Are elite salespeople made or born? That’s a question I get frequently. No question – there are natural born salespeople. But, if you hire a natural born salesperson, there’s no guarantee that person will become an elite salesperson in your company. There’s more to it than that.
To answer the question, “are elite salespeople made or born?”, my answer is “yes”, and this article provides a roadmap for finding and supporting elite salespeople.
First, let’s define “elite salesperson”. Based on my experience and what I’ve read, an elite salesperson performs in the top 20% of his/her class. In a Harvard study of salespeople, it was found that 62% of products and services sold in the B2B marketplace were sold by 20% of the salespeople. Consequently, we’ll define “elite” as the top 20%.
There are 5 factors to becoming an elite salesperson:
- Solid understanding of your products/services work and how they solve problems for your target customers
- Selling and communications skills that enable the person to uncover problems and the implications associated to those problems
- Sales process that is defined and efficient, and the right tools to support the process
- Motivating sales incentive plan and a culture that values sales growth
- Natural aptitude to sell
There’s no substitute for knowing your product and service, and it goes way beyond the features and benefits. The salesperson needs to understand the following elements:
- What are the most frequent and relevant problems the target customer has that relates to your products and services?
- What are the emotions your customers experience relative to the types of products and services you sell?
- How your products and services solve the most relevant problems for your target customers and what are the main benefits your customers will experience?
- What are the ways your products and services work so you can articulate the details and how they apply to solving the customers’ main problems?
Good customer research and personifying your customers will reveal answers to some of these questions. Other answers must come from learning the details of your products and services.
Selling and Communication Skills
Selling skills aren’t much different from having good, basis communication skills. Here are the main selling skills to be an elite salesperson:
- How to build rapport with a buyer and come across as genuine and unique.
- How to combine open-ended and closed-ended questions to uncover problems you can solve.
- How to increase the value of your products and services by understanding the implications of the buyer’s problems?
- How to listen effectively and communicate empathy to your buyers.
- How to ask trial closing questions to gain a deeper understanding of how well you are connecting with your buyers.
- How to ask for the sales without coming off as pushy.
These kinds of skills are best developed in dedicated training and development sessions and through observations in live and mocked-up roleplay scenarios.
Good Sales Process and the Right Sales Tools
A good sales process is comprised of several things including marketing and branding, technology, a refined sales sequence and others. Following are the most important elements to having a sales process that supports having elite salespeople:
- Do you have the right marketing and branding messages that connect to the emotional elements and problems your target customers have?
- What is your firm’s reputation in the marketplace and do you have a unique selling proposition that resonates with your target customers?
- Do you have an effective CRM and marketing automation platform, like Hubspot, that contains and utilizes information about your prospective customers?
- Do you have an effective prospecting strategy that supports you getting in front of qualified buyers on a consistent basis?
Your sales and marketing strategy and process evolve over time and can be developed quickly by working with a company that has expertise in both marketing strategy and sales management.
Solid and Motivating Culture and People
Many would argue people must be self-motivated, and I agree. However, your policies, practices, and work environment can influence motivation. Here are some factors to consider about whether your work environment supports elite salespeople:
- Do your people feel they can grow and reach the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?
- Are you recognizing the right behaviors…the behaviors that lead to sales success, good customer service and employee growth and development?
- Do your compensation plans recognize the right behaviors and are they effective reward systems?
- Does your work environment enable individuals to express and apply their personal styles, skills, and abilities?
If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you probably have a strong company culture, a relatively well motivated group of people; and an environment in which you can attract, retain and develop elite salespeople.
Natural Aptitude to Sell
You may have a good sales process with the right tools, a motivating work environment, and a solid way to train and develop selling skills and product knowledge. But, if you don’t have salespeople with high sales compatability factors, you won’t likely have elite salespeople on your team. This is where pre-employment screening and assessments come in.
To hire salespeople who have “selling in their DNA”, you should include some kind of sales assessment tool during the hiring process. I’ve used many in my career to assess salespeople and found the Craft Personality Questionnaire, or CPQ, to be the best indication of natural sales talent.
In summary, there are five factors to being an elite salesperson and one of them is simply a natural aptitude for sales. The remaining four consist of strong product knowledge, knowledge of selling skills, a good sales process that effectively incorporates the right sales tools, and a motivating work environment.