In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in his country, observing that twenty percent of the people owned eighty percent of the wealth. In the late 1940s, Dr. Joseph M. Juran inaccurately attributed the 80/20 Rule to Pareto, calling it Pareto's Principle. While it may be misnamed, Pareto's Principle or Pareto's Law as it is sometimes called, can be a very effective tool to help us manage efficiently but it can also be applied to virtually every facet of our lives.
So what does this have to do with front-line selling? I hear you ask. Well it has everything to do with it because you see, 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.
It is true that 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.
Top 5% salespeople are able to first identify and then capitalise upon the political component within the buying process. They develop and sustain strong commercial relationships at all levels within their accounts and 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.
In addition Top 5% 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.
So What Is It That Top 5% Players Will Be Doing This Year?
• They will position themselves with the real decision-makers and avoid those without 'approval power' because they are able to first identify and then access the formal decision making unit.
• Not only get the order but a satisfied customer, repeat sales, enthusiastic reference sites and constantly increase sales penetration within their accounts.
• Know how to minimise the uncertainties of a cold call on a new account, by careful planning and rigorous opportunity assessment.
• Recognise when to treat an old account as a new prospect and keep the relationship fresh, alive and maintain profitability.
• Never entertain business they do not want because they recognise that it takes just as long to work an unprofitable opportunity through the sales funnel, only to lose it at the death, as it does a profitable one. They trust their own judgement but also rely heavily on objective assessment.
• Readily identify and know how to deal with the four different buying influences present in every sale i.e. Economic Buyer, Technical Buyer, User Buyer, and Ally.
• Understand how to prevent sales from being sabotaged by an internal enemy. They insulate themselves by developing strong allies within.
• Will be able to recognise fail-safe signals that indicate when a sale is in jeopardy. This comes from experience but also information supplied by their allies.
• They will be in tracking account progress and be able to accurately forecast future sales because they use proven methodology, which allows them to weight every opportunity in the pipeline.
• Avoid 'dry-months' by allocating time wisely to their critical selling tasks i.e. Prospecting for new business, covering the bases with existing opportunities and finally closing the best few.
Three additional areas, which set Top 5% 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 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 that fails to recognise 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 recognising 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 organisations 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 organisation 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 fulfil their financial ambitions.
What I can say for certain, is that successful selling has become an exclusive club of highly skilled professionals where, for example, product knowledge, time management skills, objection handling and closing skills are the cost of membership, not leadership.
Today's News: Here is a message from a fellow Top Sales Expert and a very switched on guy, Steve Kraner.
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Tomorrow: Don't worry, just because I will not be posting, does not mean I'll be taking the day off! One of my new colleagues posed the question earlier in the week: "Do you ever sleep?" I responded that I am I very rigorous in ensuring that I get eight hours every week - see you on Monday - JF
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