings with any human being, the quicker we can get to the right decision is always better. It means we can move forward to the next step and continue to grow. Nobody can argue that. I make sure I do that on (almost) every call with a potential client. We want to make sure we are on the same page in regard to where we stand. That’s fair. Where I messed up a lot early on with this is that if there is a needed break in the normal cadence or a timeline shift I might not have picked up on these cues and my “follow-ups” weren’t always on point. Luckily, I learned this early on and is still something I practice consistently.
You must not get happy ears when talking about the timeline and have to fully understand the next steps, future decision, evaluation process, or whatever other points on the map that need to be hit before a partnership is finalized. Patience is the secret weapon here. I’ve seen it all too often where we want to “get it in before the end of the month” and start to sound selfish and pushy. Generally, this has come with pressure from management to want to close business. This is where you need to really go with your gut. I’ve had this situation happen a lot. I always go with what I think is right. Except for a couple of times, and luckily I avoided disaster.
I’ll share a quick story that relates to this.
I was working a fairly substantial potential partnership that gave us the green light to move forward but had delayed multiple times due to internal hurdles. I had a great relationship with an internal champion and was getting fed a lot of intel so I knew where the hold-up might have been. In the meantime, they (my champion) was also dealing with a lot of challenges in their own role and things that had surfaced that were unforeseen. He went dark on me for many weeks which was uncommon. I respectfully reached out a few times here and there not being pushy and understanding what he was up against.
No answer. No response. Weeks piled up.
After about 8 weeks passed with no response, I started to get pressure from my manager as our expected close date was approaching even though I had been transparent all along where things were at. He asked me if we should reach out to someone else there, my Champion’s boss, to get an update. I refused and pushed back knowing that person was mainly controlling the budget but not too involved in the overall choice. If we overstep my champion that could put a serious “knife in the back” feel to my champion and alter the partnership altogether.
I knew they were partnering with us and things like this just come up. After repeated pressure over and over I finally caved and said I would call his boss and try to get an update. Fortunately, the day I called he was out of the office and I decided not to leave a voicemail. Before I called back another time days later, I reached back out to my champion and fortunately received a response. A little luck is never a bad thing.
But I was right. He apologized profusely for the lack of communication and shared what had been going on and how it’s been a nightmare over there due to some unforeseen business challenges with their organization. It wasn’t that he was trying to avoid me but he was just busy with his full-time job. We were all good and were able to proceed and keep the relationship going forward.
Luckily, that situation didn’t hurt me but it confirmed a valuable lesson.
When you are a sales professional and are responsible for a quota you have to own that quota 100%. You have to do what is in the best interest of the client and yourself and trust your judgment all the way. You also have to remember that the person(s) you are working with has 40 other priorities to deal with on their end not counting personal life issues and things you have no idea might be going on. Having the proper level of patience shows that you respect their situation and that you have a relationship built on trust and communication, hopefully, established early on, and that wins in the long run. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and trying to speed up something that isn’t meant to be sped up can put you in a bad position.
On that note, there is one other piece of the patience puzzle I wanted to touch on. The micro-side of patience.
The micro-side is something extremely important as well and it involves each and every interaction with a potential client.
How many times have you received an email later in the sales process and just replied straight back to exactly what they are asking for? I bet the answer is almost 100%.
But I’d suggest a different route. This is a great example of where patience can work in your favor. Why are they asking that question? What additional conversations have happened internally that posed that question? Does the answer, one way or another, change the direction? A question generally has much more meaning behind it and I always pick up the phone and try to get my potential client on a quick call to clarify. It allows us to make sure we are fully on the same page and we understand each other and it also recalibrates the next steps and timeline and confirms we are still in line with that as well.
Responding quickly just to get it done isn’t always the best approach and sometimes it takes additional time and energy to flush out a situation and learn the nuances and reasoning behind it.
This is most important when it comes to phone calls and the speed of your messaging, response to questions, and time on the phone. When you are trying to rush to just get through it you miss a lot of valuable information that is helpful during the partnership discovery.
