This year I have been skiing quite a lot. This is because we have had great snowfalls, and also because I’m Austrian and, well, that’s what we do.
Two years ago my son’s girlfriend began in the sport. While she’s making good progress, I’m also aware of how important a solid foundation is for her. New England skiing is not always fun due to the fairly basic level of skiing expertise on the slopes. Additionally people never seem to learn basic skiing etiquette (such as taking glance up the mountain before pushing off) so skiing in those areas is more dangerous–not because of the terrain, but because of accidents due to inexperience.
I am fond of comparisons, so this of course reminded me of selling. I was reminded of the fact that if you never learn the basics, you won’t have skills to build upon. In the worst case scenario, you will build upon bad habits. While you might ski faster, you won’t ski better or, most important, more safely.
The same holds true for sales. If salespeople (especially in a consultative sales environment) never learn the fundamentals of the consultative sales cycle, they will just stay mediocre at best. So, what are some of the basics that are important to become a successful salesperson?
Understanding the process
Sales is a process, and it’s important to establish one that reflects the reality of your environment. By that I mean that people in a B2B industry will need to set up a different process than companies that target consumers.
Identifying most profitable markets and decision-makers/influencers within organizations
It is also important to understand who the decision maker is within a company, as it is the first and most important step in developing a successful sales process. It is essential to identify what industries are most profitable, and which decision makers within prospect companies make up a good client profile.
Establishing/Management of database/CRM system
The backbone of every organization is the health of their database/CRM system. Consistency and transparency are key in managing the data and the process. For some companies it might be enough to work off a spreadsheet (I wouldn’t recommend it, but it does work), but most companies will need a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system.
Developing effective messaging
What you say and how you say it, is also important when building foundations. There is nothing more annoying than salespeople not owning their messages or being vague. But if you are salesperson in an environment where the sales culture is focused on “making the number” rather than understanding how to make the number, it’s really hard to succeed, especially when you are young and not very experienced.
Commitment to sales
One of the recipes to building an effective sales team is the commitment to sales and providing the resources necessary to succeed. Recently, we were hired by a client in Pittsburgh to train newly hired salespeople with limited experience in their profession. We spent an entire week with the new recruits. Our goal was to build a foundation for them, to help them understand the process so they will be able to represent their organization in the utmost professional way. When salespeople look for jobs, they should ask questions about the sales cycle, the established process and the commitment to sales. It’s important.
In Austria, we learn how to ski in school. We are sent to skiing camps every year, and for the first couple of days we don’t even get to ski. We need to listen to ski rules, climb up the mountain, master the (very challenging) T-Lifts. It is only mid-week, once we have gone through all the basics that we are allowed on the mountain to actually ski.
Maybe that should be a standard practice for companies. Before you have a salesperson pick up the phone to prospect, have them go through the foundation so they understand what sales is all about and how to follow a process.