I’m in the middle of rereading Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success (link) and I was surprised at the common themes that help runners, artists, surgeons and sales people all excel at their craft.
If you’re interested in excelling at sales, follow these guidelines:
#1 Context is everything
If your intent is to get through 10 calls so you can check that box and go to lunch, the calls won’t be useful to you or the prospects. On the other hand, if your intent is to solve problems, make sense of the world, talk to interesting people, improve your craft…your calls will be much productive and fun. Your prospects will enjoy talking with you; they’ll share more, they will help you to help them.
Remember, your context (or intent) is obvious to your prospect, like it’s written across your forehead or broadcast in your caller id. You will always broadcast some context, either consciously or not, so ensure that it is a powerful, positive one. (Hmm, perhaps a topic for another posting…)
#2 Practice makes perfect
Athletes and musicians practice to ensure success. And they don’t just practice, they focus on specific skills, one at a time. A pro golfer will spend a week working solely on his putting game (but not from the same spot each time). An ultra-marathoner will focus on building leg speed. A top sales person will focus on practicing the pivot or bridge from one topic to another.
We practice to build “muscle memory.” When a prospect asks us a question out of the blue, because we’ve practiced, because we’ve built that muscle memory, we can pivot to addressing the question in a useful and meaningful way. Or maybe that question doesn’t catch us off guard…because we saw something on the contact’s LinkedIn profile and gave some thought to how that might be relevant…
#3 Learn from doing
Top performers always evaluate their performance. What went well? What could he or she have done differently? What’s the learning? What new muscle memory must be created?
After you talk with a prospect or customer, think about the flow of the conversation. Were you properly prepared? Did the conversation follow the path you expected? (Hint, it never does!) Did you accomplish what you intended? Were you open to solving different problems, uncovering and exploring different issues? Did you position yourself as a resource? Did you make a deposit in the relationship bank account? Did you reach agreement on a specific follow up?
This introspection is the single most powerful thing you can do each day to identify areas for improvement, to build your selling skills. For a deep dive into learning theory, spend some time with Make It Stick by Peter Brown (link). Peter also cites some pretty interesting research on new techniques for skill development (a topic for another post.)
Leverage your resources. Use the industry and persona information provided by your organization or public resources, the treasure trove of prospect information on LinkedIn, the call and conversation planning tools needed for thoughtful preparation. Corporate Visions cites industry knowledge as being critical to successful conversations, more important than company knowledge, and far more important than product knowledge. Prepare for success!
Practice, practice, practice. It might take you 30 minutes to fill out your first call planning template. It will take you 5-10 minutes to complete your 10th. Role play with your peers or your manager. Fine tune your conversational skills in a “safe” environment, make the mistakes in a coaching space where you will get immediate feedback. Practice your opening conversation in front of a mirror until it feels and sounds natural.
And pick up the phone often. You will have far greater success in holding an enrolling conversation with someone if you reach them by phone, versus trying to engage them by email.