I recently received an angry e-mail from a sales rep who had attended one of my Webinars. The presentation in question had been geared toward sales management, but as this rep had been struggling at his job, what he was really looking for was advice applicable to him.
That prompted me to come up with a list of the 10 best things salespeople can do—by and for themselves, if necessary—to ensure long-term sales success. Bear in mind, this list isn't the result of a formal research study. It's what we at ESR observe the most successful salespeople doing every day as we work with our clients.
1. If no one else is handing you qualified sales leads, you must become an expert at creating your own demand and generating your own leads. There are world-class experts out there devoting blogs and articles to this subject. Mac MacIntosh and Brian Carroll are two such authorities whom I hold in high regard.
2. Unless you sell across many industries, get very, very familiar with the industry into which you sell. You've heard this before, right? Well, it can literally make the difference between making your numbers or not, year after year.
3. Get to the point where you can make a formal business case for your product or service. This applies to most (but not all) B2B sales situations. The more expensive your offering, the more important it is. Take 27 minutes and listen to this compelling podcast if you aren't convinced.
4. Get as comfortable as you can with technology—which is to say, technology appropriate to what's required to be successful at your sales job. It can help you learn, perform research on your customers and competitors, communicate, find business opportunities, grow your business network, sell more effectively, and generally make you more efficient.
Just remember though, technology is a medium. The end is winning business.
5. Make planning how to win your sales opportunities a habit. I recently rediscovered this blog post by my friend Geoffrey James, based on an interview he did with Lt. Col. Rob "Waldo" Waldman. When I say "planning," I don't mean writing a 90-page document. I've seen sales opportunity plans two pages long that absolutely made the difference in winning large deals.
One more point: I'm not interested in stifling your creativity or saddling you with busy work. If you're selling by the seat of your pants, starting this planning practice with something as simple as a checklist can make a big difference.
6. Qualify, qualify, qualify! Great salespeople don't pursue business that isn't winnable or worth winning. They make that determination early on by asking tough questions.
7. Learn how influence and power work within organizations. Two timeless books to help you learn: Rick Page's "Hope is Not a Strategy" and Jim Holden's "Power Base Selling."
8. Learn how to compete more strategically. For 80 percent of salespeople, "competitive selling" merely means telling their customers about their competitors' weaknesses. There is so much more to it than that. Both of the books mentioned in the previous item are good places to start. You can also follow Ken Allred's blog to get you further into a competitive state of mind.
9. Referral sell. Make zealots out of your best customers. Train them how to help you sell. Tell them precisely what they have to do to be an unassailable reference for you.
10. Stay away from quick tips and tricks. They won't help you become more successful. What they will do is give you the sense you don't have to invest the time, money, and effort into what it really takes to win—the nine things I listed above, plus a whole lot more.
I welcome and look forward to your thoughts.
Dave Stein is the author of "How Winners Sell" and CEO and founder of ES Research Group in West Tisbury, MA. In addition, he delivers keynote speeches and workshops on sales performance.