Even the very best salesman wants to become better…it’s an in-built trait of the profession and sales directors, managers, coaches, and trainers have sought to answer the question of how to become a better salesman for as long as the industry has existed.
The process of becoming better in anything is complex and just take a look at this article from Forbes, that addresses the issue of becoming a better person by asking yourself twenty questions!.
Being better in anything is not easy and it requires a lot of hard work, effort, and fundamentally having the right mindset.
I this article, I am going to focus on developing the right sales expertise to become a better salesman through 4 key areas:
- Creating the right customer value proposition.
As you are developing your expertise, you will be gaining invaluable experience and it is the fusion of gaining the right expertise and applying it over time, that allows you to refine what you know and be better.
In my own personal sales journey, I constantly strived to become better and I feel that only now, nearly forty years after starting, I have refined the process…from walking the streets of the UK trying to sell home improvements door-to-door, fumbling through scripted pitches under the watchful eye of my sales manager to selling software and staffing services into the boardrooms of some of the worlds leading companies.
I gradually learned to develop and apply the 4 key areas largely through trial and error, but I did receive a lot of guidance through some trusted advisors, coaches, and mentors, who really provided me the “food for thought” elements for me to go out and field test them on my customers.
Coaching and mentoring was a far different proposition back in my early career, compared to what it is today and it was more about “here is what I did now go and see if it works for you,” rather than the multitude of “accelerator” and “performance improvement” programs that are all over the Internet today.
I am going to cover each of these areas to give you a brief overview of the process of becoming a better salesman.
How to be a better salesman: Research
Conducting the right and consistent research leapfrogged me over the competition and that was simply because knowing the nature of the salespeople of the companies I was competing against, I knew they would never put in the hard and consistent work that I did.
You will see the value of these issues when I talk about the targeting aspects below, but it is always useful to keep an eye on world events in general, as well as the ones that fit your industry.
Talking about your industry, you must ensure that you have a solid handle on it — who is investing in it, who are the main companies, what are their strengths and weaknesses, who are the innovators and where do you see that industry in the next few years?
Just to give you a few ideas.
Now you have to look at your own customers and not just the facts and information you can get from the Internet.
Talk to people…in different departments and then start to connect the dots to the department that you are targeting.
You would think that salespeople would know their customers inside out, but sadly that is rarely the case; they are aware of their customer’s business for sure, but many lack the simple knowledge of the commercial commitments of their customers, or their “deliverables”…and the challenges and pains that go along with them.
I’m not talking about the usual day-to-day customer challenges here, I am going much deeper and into all of the interconnecting pieces — how the research and development department prepares for the future needs of the customers; how the marketing functions decide to invest it’s hard-earned budget dollars and why; what risk factors the executive leadership team feel are a potent threat to their industry…just to give some examples.
When you go deep into your customer, you will be showing a much greater understanding of their business and you have to go beyond the balance sheet in financial terms, beyond the annual report and the Internet information you can locate.
It’s about going deep like a homicide detective and then forming an opinion.
If you want to be a better salesman, then you must learn to conduct research and then to turn that research into powerful intelligence — that is the key to increasing your profits.
There is nothing worse than hearing a sleazy and smarmy salesperson go through any form of communication.
Too many salespeople are actors and not good ones — they seem to transform themselves from who they naturally are to what they think they need to be when performing on the “sales stage” and unfortunately, customers can see through it.
I believe in plain, simple, and direct speaking…it makes life a lot more simple for me and I never have to “act” my way through anything.
In my early sales career and going through various formalized sales training programs, I was told that I needed to be more “assertive,” more “business-like,” more “professional” and a host of other things that simply weren’t me.
I speak in the same manner to whoever I am speaking to, I try to write in the same manner that I speak and on camera, I try to act in the same way I do to my friends, colleagues, and family — and I suggest that you try to do the same.
You can only really and truthfully be “you” and that means forgetting your sales, business, and movie heroes and focussing on yourself.
When it comes down to writing presentations, then I believe that the focus should be one-hundred percent on the customer and written in the language of the customer…and not in your own jargon to try and impress your audience.
Too many salespeople write presentations showcasing their company’s and their own successes, rather than focusing on the main star– their customer.
