In many companies, most of the revenue comes from a small group of sales reps – the old 20/80 adage.
As I was building the sales organization at my previous company, Datameer, I started to notice the qualities that separate the top 20 percent from the rest of the sales team.
With the help of my team there, we built a data analytics company with close to $100 million in VC backing. We managed to double bookings six years in a row. How? The secret sauce was developing a sales team who understood the benefits of a data-driven approach.
About 20 percent of sales reps were on board with this – I call them real sales reps and 80 percent that weren’t – who I call “order takers.” The 20 percent were willing to step outside of their comfort zone, try something new, be proactive and, overall, possessed more than people skills.
Let me take a moment to explain my definition of an “order taking” sales rep. These are reps who don’t find or create any of their own selling opportunities but simply wait for an interested and ready-to-buy customer to come along. All they need to do is take their order.
More than that, these reps don’t work their deals. Often saying something along the lines of “try it out and let me know how you like it” rather than properly educating their customers on the product’s uses and benefits. They rely on their personality to sell rather than developing a sales strategy.
“Order takers” are more common than you may think, as most customers are already 57 percent of the way through the decision-making process when they make contact with a rep. The modern buyer does much of their own due diligence and research on products they’re interested in. Many sales reps choose to coast by since the customer takes a more active role in the buying process.
I’ve observed true, successful sales reps in action too. These reps are self-motivated and pursue prospects, pull leads through the funnel and strategically follow up with customers until the deal is closed, embodying the Challenger Sale methodology.
They map the prospect’s pain point to their solution, highlight additional features that might be beneficial and clearly define the ROI. These real sales reps are always looking to improve and adopt new, modern sales tactics.
In my years leading a company and sales team, I’ve seen that the most vital sales skills are actually the ones that you’d least expect. Traditionally, you think communication, charm and a solid pitch is what it takes to sell, but having a data-driven sales process and staying organized are far more important.
A perfect sales pitch and charming personality can only take you so far. “Order-takers” are masters of communication, but to become a true seller you need to be a good communicator and have an excellent process.
I’ve observed that former project managers make the best sales reps. Why? Because a deal is a project that you need to work in just the right way.
In both roles, you need to move multiple parts in the right direction for the project or deal to successfully close. The moment one decision maker or variable is out of place, the entire deal is in jeopardy. This is why organizational skills are key to being a stellar sales rep.
It’s never too late to step up and become a better sales rep and a star member of your team.
How do you get there? By changing the way you think and work within your role. Let’s dive into four habits of top sales reps that you can adopt to become a real seller.
1. Take charge of your process
I’ve observed that “order-taking” reps often rely on their operations or management teams to coordinate the sales process and tech stack. They follow orders and complain about inefficiencies among themselves. If you want to become a true sales rep, scratch these habits.
Star sales reps evaluate their sales process, find solutions to their pain points and simplify their workflow. They share their findings with their team to improve as a unit.
Find the holes in your process
There are inefficiencies in for all the sales process stages. It’s up to you to analyze, find these pockets of wastefulness and look for solutions.
Here are a few sample questions to ask yourself: How effective are your email campaigns? Are certain subject lines more effective? Can you A/B test when you send them? How much time does it take you to write them? What aspects of your email engagement process could be improved by a sales automation tool?
Share solutions with your colleagues
Chances are other people on your team are feeling the same pains. Many sales teams have an internal competitive atmosphere, which to a certain degree can be healthy and productive. But, you’re all in this together. Just imagine that if everyone sold better, there would be more revenue coming in and everyone would get a bigger piece of the pie.
Your managers and operations team are always purchasing new tools to simplify your sales process, however, they’re rarely the ones using them. This is a golden opportunity to review what’s in your tech stack and be vocal about how these tools impact your sales process – both positively and negatively.
Continue to fine tune
Top sales reps know that improvement has no final destination and that it’s not enough just to build a killer process; they know they need to continuously re-evaluate and fine tune to stay in the top 20 percent.
Constantly review what’s working and what’s holding you back, ask for feedback from your managers and customers and adjust your sales tactics accordingly. Don’t get comfortable with the status quo.
2. Use data advantageously
Nearly every sales organization hires sales reps with an ESFJ Myers Briggs personality type. By definition this means they’re great with human interactions but adverse to processes and data. And while communication skills and personality make the first impression, it takes a plan and analytical insight to move the deal along.
“Order-takers” tend to avoid updating information in their CRM system but successful reps understand the value of data both for a fully functional sales team and for the larger organization.
By 2020, the customer experience will surpass both price and product as the key brand differentiator. The CRM was made to help reps manage their customer relationships by keeping all of the customer data in one place. Great reps use it to personalize the customer experience and to stay organized and track prospects throughout the sales cycle.
Educate yourself on the value of your CRM and push yourself to keep it accurate and up-to-date as often as you can. Look back on your past CRM records whenever you follow up with a prospect to keep your dialogue personable and relevant.
3. Embrace AI rather than fear it
Many sales reps are afraid of artificial intelligence and its potential to replace their jobs. And as a result, many shy away from opportunities to use it to their advantage.
Real sales reps are stepping into the modern era and embracing AI. They know AI tools can be helpful in a number of ways, such as prospecting, lead scoring, analytical insights, coaching and training, CRM automation and scheduling.
Sales AI is going to lead the next wave of growth for corporations. Forty-six percent of companies are looking to invest AI into their sales and marketing teams and sales AI adoption is forecasted to grow 139 percent over the next three years.
With AI on their side, winning sales reps can redirect their focus, energy and efforts on interacting with their prospects and customers, ultimately driving more revenue for their organization and crushing quota.
Look for sales AI tools that can automate the tedious tasks that detract you from revenue-generating activities. Look once again to the inefficiencies in your process and see which AI tools in the sales tech landscape can solve them.
4. Know your worth
The top 20 percent of sales reps recognize the value they bring to the table. They understand the skills and knowledge they possess are specific to their role. Time is their most valuable asset and they refuse to waste it.
Each sales rep is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to sell. Understand that your time is best spent contributing to the growth of your company, driving revenue, improving as a sales rep and (most importantly) providing solutions for your customers.
Take a moment every week to understand why you were hired. It wasn’t your ability for data entry, scheduling meetings or filling out spreadsheets. You have the perfect combination of skills, personality, drive and organization to sell; don’t waste your time or your company’s money on tasks that don’t utilize these.
You may not think your C-level managers are looking, but people who understand their worth and work to improve every day don’t go unnoticed. These reps are recognized and praised for going above and beyond (and usually see bumps in their commission and bonuses as a result).
This is a challenging but rewarding career choice. You are assisting a business as it grows and placing yourself in a position to rise through the ranks. Do not let yourself fall into the habit of coasting by. Challenge yourself and aim for that 20 percent.