A computer company had some outstanding salespeople and wanted to have more of their people working at that level in future. They wanted to know what the outstanding people did that gave them their edge.
Area Managers identified the twelve top salespeople, in the company, out of 160, I interviewed the twelve people in an open and client-centred way with, as far as possible, no preconceptions. I asked, “What is important to think about in your job? What you do that makes it succeed? How you do that?”.
Then I read the data several times, classified each separate idea and then grouped the classes to give some manageable headings. Finally, I summarised the data under each heading. The data was very rich. The full story is in Profiling for Excellence.
A. From my experience of interacting with them
All participants actively manage relationships. They show interest, give remarkably warm attention and are clear, open and confronting. They connect. Because of the warmth and connection, I wanted to talk and interact freely with them. I thought their customers would too.
B. Key ideas from the interviews
1 The need to build person to person relationships with clients
Everybody stressed this. It came out in ideas like ‘partnership’. They established a warm, trusting, open relationship based on people being real with each other. Then they understood the reality of the customer’s situation and business and knew how to help. The key to understanding was attentive listening. They mentioned building close relationships more often than any other issue.
2 Questioning and researching
Most participants emphasised the need to gather data about people, organisation, and business needs by asking questions and listening hard to the answers. They could ask searching or confronting questions with personal warmth to get good answers without causing offence. Answers were checked against other data. They used this process rigorously to prepare for top-level meetings.
3 Understanding how customer organisation works
Participants said it was important to understand the organisation and how it works. For example, they wanted to know where the power lay, where was the excitement, which were the key businesses. Also, where do people want to do things and how do they make decisions. What style of selling or presentation is appropriate? When they understood, they tailored their approach to that understanding.
They did this research by making friends in the organisation, asking many questions, and listening hard.
4 Keeping your eye on the ball/being strategic
The participants had decided that they would make a real difference to their customer’s organisation and that this would result in a big sale. This clear vision led to people continually qualifying, working where power and decision were, creating strategic partnerships at the top and confronting stuck selling situations directly. If there was no obvious sign of momentum, they did something, even a ‘No’ was an opportunity to move forward. However, this was done with much caring for individuals, the organisation and the good name of their Company. People enjoyed working with directors and understanding their problems.
5 Finding ways to add value
People wanted to give back value to customers wherever it was possible. The value could be information about what was going on at bottom of the organisation. It could be a Company resource or a way of solving business problems. It could help with human or organisational problems or helping the client put a case. The added value led to the person being seen as a valuable asset, not just a ‘Vendor’.
6 Being natural, avoiding role playing
All were authentic in their interaction with customers. They avoided role-playing or using ‘techniques’. When they are natural and real others can be natural and real.
7 Avoiding IT departments and computers
They made contact and strong connections to business decision-makers who wanted to improve business performance. They sold improved performance, not IT.
The group of salespeople said, “This is accurate, we don’t need to make any changes to the profile, we need to decide what to do.” The data was used by the company, together with other work, to plan the recruitment and development of sales staff.
The process also helped the excellent performers become even better as they had a language for describing what they did, so they could help each other. The interviews also helped them be more consciously aware of their skills.
There was one unexpected side effect. The group of excellent salespeople saw how important and valuable they were in the company and became stronger as a group as a result.