Insights I Gained From a New Seller!
by Chris Donato
Over the past two weeks I’ve been checking in with our newly hired sales reps, doing year-end-review conversations. Today I spoke with JaLisa—we hired her straight from college. It’s not only JaLisa’s first sales role. It’s her first professional job altogether. Having 20+ years of professional selling experience under my belt, I am interested in the perspective of a 20-something who’s new to this gig. What do they know that I don’t or maybe I’ve already forgotten? I asked JaLisa what advice she would give someone who is learning sales for the first time. Her insights reminded me of two things.
First, sales is very personal. While selling is a team sport, you cannot forget that a team is a group of individual players—each responsible for his or her own success (or failure).
Second, I was reminded to be aware of the downside of rigidly following “best practices.”
I won’t be able to authentically replay the discussion with JaLisa, but here’s the gist…
JaLisa explained that a lot (a whole lot) of information is thrown at you in the beginning of your sales career—product knowledge, process and procedures, call plans, industry information, sales guides, qualification checklists, talk tracks, etcetera, etcetera. Much of the information is introduced as “best practices.” As the model goes—if you do this, then you too will be successful. Reps are conditioned and reconditioned to just stick to the approach that works.
JaLisa went on to explain circumstances where following “best practices” resulted in limited success. The way she described it was “I felt like a failure and questioned whether I was cut out for a career in sales.”
I am on a mission (of sorts) to inspire young professionals to try a career in sales, so it was tough to hear that we almost lost one. It’s not only because JaLisa is turning out to be a strong performer, but also because I am one of the last people who just follows the script. Without realizing it, that’s exactly what I was advocating. I attribute much of my success to trying things that haven’t been done before—no matter how far it is from the status quo. Sometimes the approach fails, but in sales, failing is a smaller part of a larger process of succeeding. When I am in a situation where I am expected to “just apply the formula,” I fail and I head for the exit. Why did I think this would work for anyone else?
The problem with “best practices” is they do not fully take into account the uniqueness of the individual. Meanwhile, “best practice” is rear-view mirror thinking—what worked in the past vs. what will work in the future. “Best practices” don’t consider the incredible amount of change we’re experiencing in business today.
So—how can someone work with “best practices” in sales?
Best practices can be viewed as guides (on a map) that highlight specific routes that can get someone from point A to point B. Each route has a different set of challenges that introduce different choices and require different skills to move forward. JaLisa reminded me that a sales person must first figure out what they are truly good at in order to pick the approach that is the best fit—are you a relationship seller, a technical one, are you a better opener or a closer, are you administratively strong or weak, and so on. Identify your unique strengths and surround yourself with others who can supplement the areas where you are not so strong.
I’ve tried to conform or adhere to best practices—but I realized early on that I was good at some things and not so good at others. I’ve grown comfortable knowing that the first list is a lot shorter than the second one. This approach will not only unlock your potential—it will make you a much happier and satisfied seller.
I’m not throwing out the idea that a good system can out-perform a good individual. However, it is the responsibility of a sales manager to figure out how their individual reps fit into an overall selling system. While no two sales reps are the same, no two selling situations are the same, either.
This is an important insight for a new rep. Find your strengths and become comfortable doing the things that work for you. For experienced sales leaders, don’t rely on the idea that what has worked for you will work for everyone on your team.
I believe anyone with strong willingness can have a successful career in sales. The key is knowing your unique strengths while putting yourself into a system where your gifts are appropriately applied.
Hope this helps. Happy Selling.