If you’re a sales manager setting priorities for training or coaching of your staff, or a sales professional looking to improve your skills, it’s tough to know where to start. There are all sorts of training topics to choose from. Is it better to focus on, say, communication skills or industry knowledge? Better to sharpen your problem-solving skills or be a better schmoozer?
A 2011 study by AchieveGlobal may offer some direction. Among other things, the researchers asked salespeople what knowledge and skills they considered to be critical to their success. Then they compared the answers of high performers against those of less successful salespeople.
Top performers were more likely to identify the following skills and knowledge as being critical to their success:
- Possess an understanding of products/services being sold.
- Have an in-depth knowledge of the customer’s industry.
- Identify new opportunities in existing accounts.
- Conduct in-depth research of prospect organizations.
- Ensure that the organization delivers what is promised.
- Exhibit sales tenacity.
Here’s what less-successful salespeople selected as being critical:
- Actively build and maintain a network of contacts.
- Aggressively pursue leads.
- Tell stories to illustrate important points.
- Look for innovative ways to meet client needs.
- Provide customers with ongoing advice.
Of course, one could argue that all of these skills are necessary to success. But when push comes to shove, it’s interesting to see what different people push to the top of the list.
You are free to draw your own conclusions, of course, but here are mine:
First, I was struck by the fact that the top performers focused on basic blocking and tackling. All of the items at the top of their list have one thing in common: They’re hard work. Much of it is pretty unsexy – keeping up with the industry, knowing your product inside and out, digging out more sales from the same old customers. Less successful salespeople seem to be looking for a quicker path to riches – connecting with the right people, jumping on hot leads, regaling prospects with great stories, and so on. It calls to my mind the classic glad-handing, sweet-talking caricature that non-salespeople often have of the profession.
It seems to the hard-working grinds that win the day, however – the ones who take the time to really learn their products, customers and industry, and who work hard to deliver. There really are no shortcuts to sales success.
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