I was recently reading a regression analysis on successful characteristics in sales representatives at Hubspot, an inbound marketing company. While I admit part of my joy at reading the graphs was that they affirmed my own perspectives on what makes a sales person successful (and I love data), they also contained some wisdom I think is worth investigating.
Top three traits correlated with long-term sales success at Hubspot:
- Domain Experience
Characteristics actually negatively associated with long-term sales success as Hubspot:
- Closing Ability
- Objection Handling
I would like to spend this article breaking these down:
- Preparation: In our current world of technological sales, buyers have a lot of information. They have review sites, they have friends giving them feedback and they have virtual stacks of whitepapers. When you get on a phone with an individual your ability to help that person can often be largely based on what you know about them. The more you know about their business model, their clients and their vibe, the more you can prescribe useful advice. It doesn’t surprise me that preparation in both the pre-demo and post-demo phases ranks as the most important variable.
- Adaptability: I can construe this value in two ways. One is on an internal company level. Companies, particularly again in the rapidly changing technology and SaaS space are constantly evolving. Teams are shifting, management structures are changing and the product itself is finding new niches. Can a representative handle when a product moves from solopreneurs to middle market companies? Do they have the ability to adapt their approach from slinging volume on the phones to hunkering down and doing more research? Also, can they deal with the changes that come from a 30 person to a 500 person company. In a 30 person company knowing how to prioritize, multi-task and wear a lot of hats is paramount. In a 500 person company knowing how to focus and delegate rises up in priority.
The other side of this is adaptability on the actual sales calls themselves. When you look at attributes like “Preparation”, it’s pretty straightforward. Gather relevant and useful information about the client based on their website, social media profiles etc.. But what happens when you get on a call and your idea of what they are looking for is off? A good sales representatives listens carefully and knows how to pivot and abandon pre-conceptions when the client give them a more refined view.
- Domain Experience: When dealing with complex products (versus more transactional products) having a robust understanding of the industry is crucial. Your job as a successful sales representative is to be an educator and to add value. To do this you need to know what has worked and what hasn’t in your space. You need to be able to understand competition and how you differentiate in an intelligent, quantifiable way. When dealing with C-class executives or business decision makers Domain Experience can be a crucial part of the rapport process. You build a relationship with a client by showing you understand their needs and how your tool works in this marketplace.
- Closing Ability: Many times in sales the ability to install urgency and push a sale to make a buy decision is held in high regard. The fact that this found itself on the bottom of the list correlated to success does not surprise me. With an educated consumer with boundless resources to inform them, your job as a successful sales representative is to create value so compelling they are asking YOU when they can begin. And if not, focus on giving them resources and more value. Trying to do the old subtle shift of, “So John, it’s been great talking, what is your timeline looking like on this?” I think is antiquated.
- Objection Handling: I loved an episode on the a16z podcast that discussed how top sales performers in the SaaS market deal (or don’t deal) with competitor objections. First, it talks about how the onus is on the sales representative to set the tone of the conversation and anticipate what Mark Cranny calls “traps” before they occur. Understand your company’s weaknesses and strengths, as well as those of your competition. Use this as leverage to guide the conversation and favorably address weakness before they are even brought up. Try to avoid being put on the defensive. Treat clients with respect but learn to pivot (see adaptability above). A representative can be wondrous at tackling a prospects objections or worries, but wouldn’t it be better if they created an environment that had the client less worried in the first place?
- Convincing: Gosh, even the word here seems to carry a bad connotation. I think the discussion here is brief: When you focus on how can I get Person A to take an action instead of trying to be helpful and supportive, you are in for a bad time. You might get them in the door if you have a silver tongue, but they won’t stick around and ultimately it will be a loss of time and money for everyone. This comes down to a simple variable, be authentic and be honest about what you can and cannot do.