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Lessons from talking to 53 sales managers

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Lessons from talking to 53 sales managers

I interviewed 53 sales managers, asking them (among other things) what necessary skills their best salespeople possess.

Okay, this wasn’t a real poll. However, our team at the Sales Readiness Group (SRG) recently completed the deployment of a Sales Training Program from a major trading organization and I reviewed my notes from interviews with sales managers as part of the setup process. As I studied these notes, I began to notice trends.

Intrigued, I reviewed notes from conversations with sales managers from other major projects that SRG recently completed. These trade organizations worked in a variety of fields – technology, financial services, life sciences and manufacturing – and had sales cycles ranging from simple to very complex. Nevertheless, several clear themes emerged.
Here are critical ideas based on my unscientific “poll” of these 53 conversations.

Search is always a problem

This one was almost unanimous. The inability to consistently add new sales opportunities to the top of the pipeline has caused considerable concern for most managers.

Excellent representatives are distinguished by disciplined pursuits. For those enterprise vendor management in my survey, better searches often meant that the seller expanded their business into an existing account or booked meetings with senior stakeholders on new accounts. For those who run small and medium business groups (SMBs), the best search began with the fact that their salespeople had the discipline to constantly maintain a high level of activity.

Excellent representatives do these three things

When I asked about sales skills that distinguish their best performers from the best, the answers usually included active listening, call scheduling and asks prudent questions.
I was amazed at how often sales managers identified active listening as the number one sales skill that they associated with high sales.

Knowledge of products must turn into solutions

It is clear that successful salespeople need to have excellent knowledge of products. But sales managers told me that the best of their team can apply their knowledge of products to solve a customer’s unique problem.

The secret sauce of the super-repeaters was a combination of product knowledge, a deep understanding of the customer’s problem, and then applying their intelligence and creativity to solve the problem.

Pay attention to intangibles

Sales managers disagreed. As for intangibles, their answers were different. Attributes such as work ethic and curiosity were often mentioned (this surprised me), but also coaching ability, competitiveness, resilience and motivation.

You can’t train on intangibles, but you can hire them. However, your own cognitive biases can get in the way here. You tend to hire people like you. You can overcome this bias of attractiveness similarities by looking for the attributes of other successful salespeople on your team and replication of the best performers.

While I fully acknowledge that the results of my “survey” are unscientific, I think many of the ideas and concepts discussed by these 53 managers will resonate with most sales leaders.

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