They also use way too many slides and ramble on about everything except the precise value they can offer their customers and customized to the existing and future pain points with regard to the customer in hand!
Take a look at this article:
I believe the more down-to-earth that you can be, the more people will listen to you and that is because you have a much better chance of being listened to if you are being “you.”
It doesn’t matter what size of business you are operating or targeting, you must start at the top and if you have a business like I used to have, that sells to large corporations then you must ensure you go straight to the top and this is where a lot of salespeople struggle — they have no problem targeting owner/operators in small companies, but when it comes to a larger corporation, they are more content to deal with line managers and operational heads rather than getting to the ultimate decision-makers.
You have to talk to the right people and that starts with the executive leadership team.
These are the people who run the entire organization and who have a vested interest in the success of their company, which in turn, keeps them customer focussed and keeps their jobs!
It’s not that other employees don’t have a vested interest in the success of their company or keeping their jobs, just that the leadership team is the team that makes critical operational and financial decisions.
I had great success in working with the executive assistants to the executive leadership team and I would always start with the assistant to the CEO.
Please ignore any advice that teaches you to “blast through” the assistant or “gatekeeper” as they are often termed because they are an extremely valuable and key resource in the organization.
The assistants are there to help and protect their bosses and to help them maximize their time…but they are also there to help filter out the time-wasters and opportunists from the people who can really add value to their bosses and ultimately their organizations, so treat them with the utmost respect.
I always used my research to put together a concise and simple value proposition that I would first run through the executive assistant in order to gain their approval before submitting it to their boss and it worked extremely well.
It wasn’t always about speaking directly to the CEO, but to make sure I was operating at the highest level and targeting the right person — on many occasions, I was introduced to another senior executive and there is nothing like having a referral from the highest level.
But you have to remember that you must have something to sell in the first place and to operate at the higher levels, you have to ensure your value proposition is comprehensive enough to warrant time with the executive leadership team, which I am going to talk about next.
How to be a better salesman: Your value proposition
At the end of the day, if you don’t have a compelling value proposition, your customers aren’t buying!
It’s that simple and no matter what you hear about “people buying from people,” which is true to a degree but if what you are selling is not compelling to your customer, then it doesn’t matter who you are or to whom you are connected.
The best advice I can give you here is to think big!
Now, I am not suggesting that you inflate your offering or simply ask for bigger orders…it’s about thinking of the bigger picture and the impact of your services and not just your customers, but also to the customers of your customers!
In my business, I provided specialist staffing and software services to the telecommunications industry and I would cover key skills gaps and shortages as well as provide a software tool to help in the overall telecom network planning function for customers.
But the ultimate benefits to my customers existed in reducing time-frames to complete the planning process, which meant customers could then have faster and more accurate data to help them be more competitive and also to be able to locate and utilize in-demand expertise to deploy key technologies as well as cover resource demands in a staffing environment that needed to be globally agile.
But to get the attention of the leadership team, I needed to go a little further!
My research had indicated that with one particular set of customer, there was often a disconnect between the business functions of engineering and marketing, with marketing desperate to launch campaigns to win more business and they relied heavily on the engineering function to give the technical “go ahead” in order to be able to handle the extra business, which was taking far too much time.
Our software product would reduce that time considerably and provide key and precise data.
When it came down to specialist staffing, I would start to talk about delivering highly-specialist teams that covered all areas and levels of their organization and as they were specialists, they would be in great demand –I had 2 key reasons to engage the leadership team and that came down to making life easier between internal functions and good old-fashioned speed when it came down to hiring specialist people — the heart of any company!
This is why the research aspects that I talked about in the beginning are so important — you have to know what you are talking about and you have to have some common ground to talk about and that is where your global economic and industry-specific knowledge comes into play.
Finally, to get ahead of your own competition, you need to talk about the future and especially when it comes down to predicting trends, problems, and being able to deliver against them and offer solutions.
Being a better salesman is not just about selling — in fact it is the opposite!
You are learning to become a key influencer to your target audience and that demands knowledge, understanding, and the ability to form data-driven opinions, rather than a canned sales speech or endless presentation slides.
I am passionate about developing the next generation of salespeople and if you want to discuss sales and selling with me, or need some specialist sales coaching, then please get in touch!
Last modified: December 27, 2020