Recent exhaustive surveys suggest that only 5% of professional salespeople reach and remain at the highest level, which we call 'Level 3'. A further 15% attain 'Level 2' status, but the majority - i.e. a massive 80% - remain at 'Level 1' in terms of potential achievement.
'Level 1' salespeople sell products and depend on having the right technical solution for the customer's specification.
'Level 2' salespeople sell solutions, which changes their image from sales rep to business consultant and positions them as a potential strategic resource.
Most salesmen and women manage to advance from Level 1 to Level 2 fairly easily, but unfortunately, many find breaking through that final glass ceiling extremely difficult - i.e. moving from competitive sales professionals to collaborative sales consultants.
'Level 3' salespeople are able to first identify and then capitalize upon the political component within the buying process. They develop and sustain strong commercial relationships at all levels within their accounts. These relationships endure, because they are based on mutual respect and trust. Their clients feel secure, so secure, that they would be fearful of changing supplier.
'Level 3' salespeople rarely, if ever, lose an order that they really want, because they are always in control of the sales cycle. They have identified that in marketplaces where product uniqueness and technical expertise are no longer enough, it is they themselves, that make the difference - i.e. their superior skills.
Three additional areas, which set 'Level 3' players apart from the rest, are:
Commercial Acumen - Collaborative sales professionals have high levels of strategic awareness and they can communicate comfortably with board level players - i.e. the economic buyers - using common language and terminology. 'Level 1' and 'Level 2' performers, unable to demonstrate credibility when discussing financial, commercial and political issues, are usually left behind and require assistance from a manager or director.
Competitive Courage - In order to achieve consistent levels of success in today's environment, it is necessary to be able to pro-actively target competitors and their client base. Any individual, who lacks the guts for a fight and is not comfortable with competitive selling, will severely restrict their potential.
Being Focused On Political Activity - You can of course question the legitimacy of politics, but you cannot deny their existence. The sales professional who fails to recognize the importance that politics play in virtually every complex sale, will almost certainly consign themselves to a career at 'Level 1'.
No one ever said that we must take part in the political game, but recognizing that a game is being played, whether we like or not, is essential - i.e. what you understand, you can manage.
However, I fully appreciate that most organizations will not necessarily need to populate their sales teams with' Level 3' performers, even if they could find and afford them. There will always be tasks, functions and indeed markets, where 'Level 2' or even 'Level 1' salesmen and women can comfortably exceed expectations.
What is important is that we ensure we have the right level where we need it most - i.e. round pegs in round holes. If an organization is attempting to compete in a market sector where 'Level 3' skills are required and yet their team is predominately at 'Level 2' in terms of expertise, experience and development, they are unlikely to consistently win the business they need in order to fulfill their financial ambitions.