I am always intrigued when people say to me ‘I would love to be the number 1 sales person’ or ‘the number 1 sales leader in the company’, and when I ask them what they are doing about it, more often than not, they do not have an answer. It seems that they see what others are achieving and simply wish they could have it as well, not understanding exactly what it takes to achieve high results in sales and sales leadership.
The results just do not happen overnight, and yet to many people, successful sales people and sales leaders appear to be an ‘overnight success’. They see the results of their work and often say to themselves ‘I’d love to be them’, or ‘I would love to have what they have’. The reality is, is that nothing could be further from the truth – they are not an overnight success. These sales people and sales leaders are successful because they understand and have prioritised something from day 1 – and that is, preparation. They understand that preparation is the key to sales success.
As Abraham Lincoln said many years ago, ‘Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first 4 sharpening the axe’. Sharpening the axe is preparation, which means that when it is time to execute, and cut down the tree, it is done effectively and efficiently. Too often, I see particularly sales leaders want to make a fast start, have an immediate impact, and get things going – so they literally take off out of the blocks like a greyhound, and yet within a very short period of time, they become tired, worn out, and they do not achieve their optimum result. Take the example of the Olympic athlete who will be competing in the 100 metre sprint. How much preparation must the sprinter undertake in order to be ready to compete in the race at the highest level, let alone win it? For world class athletes, at least 4 years. That is 4 years worth of preparation to compete in a race that lasts no more than 11 seconds! So why do some sales people and sales leaders assume that they can literally walk up to the starting blocks and run an Olympic 100 metre race? The key to being successful is in the preparation.
So in a sales context, what is preparation?
Preparation is knowing your customer, almost knowing them better than they know themselves.
Preparation is knowing their industry and the key trends taking place in the industry that may effect their business.
Preparation is being aware of the competition, analysing them and being aware of what strategies they may use, and countering them.
Preparation is knowing your business and how you are able to differentiate yourself from the competition and stand out.
To maximise your sales success, here are some key principles to consider in your preparation. I would love to know what other principles you use in your business :
- Plan your strategy – this is critical. Rather than grabbing the axe and immediately starting to chop down the tree, spend time sharpening the axe, developing a strategy that will give you the best possible opportunity of cutting the tree down with minimal chops. This will save you a significant amount of time.
- Conduct a thorough study of consequences – based on the strategy you have developed, plan out the strategy in terms of consequences. These are literally a series of ‘what if’ statements that enable you to plan for various scenarios once you have implemented your strategy. This will enable you to be flexible and change direction if and when required. And when you identify all of the possible consequences, you will not be pushed off track when a customer puts up an objection because you have already identified it.
- Focus entirely on the needs of the customer – remember, sales is not about you, it is all about your customer. They are the ones doing the buying, and to be effective, it is critical that you place yourself in their shoes and see the world from their perspective and articulate the benefits of your product or solution from their perspective and not from yours. Prepare to ask curiosity based, open ended questions to see their world through their eyes.
- Know what motivates your customer – do you know how your customer makes decisions? Do you know their behaviour style? Do they love detail or do they prefer the big picture? Do they prefer to get straight down to business or do they prefer small talk before business? Knowing this will enable you to prepare for a great customer outcome.
- What are your customer’s blockers? – Is there anything, or anyone, who could prevent them from making a decision and moving forward with you? These must be considered, as often, the blockers are beyond the control of your customer – they are imposed upon them. Knowing this will enable you to develop a mitigation strategy.
- Be very clear on your outcome – define and understand specifically what a successful outcome actually looks like, including what specific action your customer will take as a result of your strategy. As you know, without knowing your outcome, you run the risk of going around in circles and not getting a result.
- Plan to handle objections – so many sales people get caught up on objections and think they have to ‘overcome’ them. From my perspective, objections are great because it means the customer is still interested – we just have not fully persuaded them yet. When handling objections, remember to make it less about your product or service and its features, and more about the benefit to the customer, backed up and supported by evidence such as statistics, case studies or testimonials.
At the end of the day, sales success can be 100% predictable and not a game of chance. When you prepare well, take on board the principles shared here, you may still experience some setbacks, however, your success rate over time will significantly increase because you have spent the time sharpening your axe.
Let me know what else you do to prepare for sales success – I’d love to know.
To your continued sales success.
If you want to know how you can better persuade and influence your team, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Darren is a Sales Leadership and Sales Performance Coach, Facilitator & Speaker. He is an experienced and committed coach with a background of sales leadership success in large organisations. He applies a genuine focus to coaching and developing high performing sales leaders who are looking to unleash the potential of themselves and their teams.