Sales are like professional dating that if you build enough rapport and trust early on in the conversation you can go well past the intended endpoint. If things are going well, why rush through it. Be thoughtful, be insightful, ask deeper and curious questions, get to the bottom of something you don’t understand.
All of these things happen when you have a mindset focused on patience and an understanding that you are in control most of the time but the times that you aren’t you need to be okay with taking a deep breath and letting someone else lead even if it doesn’t match up with your expected timeline or path to finalizing the partnership.
Remember, patience is underrated so this might be one of the biggest areas you can find improvement in right away. Start to think about areas in your entire sales process, both internal and client-facing, where you can start to leverage a more patient attitude and style and I’m confident you’ll start noticing a big change in the overall structure of your sales pipeline, relationships, and eventual partnerships.
You don’t need me to tell you this but this is a TON of information out there on the sales profession and a million different opinions on what you should do and how you should do it. From prospecting new clients to navigating the sales cycle, to follow-ups and referrals, it’s borderline exhausting. It’s a big topic, I get it. But it can also be confusing for a lot of the new people that are trying to sell products whether you are “carrying your own bag” for an organization, are running your own business, or are pitching investors and gaining proof-of-concept in a start-up. I think there is an easier way.
I want to strip that all away for a moment and focus on the key characteristics that I feel are essential across the board for any sales professional to succeed. I’ve seen it first hand and it’s not complicated. It’s just logical and takes time to refine and sharpen. However, if you put the time into each and every one of these I am confident that you’ll be able to reach new heights in your career and start to understand the relationship element that is so vital in any partnership.
We are in a new era of sales with much more information out there for the buyer, and frankly, a much savvier buyer which I love. The reason I love it is because human interaction and relationships matter again. Honesty matters. Integrity matters. Respect matters.
I don’t think these things ever went away but a lot of software products were ahead of their time before the client could actually form an opinion and do thorough due diligence. Now, with much more information at their fingertips and the curve from innovators moving to the early and late majority there is more of a level playing field and buyers are back in control.
Times are changing and I feel this new age of sales is going to weed out a lot of those sales professionals that stick with the old way of doing it and fail to make the shift. You are going to have to have true empathy, you are going to actually put the client first, you are going to be professional and brutally honest in your responses when you can do something and when you can’t.
I think the hardest part about sales is all of the BS and bad habits people have learned for years that they try to wedge, fit, or shimmy into an already broken process. They drive to regurgitate what they learned in a book 10 years ago. It doesn’t work that way anymore. People are too smart. That all changes today.
I don’t have all the answers, far from it, but what I do feel I have uncovered is a clear path that new and old sales professionals alike can be cognizant of and continue to build on as they develop their “in-game’ skills. These are not tricks and tactics but the characteristics that will be paramount to future success. None of these should be a surprise but I hope they make you think a bit more about how you project yourself in your business dealings and where you can find areas to improve.
Here are the main areas I am going to focus on:
Over the next 8-part series I’ll break into each of these areas, share some personal stories, and hopefully get you to focus inward on self-awareness and how we can improve in all of these areas. Like a video game, we all have different levels of each of these, and some rank higher in certain areas than others. I expect you to be strong in some and weak in others. What is important is that we know we can improve in all of these areas and my goal is to get you to think differently about each and every one of these and how it applies toward working through partnerships in your sales career going forward.
Before you go grab the latest and greatest sales book, understand you already have most of what you need to be successful at sales. You’ll learn a ton through experimental trial and error but I think a few suggestions below can get you started on an easier path as well.
In my opinion, I believe there are a lot of things early on that make sales hard for newer folks that don’t have to.
Too much information – product knowledge, value statements, sales playbooks and frameworks
Too much bad direction – poor training, unproven sales templates, bad call scripts
Bruised confidence – Overwhelming expectations, high activity metrics, poor personality fit in the role
There are good intentions behind all of these, especially from organizations facilitating these practices, but oftentimes it comes in the form of misguided or misinterpreted information and that can cause a lot of uncertainty and anxiety for reps, especially new to the game. Now, throw in all of the sales books out there that sales reps are suggested as they start down this path. A lot of this information and the strategies or practices are outdated and what has worked for some that wrote the books may not work for all using its teachings.
