What Makes A Great Sales Rep?

There are a lot of networking events in the San Francisco Bay Area. They are a great way for me to meet really great sales reps in the high tech community. It’s interesting that once I share what I do, the inevitable questions come up from people seeking advice on how to get into sales. There are a few common questions I hear like,”What’s the best way to get into sales?” or “How do I know which companies to look at?” or “What questions do I ask the hiring manager?”. These are all great questions to ask the experts in future posts, however the one that really hooked me, was “What makes someone a great sales rep?”

That got me to thinking about the constant striving we do to find best practices, all the sales enablement trainings, all the long days we put in, and only a few are actually able to set themselves apart from the crowd. And doesn’t it seem like it’s always the same people? So what makes the cream rise to the top? From what I have observed, the ones that consistently crushed their numbers have a few things in common.

Fierce Competitors

Competitiveness is in the DNA of every sales rep I’ve ever met. It’s the reason managers publish team rankings and offer club trips to the top performers. As sales reps, we want to win, but even more, we HATE to lose.

Actionable Strategy: Dig deeper by setting up your own competitions. I have used a couple of strategies that have worked for me when the thought of a club trip wasn’t enough. First, I’ve set up my own small competitions with coworkers. Some just for fun, like who can make the most calls in a day, loser buys lunch. Another one, and you don’t need to openly share this, is competing against someone you don’t really like or you would hate to lose to. I have on occasion, set my sights on beating someone in particular. When I’m struggling to take that extra step, or tempted to lose focus, I think about losing to the one person I would hate to lose to the most and it works like a charm! Not the most positive thought, but effective none the less.


High EQ 

The first time I heard about EQ, which is emotional quotient, was Walter O’Brien the genius behind the company Scorpion Computer Company, and the TV show “Scorpions”. Walter, who has an IQ of 197, has a team of geniuses that can be hired to solve “Any Funded Need.” Literally. He’s a fascinating person. You can hear his interview with Tim Ferriss here. But I digress…One thing that struck me in an interview he gave, was that the most successful people have a high EQ. Part of his company strategy is to pair these geniuses with what he calls “Super Nannys”, people with high EQ, so that as a team, they can solve complex problems other companies can’t. Guess what group of people he called out as having high EQ? Sales Professionals. People with a high EQ tend to be more successful than their super smart IQ counterparts. In the high tech world of sales, we see this model with sales reps and their sales engineer counterparts.


Plan Execution

One of my favorite field reps at HP was an absolute juggernaut of activity. For the annual sales kick off, he worked all weekend to put together this great presentation. He was engaging in his delivery, which he clearly practiced, and his slides were concise and clear. He ended up not only winning best presentation (and cash prize), he also finished the year by crushing his number because he followed through and fully executed on his plan.

Actionable Strategy: Albert Einstein was a fan of focusing on concepts and not memorizing details. While we should be focusing on the big picture, the devil is in the details, so get in the habit of using a to do list or a checklist and getting important activities on the calendar is huge. There is a great book written by Atul Gawande called “The Checklist Manifesto” which talks about using checklists as a way to avoid common mistakes and maintain consistency in a complex world. Of course that is an oversimplification, but the bottom line is when we use a checklist, and decide when we are going to do those things helps us to execute our plans despite constant distractions.


Active Listening

Sales reps love to talk. It’s part of our DNA and we just love to sound smart and be center of attention. Unfortunately, when we go on and on, we miss an opportunity to hear . The most successful reps I worked with found ways to be sincerely interested in their customers. They would often hear what wasn’t being said and ask more probing questions. The bottom line, is let your customers talk. They want and need to feel that you fully understand their particular situation and problems.

Actionable Strategy: When talking to your customer or prospect, don’t interrupt, make eye contact, and ask for confirmation of the problem with follow up questions like, “You are saying that your developers are struggling to understand the LOB requirements, is that right?” When we make certain we understand the problem, then we can instill confidence in our customer and make the correct prescriptive recommendations that will contribute to your customer’s success.


The Pareto Principle – aka: The 80/20 Rule

Time is your most valuable asset no matter what career you have. It’s actually your most valuable asset period. The 80/20 rule states that 80% of your reward comes from 20% of your activities. Really great sales reps who consistently produce, closely follow the 80/20 rule, and regularly spend time examining the results of the actions they take. A great tool to use to track your metrics is a CRM like Salesforce.com. Dashboards can be created to track all your activities, and if you set aside a couple of hours every month, you can analyse your data to see which activities provided the biggest payout. So do more of what works! It never hurts to check in with your peers for best practices too.

About Arlina Allen 23 Articles
Silicon Valley Native, Sales Professional, Blogger & Podcaster

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