Hiring salespeople is no mean feat. Their prior success isn’t always an indication of future performance. There are a great deal of skills and attributes that are vital to success in sales that are difficult to gauge in the interview process.
More important than all the rest of skills or attributes are the salesperson’s beliefs. Beliefs drive actions, and actions drive results.
They Fail Not Because of a Lack of Skills or Abilities
Most salespeople that produce less than they should—and less than they are capable of—do so not because of a lack of technical skills.
Most people can learn to do what is necessary to open the relationships that create opportunities, to ask the questions that build an understanding of their dream client’s situation, to build and present a solution to the people with whom they have built relationships, and to negotiate mutually beneficial deals.
The product knowledge can be taught. The sales process can be taught. And most of the other skills, like business acumen, can be gained with time and effort.
When salespeople fail to produce, the presenting problem looks like it’s related to skills. In almost every case, it’s not a lack of skills. It’s something else completely.
They Fail Because They Are Unwilling
Many years ago, I hired a salesperson. He had no natural abilities. By that I mean that he was not naturally attractive physically or otherwise (in fact, he was something of the opposite), he wasn’t at all polished, he didn’t understand general business principles, and he had none of the natural charisma that some in sales possess. He was clumsy and awkward, the very opposite of the stereotype.
But what he had instead was something far more powerful. He had a willingness to do all that was necessary to succeed. He had three children he was raising alone, and he had to work very hard to be able to provide them with the life that he wanted for them.
When other salespeople were busy drinking coffee and chatting, he was willing to pick up the phone and call his dream clients to find opportunities. There were a lot of salespeople who were better at prospecting than he was, but there were none more willing. He was as relentless as a rainstorm.
When he did get in front of his dream clients, he asked for a commitment to move forward. He was clumsy, and he was almost always premature in asking for an order—an order in which he had done very little to earn or to deserve in the way of value-creation. He was willing to ask for commitments when other salespeople were unwilling, and again and again he obtained orders and new clients.
Watching him, it looked like many of the clients that gave him orders gave them to him because they believed that he was never going to go away or stop asking, so they simply relented and accepted what was inevitable. His willingness to persist when there was absolutely no reason to believe he should was simply amazing.
After winning an order and a new client, he brought the same bulldog tenacity to his follow up and follow-through. While some salespeople were unwilling to make sure that everything they promised was delivered and that their clients received the outcomes that they promised, he was always in his clients offices, always following up to ensure everything was working, and always asking for another order. He was willing to stand next to his clients and help them with their problems and challenges—even though it wasn’t his strength. Lesser salespeople would not have been as willing to be present.
The difference between the top 20% of performers and the bottom 80% isn’t usually a difference in their abilities. More often than not, some of the salespeople in the bottom 80% have the greatest abilities and skills. The difference almost always boils down to their willingness to do what is necessary to succeed.
Some salespeople have an underlying belief system that provides them with a willingness to take actions that, while often unpleasant, produce greater results. Salespeople that don’t produce as well often try to find away to make the necessary actions more pleasant but far less effective.
What are the tasks that salespeople have the skills and attributes to undertake, but fail to take because they are unwilling?
How do you identify a willingness to do all that is necessary when hiring a salesperson?
Can willingness be trained? Coached? How do you increase a salesperson’s willingness?
What are the unpleasant tasks that the successful and willing do and the unsuccessful and unwilling fail to do?
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