At a pre-pandemic sales leadership conference, I was honored to be a general session panelist. When the panel began to take questions from the audience, the first was from a frustrated vice-president wondering how to motivate his reps to cold-call prospects.
A high-ranking panelist covered his lapel mic and leaned over to me. “How I hated cold calling, and I’d do anything to avoid it! I was awful at it,” he said.
As if on cue, another attendee stood up and explained everyone on his team had to “dial for dollars,” or they wouldn’t survive in sales.
At work here was a myth: There is a right way to sell.
I have studied data on hundreds of thousands of sales professionals over my career, and I know there are almost as many ways to sell as there are salespeople. Success in sales involves creating relationships with prospects; presenting one’s wares in convincing ways; developing great solutions and/or presentations for each audience; handling objections; and, yes, asking for the business.
These are, if you will, the “whats” of sales. However, studying the salespeople reveals that the “hows” are often vastly different — even within the same company.
The data tells us that sales leaders shouldn’t hold their teams accountable for “cold calling,” which is, after all, a technique. Instead, they should hold sellers accountable for opening the door to new business.
Take my role model of cold calling, Ellen. She has energy, command of situations, fearlessness, and charm to burn. She will call anyone and work her way through gatekeepers by wooing them or wearing them down. She’s the ultimate opportunity opener — or, as her company calls her, the table setter. And she does it all without a script.
Then there’s Nate. He has plenty of sales talent and success, but is reticent about meeting people and hates when people hang up on him. So, he uses social networking extensively, keeps track of prospects in the news, sends them interesting articles and then emails to establish relationship. He will tell you he never makes a cold call, but he makes plenty of first calls.
Should we tell Ellen to adopt Nate’s strategy, or vice versa?
The answer is obvious, but all too many managers are oblivious.
Managers should spend more time helping salespeople discover their path to success than force-feeding them techniques.
Doubtful? Think about the best 5 salespeople you’ve ever known. Are they clones? Do they all do their job the same way?
Probably not, but they do share in a collection of talents that tend to lead to sales success. Their share in those talents is distinct and most likely different than the share their peers have. In sales, these dimensions of talent (naturally re-occurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior) are:
Drives & Values — Do they work hard, constantly push themselves to be better? Are they competitors who must be the best at what they do? Or, are they driven by intrinsic desires to do good for customers?
Work Style — Are they relentless, highly urgent, always on the move? Or, are they planful and move carefully, taking care of the details?
People Acumen – Do they light up a room with “outgoingness” and positivity? Can they read people well? Do they value relationships and continuously extend themselves?
Influence — Do they recognize and react to “buying signals?” Do they take charge in their interactions with others?
Thought Process — Are they experts in what they are selling? Do they analyze situations well and see their way around problems?
Even for your best producers, the answers to these questions are not always yes. There are many ways to be successful, and because of this you cannot manage each salesperson the same way as the last. When managers spend more time helping salespeople discover their path to success in a talent-based approach, each individual’s strengths are maximized and complement their team’s strengths.
In our next post, we’ll take a look at another myth that leads to so much bad hiring in sales.