Performance Based Results interviewed 400 highly seasoned business-to-business sales professionals. With their help, we’ve identified eight qualities you want to look for when hiring the right candidate, or when coaching a current sales performer to achieve maximum results:

1) Being Creatively Persistent.
There’s a fine line between persistence and pushiness, and a smart sales professional knows how to toe that line. When good salespeople hit a wall — unreturned phone calls, no response to e-mails — they don’t give up easily, but they don’t make pests of themselves, either. Such a person will find ways to reconnect before an opportunity withers away. It’s not just a matter of leaving call after call in his contact’s voice mail. In order to connect, he’ll talk with the gatekeeper, the executive assistant, and others in the organization. He may call or even show up in person at odd hours, like 7 a.m. or 7 p.m., or even make phone calls on a Saturday morning.
When great sales people reach a sales stall, they approach the situation from a new angle. For example, one sales person was trying to reach an organization’s VP of Sales for months, with no response. So he bought notepads made to look just like a $100 bill and wrote a note to the VP reading, “Let’s turn this into real money for you and your sales team!” He crumpled it up, threw it into an oversized envelope, and mailed it to him. The client got a laugh, called him back and got his business after a great meeting that really got a good dialogue going.

2) Being Passionate.
Persistence and passion typically go hand in hand. A good salesperson is passionate — that is, he truly believes in his solution. He’s hungry, motivated and competitive. This sales rep is a doer, not just a talker. He doesn’t blame the economy, or competitors’ lower pricing, or waste time whining about possible weaknesses in his product compared to the competition. He’s got great ideas, and they’re measurable by the number and quality of his activities. Passionate salespeople create their own opportunities instead of waiting around for them!

3) Prospecting for New Business.
The key is for salespeople to actively seek out new business relationships rather than limiting their sales efforts to a dwindling customer base. Leveraging and strengthening an existing customer base is important, to be sure, but it’s all too easy to become complacent and keep calling on the same customers. Sometimes the relationship has run its course. In an economic climate like the one we’ve been in recently, a once promising customer may now be in dire straits, possibly due to mergers and downsizing, so the salesperson’s timing is off. He’s better off investing his time and efforts on fresh new opportunities. Good salespeople are always looking to develop new business relationships, not waiting until their current well runs dry.

4) Planning Before the Call.
Great sales people always bring value on every call. They plan and strategize their key accounts. A lot of sales reps like to “show up and throw up.” Depending on the complexity of the account, up to 50% of the outcome of a major sales call is determined before even one word is exchanged. Good salespeople are thinking about multiple plans. In fact, they’ve already figured out Plans A, B and C before they even walk in the door.
Checking the customer’s Web site is a good start, but great salespeople go further. They’ve done their homework, having read trade publications, talked to insiders about industry trends, researched industry blogs such as Technorati for more insider information, news of competitive threats, and political and internal issues. They keep up with issues and obstacles that can negate or catapult an opportunity. That’s why it’s vital for salespeople to become business advisors to their customers — someone who can provide value-added information to drive opportunities forward.

5) Developing New Relationships in Established Accounts.
When a salesperson wins an account and develops good rapport with a buyer, he tends to gravitate towards that relationship, becoming protective of it. But when he does, he might fall into the trap of being too cautious. He may fear that if he digs too deep in trying to build new relationships, he’ll step on his contact’s toes or offend him some other way. The sales rep may think, “If I’m going to reach out for other business relationships when I already have this relationship in place, this person will help open doors for me.” But when his contact says, “Oh, you don’t need to contact anyone here but me,” that’s a red flag signaling that he really should be reaching out to others in the organization. Relationships can turn on a dime. Even if a sales rep thinks he’s got it made with a particular account, if he suddenly loses this business relationship, he’ll find himself starting from scratch. Therefore, it’s so important to leverage existing relationships and insist on gaining access to other decision makers and influencers. As a result you and your customers will continue to grow.

6) Asking Great Questions to Uncover Buying Needs.
Most salespeople have the best intentions, but without realizing it, they’re often doing more talking than listening. Asking the right questions allows you to qualify if there is an opportunity to pursue, and if so, how pressing is the prospect’s need? Who is involved? How are decisions made? What’s the unique criteria your prospect looks for in a vendor relationship? What are the underlying motivations? What kind of budget do they have to invest with you? A great sales rep shows genuine interest and listens, but asking and listening go hand-in-hand.

