I have worked in sales for over 20 years. I first started out managing a handful of accounts in a defined territory and moved up to managing a few global accounts with sales activities all over the world. I had started out reading books on the techniques of selling and then observed the characteristics of successful salespeople. These observations were not limited to my industry. I took note of good salespersons in retail stores, car dealers, door to door salespeople, and restaurants. I found that there were common patterns to each one and distilled it down to 4 characteristics.
Be a Good Listener
When I first started out in sales, I had asked the sales manager what is the most important characteristic to being successful. He said that whenever you meet with your customer, keep your mouth shut and listen to your customer. Let them speak rather than go into a big dog and pony show about your product line. Most young sales person are so anxious to sell and display their product knowledge that they often miss what the customer is telling them. By asking a simple open ended question such as “how’s it going”, you can get them to open up about problems that they are encountering, or improvements that they are seeking with their current situation.
Sometimes, the customer will ask about a specific product that they read about on the company website. They may express interest in learning more about the product. By probing as to why they are interested in the product, you may learn about their needs and discover that there may be a better product that they should consider. Often, when you make them realize that you understand their needs that you make a stronger connection with them.
Whenever you deal with a salesperson in transactional situation such as retail sales or relational situation such as industrial sales, you can always pick up on a sales person that is motivated to do a good job. Even in a fast food restaurant, you can pick out the cashiers that want to do a good job and make it a pleasant experience for you versus ones that are there to simply get through the day and collect a pay check. The motivated cashier can make the difference of whether a customer will go back or not.
Customers like to work with motivated employees. It is infectious and has a positive effect on the relationship. They feel that the salesperson has their best interest at heart.
Also because sales requires the professional to do things on their own, it requires for them to be self-starters with little or no supervision. I don’t know about you but it has been my experience that highly motivated employees are very good self-starters.
It is important that a sales person has a basic knowledge of the product line that they are selling. The responsibility of this falls on the company. A proper training program is a must.
I can almost guarantee that there are numerous cases of opportunity lost with a salesperson because they did not have thorough knowledge of the product line that they are selling. They tended to shy away from even mentioning certain products that could prove to be right product because of fear that it may not.
Salespeople have a tendency to sell things that they are most comfortable with. A good example are distributors. Distributors represent thousands of products representing hundreds of principals. Companies that introduce more technically complex products for distributors to sell should not express high sales. The harder for a distributor to sell, the less likely that they will promote it due to lack of thorough product knowledge. For example, Apple’s sales of their products are much higher through their own store rather than the big box electronic retailers. The reason is that the Apple salespeople are trained to understand their products thoroughly and answer any questions that a customer may have.
You can have motivation, be a good listener, and have extensive product knowledge but if you don’t have good work ethic then you made your job so much more complicated. Good work ethic involves having the discipline to organize yourself on all the different tasks involve in selling. This is more of a necessity when you are involved in relational oriented sales.
The life of a salesperson is one of being the consummate multi-tasker. On any given week, the salesperson has to prepare for calls for that week, plan for calls the following week, follow-up on calls from the previous week, write up call reports, track sales, deal with internal related issues and entertain in the evening. This does not include activities such as preparing for budgets, preparations for sales meeting, sales training, and product training.
Sales requires a lot of preparation and planning. With all the activities that a salesperson has to do, the requirements for a strong work ethic is paramount.