What separates a good sales team from a mediocre one? What separates decent sellers from the best ones? I have been in different Go-To-Market sales and product organizations for over a decade. I have seen firsthand how strong operators allocate their time and scare resources to add value and drive change. If you want to excel in sales, product marketing, or business strategy, here are a few high-level tactics you should deploy.
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.
You have an incredible amount of opportunity, but you can’t do everything. Be great at ruthless prioritization. There will be infinite opportunities for you to add value so prioritize the big stuff and get buy-in from peers/leadership on those priorities. You will burn out if you don’t. Get comfortable asking yourself the following question: am I doing the single most important thing? If not, change your behaviour. If you are, great. Keep going until that action or task is complete.
I once heard an interview with President Obama. He noted that only the really really hard things reach his desk. The same should be true with yours. Engage in the most high valued activities and de-prioritize other actions. A soccer coach I once had told my team: “you will be asked to juggle many balls, and it’s ok to drop some. Just don’t drop the glass ones.” In other words: when asked to do many things, it’s ok to say “no” or let some balls fall. But keep the precious ones and discard the rest. This is true in sales motions, when managing your social media relationships, and in interpersonal relationships too. Focus on what matters.
When a Problem Occurs, Close the Loop
After an issue or a problem arises, how do you make sure you’re not back there again? If you have a doc that says “This is what we’ll do,” how do you make sure the doc is not just where it ends? Make sure there is a mechanism in place and the right mindset to make sure it happens. A mechanism is a complete process that is used to solve a recurring problem, then reinforces and improves itself as it operates so the problem doesn’t reoccur. Move fast and ensure that there is little wasted time. When asked a question, it is best to simply answer it without embellishment and too much explanation. If your audience wants to know more, they will ask and you can then collect customer feedback. Start with answering the question asked. If you don’t know the answer, even when you feel you should, don’t dig yourself a hole by pretending you do; always say “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you.” You’ll find it earns trust. Remember: when a problem occurs understand the root cause and nip it in its bud.
Be transparent in your communication
If you are a seller or a product leader, your customers (internal and external) will value your transparent communication. Strive to make each e-mail, all hands, or client engagement as transparent as possible. Always be open to feedback. Ask for feedback on everything – your docs, the way you run a meeting, the way you engage with the team. Take in the feedback simply as new or additional information, and make your own educated decision on what you need to improve on. If you try to do too much too soon you will likely fail – you need to learn the language and people, and be very thoughtful about where you want to make an impact. This is why transparent communication must be learned and executed over time. Pretend to be in your first job, layer in your experience as you learn and tackle the basics first. There are a lot of tools, systems, and processes in a sales motion. Don’t shy away from learning how things work, even difficult things or practices you don’t initially agree with. You’ll need others along this journey to help you figure these things out, so practice quickly building relationships. Ask a million questions, challenge, and ask “why.” When people communicate back to you transparently you will see how this approach empowers you. And pass this form of communication on to others.
Likewise, figure out what the most important metrics of your area or business are. Run reports on them and have them ready so you can dive deep into them. This will make reporting upwards less of a burden. It will also help you better understand how to openly communicate. Because you will know what matters and how to measure it.
Earn your customer’s trust
Obsess over your customers by staying close to them, so you avoid developing a misguided sense of Customer Obsession. Choose a mechanism – content, surveys, regular emails, touch bases, etc whatever works best for you. Navigating the customer waters can be more productive and encouraging with a mentor you trust. Deliver great content on their needs to educate them, not sell them. For example, if they need credit repair help, direct them to educational pieces on credit repair, rather than your services. Find someone you look up to who can be used as a sounding board and provide guidance. You may already have someone in mind, so reach out and establish a formal mentorship. If you’re not sure who to reach out to, talk to your peers, manager, or those in your organization to receive recommendations. Grab a coffee, see how you feel, and keep searching until you find the right click. This mentor should understand your customers too. Together you have a strong focus on earning customer trust by building products that solve their pain points and that add value in their lives. Great sales people know how to communicate value. If you want to win business and secure your customer’s long-term satisfaction, know how to explain value in plain language. Sometimes to earn trust you have to be scrappy. You might find yourself having to dig for resources and information by yourself. Detailed launch plans and guides exist in some companies, but not all. This doesn’t mean you only have yourself to lean on – ask those around you for assistance and advice, but don’t expect these things to be readily available for you. Get used to the ambiguity and the constant learning. Your customer’s need to constantly learn and so do you. Lean it to that fact.
Bringing It All Together: Be an Owner
When you notice a problem in an area that you own or have influence in, don’t just simply verbalize it to the right audience; identify the problem and come up with a proposal or suggestion to solve it. That is how owner’s act. This is also how great product leaders and sales people act. This is what separates good sales people and excellent ones. Take the emotion out and make decisions that are right for the business or customer based on data or anecdotes. Don’t have the data? Figure out where to find it. Again, that is what an owner would do. You are not expected to say “Yes” to everything. Speak up, challenge, push back, but always present a “Why” and have alternatives. Get comfortable with debate. Then commit to the outcome. The owners of JoyOrganics and Takespruce are looking to add value because they want to expand their businesses. They want faster sales motions. So everything they have built into their website aligns with this goal. And to do this they need happier and more loyal clients. By speaking up (and committing), closing the loop, identifying problems, you can be a real owner. That, in the end of the day, is what will generate the most value. It doesn’t matter if you make and sell ecommerce health marketing websites or software that empowers language tutors, you need to also place the customer first and work backwards from that vocal point.
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