7) Selling Value.
What if a good salesperson takes pride in his premium product or service, only to be told his price is too high? Not necessarily a problem if he’s already asked great questions of all the right people in the organization and done his homework. By then, the sales rep understands his customer’s needs and issues, and where the customer wants to go. Because the sales rep understands, he’s easily able to justify why the customer needs to make that initial investment in the rep’s solution over competitive choices.
Sure, the customer can pick other options, but there’s always the implication that if he were to do so, the risk would be too great. Let’s say the customer went with a lower-priced computer system of lower quality. A glitch in the customer’s computer system causes it to crash, bringing everything in the company to a standstill for the rest of the day. That could cost the customer thousands of dollars, easily wiping out what he saved when he bought that cheap system. Or let’s say a delivery to the customer’s customer was a day late. That’ll not only cost the customer big bucks, it could cost the salesperson a client! Good sales reps thrive on selling value because the additional investment in choosing a premium service fully outweighs the potential cost of doing business with a cheaper but inferior alternative.
A sales person in our study shared the following example. A doctor was looking to invest in an expensive piece of radiographic equipment for surgery on patients with spine issues. Treatment with this device costs $2,000 per patient. The doctor ended up spending a good $37,000 on the device, about 25% more than what the competition was offering. However, if he’d bought equipment of lesser quality, and that inferior machine went down for even one day, it would mean the difference between the doctor helping 12 patients (his typical per-day average) vs. being unable to help any patients! Do the math: 12 patients times $2,000 = $24,000! So you see, equipment that performs well saves money (and in this case, patients) in the long run.

8) Getting Customers to Commit.
Salespeople must make customers commit to achieving some form of closure, some kind of outcome to each sales call. Even if the salesperson doesn’t get an agreement on an order right away because multiple steps are required, that’s okay. This salesperson knows he won’t be satisfied with just leaving some literature and promising a follow-up call. He always has a purpose, a call to action. It could be as simple as the sales rep scheduling a follow-up meeting with other parties, or an appointment to return to demonstrate a product or service to the customer, or bringing the customer and his boss to visit and evaluate the salesperson’s facility — whatever it takes for the sales rep to encourage customers to continue the sales process by getting them to invest time and or resources, demonstrating a willingness to keep the sale moving forward.

Sales is a vital part of any organization -- if you’ve got a product or service, you’re going to need someone to sell it. Especially in the world of complex B2B sales, having a team of great salespeople is the difference between making or missing revenue goals. In my position, having a great sales team is the difference between sleeping or lying awake night.
Getting into Sales can be high risk -- but also high reward. There's lots of demand for great salespeople; in fact there is more demand for sales talent than is available to fulfill it these days. What's constantly debated at most companies (including HubSpot) is: "What is the difference between a regular salesperson and an exceptional one?" What philosophies, skills, values, and methodologies do the latter use to get ahead and stay ahead?
To find out, Niti Shah and I asked a few of our sales executives, managers, and representatives that same question. What we got was an outpouring of great advice addressing everything from how to talk to a prospect, to the value of leveraging internal resources, to the importance of being dedicated, to constantly improving skills and knowledge. They all reflect a common theme: at the end of the day, Sales should be about helping prospects. 

1. Form Real Relationships
Be genuinely curious about your prospect's professional and personal life so you can form real relationships. Don't ask questions just to figure out if you think they'll be likely to buy your product. Ask questions so that you can truly understand what your prospects are dealing with and what they'll need in order to be successful with your solution. If you are indeed able to help them with their goals and challenges, you'll have built the trust required for them to buy and stay with you."
"Treat a prospect as if he or she will be your best customer. By adopting this philosophy, you force yourself to give all prospects the same level of consultation during the sales process and provide them with a solution that truly matches their needs and goals. Happy prospects become happy customers who may refer business to you within or even outside their organization. Down the road, they are also more likely to take you with them when they move companies. By treating every prospect this way, you’ll not only find great clients, but also establish a wide network of trusted contacts over the years."
"Create cross-departmental relationships. In the long term, a lot of salespeople miss out on strategically setting up internal relationships with people in other departments at their organization. It’s likely that there are dozens of people in your organization who can help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Sometimes their help comes in the form of hopping on a sales call with you if their expertise could be helpful to one of your prospects. Other times it can come in the form of being your mentor for career conversations that broach topics beyond Sales. If you can balance your long-term relationships with short-term quotas, you'll find that your success grows in both respects."

2. Truly Believe in What You’re Selling

"People can tell when you are saying something you really believe in versus something you don’t. Be confident about what you’re selling and talk to a prospect as if you were sitting down with your best friend face to face. Emotional involvement of the prospect -- though only part of a successful, consultative sales process -- is still a very critical piece. If you aren’t excited and passionate, how can you expect your prospects to be? Numbers and facts alone will not inspire a prospect to act unless they are emotionally invested in changing. The best salespeople know their products and services can help a willing customer reach their goals. A great salesperson is truly fulfilled when they can accomplish that."


3. Be a Consultant, Not a Salesperson

"It's much better for the prospect if the salesperson diagnoses a problem and works with their prospect to solve it. When you’re just starting out as a salesperson, you are often tempted to go into a call with prospects eager to pitch your services, and then ask for the sale. Most of the time, the pitch does not resonate for some reason that the salesperson never uncovers. The prospect then gets turned off because the salesperson seems only interested in helping themselves, not helping them. It's also not in the best interest of the salesperson as it causes a lot of "deal chasing." Deal chasing leads to stressful nights because you don't have any insight into why a prospect doesn't bother answering questions or returning calls. How do you avoid this? Instead, learn to think like a consultant and seek to really understand your prospects’ goals and challenges. Once you learn to understand and diagnose the problems your prospects are facing, you can problem-solve together. The value of your product will be much more apparent to the prospect, sometimes without even a need for a pitch."
"It's important to invest time at the beginning of the sales process to really understand the prospect’s business. Ask about the company’s objectives, goals, and challenges. The tendency is to want to speed through the "qualification" stages and get to what most people refer to as "selling" or presenting the solution. You need to resist that temptation. Sometimes, it makes sense to schedule an extra exploratory call if you don't feel like you fully understand the prospect’s needs and the factors affecting his or her decision-making process. If you rush, the things you missed will inevitably come back in the form of objections after you've presented an incomplete and less-than-customized solution."

