There is always a new breed that rises to be top dog. But the new breed simply doesn’t materialize out of thin air – it evolves from old breeds and combines with others to make something new and exciting. The philosophy applies as much to salespeople as it does to Westminster.
Today’s salesperson needs a blend of old-fashioned sales basics along with some new tricks to be successful. The sales process has changed dramatically, so today’s pros must know how to communicate and cultivate prospects through technology. Yet they can’t hide behind a screen all the time, because the experts say people still buy from people. Ask successful salespeople, and you’ll find that the very best harness enduring sales principles while adapting to today’s environment.
If It’s Not Broken …
Zachary Tyler is a lot younger than expected for someone who once sold Kirby vacuum cleaners door to door. That’s because he left school at age 15 when he fell in love with sales. His training was classic old school – knock yourself into someone’s home and sell them a $2,000 vacuum today and only today.
For the CEO of San Francisco-based Creative Marketing Concepts (asi/170631), the characteristics required to pull off that ’50s sales model hold true today. “Many of the closing, value-building and motivational techniques that I learned from Kirby are a thousand percent applicable within my company and this industry today,” he says.
Having been taught the old sales culture of Zig Ziglar, Tyler says classic training still works because “human nature is relatively unchanged.” He explains: “Selling is questioning and closing is remaining silent – that’s the same and I don’t think it will ever change.”
For Tim Meffert, owner of Proforma Effective Solutions (asi/491215) in Jackson, WI, the basic characteristics of success salespeople remain the same through his 25 years in sales: being positive, persistent and prepared. “If you can relate to people, uncover what they’re looking to do and give them some different solutions,” Meffert says, “you’re going to win some business.”
Just as decades ago, relationships matter. Technology works, but so does picking up the phone, meeting face-to-face and bringing spec samples. “This can be a tough, competitive business, but people look to work with folks that they like and trust,” says Meffert. Meeting face-to-face several times a year humanizes the business relationship and brings salespeople even closer to the client. “You want to be so ingrained in your relationship that when they have a problem, a project, or need a solution, hopefully your name, voice and face pops into their head,” says Danny Friedman, the vice president of Added Incentives Inc. (asi/106725) in Northbrook, IL.
Grace Hiles, a rep at Booker Promotions, Inc. (asi/142800) in Atlanta, GA, thinks the ability to look on the bright side is an enduring quality. “I think the most important quality for a sales person is positive outlook,” says Hiles, who is only in her mid-twenties. “Even if you’re talking to the grumpiest person in the world, it’s contagious.”
Along the same lines, motivation still drives salespeople to success. “Salespeople with the best attitude are not only willing to do what it takes to be successful, but are committed to doing it day in and day out,” says Lisa Peskin MBA, CEO of Business Development University.
Even though these traits qualify as “old-school” tactics, it’s clear they apply to salespeople of all eras, no matter their age. “The core values of being a salesperson in terms of perseverance, following through, overall drive and hunger, being motivated by yourself and also competitive at the same time but keeping the balance – having those sales qualities spans the generations,” says Hiles.
In addition, broad stereotypes – Millennials don’t work hard, Baby Boomers don’t get technology – aren’t so easy to cast. Sales trainer Richard Ruff, Ph.D., has noticed in his sales training that Millennials don’t want to be lectured with 100 PowerPoint slides. “And it even drives older people crazy too,” says Ruff, managing partner of Sales Momentum. “So get away from the typical classroom style,” he says, offering the more engaging alternative of sales simulations where students practice and offer feedback.
Ultimately, some salespeople may prefer social networking while others prefer real-life encounters, but the end goal is still the same: generating business. For Friedman, the magic formula is still one hundred contacts to gain one client. “You still need to network and contact as many people as possible,” he says, “because that’s never going to change.”
More than ever today, customers don’t want to be “sold.” They need a consultant rather than a sales pitch. Meffert advises learning about their business and industry to offer effective solutions and be a problem solver. “You need to be creative,” he says. “There are a lot of products in this business, so what customers are looking for is somebody who can dig into their business and understand what they’re looking for and bring ideas to the table.”
