Many mid-tier sales reps believe they know how to sell. Through will and determination, they get the job done. When the market is in decline, these reps fail. When the market is growing, they sell enough to get by. Here is the problem. The representative does not know what she does not know about sales. Her boss does not know any more than the sales representative when it comes to high-level skills required to master the sales profession. Unless the boss was a high-performing sales professional herself, she does not know what the sales team needs to know and do to be successful.
Together, they both believe more work is the solution. More calls, visits, or emails only lead to unsuccessful outcomes and added frustration. Working harder is not the solution. More ineffective emails or calls will not help and can make things worse by poisoning the desperate sales representative in the buyer's mind. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. More ineffective work is not the solution.
Top sales professionals are successful in four areas of intelligence. When the market becomes challenging, weakness in these four areas becomes more visible. Sales ability growth can happen in three out of four.
The first area of sales intelligence is innate intelligence or (intelligence quotient) IQ. This area is how smart you are. It is your mental ability to think and reason. IQ score is a standardized way of comparing this ability with most people the same age as you are. While you can move this number somewhat over time, it is more related to genetic ability. You cannot do much to improve another's level of intelligence. It generally is what it is. Think border collies versus basset hounds as a comparison in the dog universe.
The second area of sales intelligence is acquired knowledge or AQ. This area is how much you know about sales. Sales knowledge gets acquired through formal training and experience. The hard truth is many reps have little skill-building and rely primarily on experience to gain new skills. Trial and error help them improve incrementally over a long period. According to an Aberdeen study, only 29% of sales reps hit sales targets in the first year. They have not acquired the requisite knowledge to be successful. Sadly, many companies select a person with a friendly personality and stick them in a sales role hoping for success. Some make it while others fail to perform. Selling is hard!
Sales acquired knowledge (AQ) has the most opportunity for growth in an individual sales representative. Short-term training is not the answer. Without follow-up, salespeople will lose 80-90 percent of what they learned in training within the first month, according to a study by Sales Alliance. Long term skill-building and application of learned skill is the answer. Selling capability (skills and knowledge) can improve a sales representative's performance remarkably. According to the Rain Group, best-in-class companies with a training retention plan have 31% more sales reps reach quota than the industry average and a 10% higher year-over-year increase in corporate revenue.
The pandemic has surfaced a severe vulnerability in the sales profession. Technology acumen (TQ) is how fast you leverage technology. Sales reps who are afraid of or refuse to leverage technology are at high risk for failure. Covid-19 lockdowns accelerated the use of technology in sales six years in a matter of a few months. In other words, technology changes that would have happened over six years are here now after a matter of months. Virtual selling is here to stay.
High TQ sales reps embrace new technology for selling and are willing to evolve methodologies. They avoid getting stuck in the old ways of dealing and weave new technology into sales seamlessly. When it comes to sales technology, they adopt, adapt, and become adept. They get it.
Conversely, low TQ reps are waiting on a return to a routine that will never happen. They avoid Zoom meetings and make excuses for not closing deals. They honestly believe the skills of two years ago are enough to be successful in the future. They see technology as a necessary evil at best or something to avoid at worst. The sales profession will pass them by if they do not embrace change.
The last area of sales intelligence is emotional intelligence (EQ). This area is the ability to perceive, correctly interpret, and respond to customer needs. High EQ reps can connect with people in person and virtual settings. They accelerate trust-building to close deals faster by building stronger relationships. They get to ink fast.
Emotions matter in sales. People buy the sales rep, and customers buy the rep's feelings about what they are selling. Emotion becomes the glue that connects all aspects of sales. Highly skilled sales representatives influence the buyer's emotions during the sales journey and gain a distinct advantage over the competition. These sales reps listen for emotional cues from the buyer and leverage them to close more deals. I call this listening for the buyer's feelings in my sales skill training.
Sales reps strong in all four areas are leveraging the pandemic to increase sales. I watch them close deals while others remain locked down with fear and anticipation of a return to normal. Sales reps strong in one or two areas are going to reach mediocrity at best. Think about it for a moment. 44% of salespeople give up after one follow-up call. It takes an average of 18 sales calls to connect with a buyer. Do they know the best time to make a cold call (4 and 5 pm)? Do sales reps use social media, and does it matter? Consider the following social media sales statistics from Spotio:
There is good news. Except for innate intelligence (IQ), skills in the other three areas can be learned and applied to close more deals. Willing participants can learn to improve performance. Overcoming status quo bias can be daunting. A fixed mindset can be a severe obstacle for developing reps to change and adapt. However, representatives with a growth mindset always learn and search for a competitive advantage over rivals in the market. Here is an example. The average decision-maker in business receives about 120 emails a day. Instead of sending another cold email to get deleted, send a short embedded personalized video (using Vidyard) holding the person's name on a tablet. Make the video energetic and passionate about the target person's problem or issue. Seeing their name and a video will make your email different from the many others and is more likely to get opened. Share this tip with your sales team!