4. Be a Good Listener

"Let the prospect do the talking. If you have trouble pressing 'mute' internally, then press the 'mute' button on the phone after asking your prospect a question. It will let them articulate their thoughts in full and can help you guide them toward their own conclusions. Initiate a dialogue with a prospect by asking him or her some open-ended questions that can't simply be answered with a single word. Ask questions like, 'Tell me more about what an ideal customer looks like for you,' and then follow up with 'Why's that?' Show them that you've listened to a long-winded answer by paraphrasing what they've said, and use this summary to transition into a relevant follow-up question. The trick is to ask questions on the call without making the conversation feel like an interrogation. Once you mastered that, you're well on your way to properly determining whether your product or service can truly help the individual you're speaking with."
"Asking questions and listening carefully are incredibly important to being a successful salesperson. One carefully worded question could help you uncover the needs and wants of a prospect way more effectively than what you think is a convincing pitch. Also, when listening, leave out affirmations like 'aha' and 'yes.' Affirmations like these distract and interrupt your prospect's train-of-thought and show that you're impatiently listening, just waiting for your turn to speak."

5. Be a Curious Skeptic

Be honestly curious and helpful. Ask 'Why?' A lot of qualification calls sound like a one-sided interrogation instead of a two-way dialog. Questioning with curiosity allows you to challenge a prospect's assumptions without offending them."
"To be most successful as a salesperson, you need to be skeptical about what your prospects are saying even if they're saying what seems like all of the right things. Prospects will often tell you what they think you want to hear just to get to the part of the sales process where you talk -- that's when the pressure is off of them. Most prospects don't want to reveal challenges or share the consequences of their challenges for a variety of reasons. They could be embarrassed, be afraid of repercussions of acknowledging issues, or may want to try to figure out the solution themselves. What do you do in these situations? Use storytelling and positioning statements to help prospects realize that you can help them with their challenges and that it's worth the risk to reveal their struggles with you. You need to learn how to uncover these things even when prospects don't want to share. Otherwise, you could be presenting the wrong solution or pitching unnecessarily, wasting everyone's time and destroying your credibility as a helpful salesperson in the process."

6. Leverage Your Resources

Everyone loves to help salespeople sell. Bring in leadership, technical resources, or someone in your prospect's role from within your own organization to make your prospect feel like a VIP. Prospects will love having your coworkers on the call -- they'll trust your coworkers to bring a different perspective with a lower perceived bias. You can also use executive connections as a carrot to be traded for a meeting with one of their executives if you are stuck at the influencer level. And, pulling in resources is a fantastic way to network with other people in your company. If you do your diligence and the necessary legwork to make sure the connection is a successful call, you will build your own credibility quickly with your prospect and within your company."

7. Be Open to Learning

"Be coachable. Are you open to new methods and advice? Do you apply what you’ve learned to your sales pursuits? In interviews, I often role play a specific sales scenario with the candidate, ask them to self-assess, and then provide them with coaching. I then ask them to do it again. Many candidates fail this test because they aren't great at self-assessing shortfalls and absorbing the takeaways I give them. Some just revert back to their way of doing it and miss the whole point of the exercise. Based on my experience of hiring and managing hundreds of salespeople, this lack of coachability is one of the biggest reasons I see salespeople fail. But, when salespeople embrace learning, critical feedback, and coaching from other people, they make immense progress on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. We hire lots of salespeople who have never sold before, yet they become some of our best salespeople because they are so coachable. Ask yourself if you're coachable and how much of a difference it could make in your sales career if you were."
"Keep learning. If you can't name a sales book that you've read and how you've applied it in a previous job, you're doing a disservice to yourself, your prospects, and your profession. Actively seek out ways to learn from others outside of your day-to-day job: books, coaching, blogs, and peers can all be extremely valuable sources to learn from. Without a commitment to learning from others, you will not improve as a salesperson. Curious salespeople not only seek out learning from others, but they are also good at understanding and uncovering their prospects' needs during the sales process. Curiosity increases earning potential deal-by-deal and year-by-year."
Sales is a great way to jumpstart your career, increase your earning potential, and grow as a person. You have the chance to wear many different hats in a fast-paced, high-stakes, high-impact role. You have to be an expert on every facet of your product and company. You have to be a great listener, a consultant, a problem-solver, a challenger ... all in a friendly, helpful manner. My advice to you? Grab a mentor, leverage your resources, always seek to learn new things and improve your sales skills, and most importantly: always strive to help -- not sell -- your prospects. Do this and you'll go far.
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