The consultant role was a major shift in the sales profession, but Ruff says it’s necessary to adapt since buyers now search online before contacting salespeople.
“Customers today are looking for salespeople no longer to be just a product facilitator – they want a trusted advisor,” he says. “They want somebody that can help them reframe their problem and think about an innovative way to position their products.” He adds that today’s winners have a comprehensive understanding of their customer, their organization and their challenges. They ask the right questions and skip tricky closing techniques in favor of “being a very skilled person having a business conversation.”
Technology has played a dramatic role in that shift. For one, customers have ready access to product information simply by going online – information that was only available in the catalogs that distributors dispensed a quarter-century ago.
Likewise, Peskin says her methods of selling and finding new business has drastically changed since the 1980s because the avenues of communication have changed. “In the olden days, before the Internet and before computers were prevalent, it was a lot of dialing for dollars and even knocking on doors – traditional cold calling in the prospecting mode,” says Peskin.
Today, salespeople can gather more information about customers before meeting them. “It’s much easier to build rapport,” Peskin says, “because I can see where they’ve worked, who they know and what their hobbies are before I even walk into their office.” Social media can play a big part in that, and having savvy in LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook is effective in reaching decision-makers. But Peskin still advises a “multi-pronged approach” that uses online efforts, such as social media, combined with proven techniques of phone calls and sales visits. “They need to use a combination of various efforts to fill their pipeline with good, qualified prospects on a consistent basis,” she says.
Ruff says analytical tools, CRM systems and apps can help a rep do a better job. Millennials may adopt these tools more naturally because “they grew up with that stuff” but many boomers aren’t intimidated by technology (just visit an Apple store). Hiles adds that while “the Internet is not going to make you a better salesperson,” being knowledgeable about using tech tools is an advantage. “I think being technologically savvy gives you a leg up,” she adds. “Being able to multitask, researching and responding to emails – they increase your chances.”
“You still need to network and contact as many people as possible, because that’s never going to change.”
Danny Friedman, Added Incentives, Inc. (asi/106725)
Tyler cautions that technology shouldn’t become a crutch. He spent thousands on a custom CRM, so he sees it as useful, but only as a tool to highlight the best opportunities to close on a given day. “It’s no substitute for a salesperson’s responsibility to go out there and pound the pavement – it’s solely a resource to be managed,” says Tyler.
Friedman says today’s sales superstars are the Jack-of-all-trades, skilled at both interpersonal selling and selling through social media. The most valuable commodity is time, so the goal is to use any and all communication channels well to reach a high level of sales efficiency. But regardless of the tools they use, salespeople must possess a good work ethic, or else they simply won’t succeed.
“I’m old-school in that salespeople must be ready to work hard, but I’m new-school in that I’m sitting at a desk with two screens – I’m fully automated,” says Friedman. “It’s definitely a new world, but it’s not dramatically different in my mind.”
Key Tools for the New Breed
Read an Oldie but a Goodie: Meffert likes Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling by for its basic selling principles. “Some people might think it’s old-school, but to me it goes back to do your follow-up, do your preparation,” says Meffert. “If you said you’re going to do something, do it.” Tyler says The Psychology of Selling by Brain Tracy states concepts which hold true over time. “It’s the one book that matters. I still read it today and have epiphanies from it,” says Tyler.
Understand Any Personality: Peskin recommends using the DISC behavior assessment tool to figure out how to deal with different personality types. DISC centers on the traits of dominance, inducement, submission and compliance. “It allows you to understand yourself better as well as your prospects better,” she says. “And it allows you figure out the best way to deal with different types of individuals.”
Do Your Schoolwork: Ruff recommends online sales courses that offer access to timely and high-quality training without high costs or pulling salespeople out of the field for a couple days. Choose courses that provide insight on navigating through this period of disruptive change. “If buyers change how they buy, you’ve got to get aboard that train,” says Ruff, who recommends the hosting platform udemy.com.
Susan Thomas Springer is a contributing writer for Wearables.