I personally believe there are other things you can do first to help you get on your way and be a more well-rounded sales professional.
Learn How To Write
Most sales are done through phone or email so those are the two powerhouses, to begin with. This is not about “sales tactics” or anything like that. This is about proper grammar, word usage, paragraph length, bullet points, and all other things around professional writing. It’s vital because you will write thousands of emails and other documents in your career. Learn how to write in a clearer form and this will help when you start slipping in your sales language. Also, it translates well into your spoken word.
My Suggestion: First, I’d take a few writing courses online for free or jump on YouTube and type in How To Write Better. It also doesn’t hurt to download the Grammarly plugin for Chrome as this will help instantly as you begin to type. Next, I’d look at the emails you write to people and which ones tend to get the most positive responses. Remember, the tone is very tough to pick up in an email so how you write can be taken in multiple ways if not structured correctly. That’s why I say positive responses. Also, emails tend to grab your attention from people. Are they short, bulleted, bolded, etc? Chances are, if they catch your eye then they probably will to your future clients as well.
Learn How To Listen
Listening is hard and can be much harder when you are trying to think about the next question to ask without paying attention to someone. Stop that. You’ll have plenty of time to ask questions and a gentle pause isn’t so bad. Being able to dissect a conversation and pick up the undertones of the language as well as the social awareness piece all at once is a masterful skill to have.
My Suggestion: There are a lot of ways to do this and it could be as simple as turning on a Podcast to try and observe the conversation or you might call a friend or family member and interview them. Try to catch yourself when you lose focus and attention as well as when you start to think ahead too much and forget to stay present in the discussion. It can be much easier to lose focus over the phone without someone watching you being visibly distracted so keep an eye on this.
Learn How To Learn
When was the last time you actually learned something new that you knew nothing about the topic beforehand? It’s a No for most people, too. However, the great thing is you can start today. Pick something you are curious about and learn about it. For instance, during my Dozen Months of Discovery, I learned Spanish for a whole month. My sessions with the tutor were really difficult especially the first few days but it got me attentive and feeling like a beginner learner again. You may even sign up to do a demo of a product you are interested in. Whatever gets you into the mindset of knowing nothing and then having to take in information for the first time.
My Suggestion: When you are demoing a product, think of the person on the other end that has no idea what your product does, how it could help them, or is able to visualize use cases to help a problem they might not even know they have. You have to do a great job of communicating properly and simply and your messaging has to help them come along for the ride otherwise you’ll lose them. By going through this prior, you’ll be able to anticipate the challenges the future client might have during the call and it will help you navigate better. (i.e- Slowing down, fewer mouse clicks, reiterating key points, pausing to ask questions and get clarity, etc.
Learn How To Get Uncomfortable
The best sales reps and leaders I’ve been around have taught me how important it is to “own the room” in any conversation. Sales conversations can get uncomfortable really quickly. You need to be confident in yourself and believe that the product can truly help the client to solve a problem they have. This is tough when you are new to sales because you get nervous or timid or fearful or (insert appropriate word here). Heck, even I have these feelings every now and then and I’ve been doing this for a dozen years.
My suggestion: Figure out how to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Put yourself into situations when you get really nervous or anxious and try to navigate yourself through that process. Even if it’s a big struggle, you’ve grown a bit and it will help you on the next try. This could be as simple as asking a person out on a date randomly that you see out somewhere, taking an Improv class, or signing up for a Public Speaking course. Many of these options cost minimal dollars and the experience gained is priceless.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to deliberate skill practice and the beauty of all of these is that whether you choose to remain in sales or not, these are very transferable in almost any other career you go into.
So, think a bit differently as you look at a sales role. This can be valuable for anyone doing sales especially entrepreneurs or company founders and, yes, even seasoned sales professionals. You should always be looking to refine your skills and improve your communication and I hope some of this guidance will be a big help in your life.
Please feel free to reach out with any questions and I’m happy to be a resource.