Advanced Selling Skills
Core performers seek to gather information in preparation for a sales call, but star performers focus on testing information in preparation for a sales call. Question every piece of information you receive from a prospect, and benefit from unexpected insights that set you apart and make you a top salesperson.
We often talk about “sales fundamentals” or “sales 101” -- the basic skills and knowledge a professional seller must master to execute an effective sales call.
But what about more advanced skills? What separates the best sellers from everyone else? CEB, now Gartner, research shows one significant difference lies in the way star performers prepare.
Advanced Selling Strategies
Customer prep 101
Thorough preparation prior to a sales call is a must for any sales professional. Every seller should work through a standard checklist of questions as they lay out their strategy to engage a particular customer:
- What business are they in?
- How do they operate/make money?
- How does/could my solution impact their performance?
- What has this company bought from us in the past?
- Who are the key stakeholders in this account?
- How does the company’s current performance/future trajectory potentially impact that opportunity?
And this, of course, is just the beginning. We could easily build a list of great prep questions at least three times as long. But, either way, these are the basics. “Sales 101” questions are crucial for formulating a coherent plan for customer engagement. Anyone hoping to execute an effective sales call is going to have to start with this kind of information.
Next, we consult the standard sources for potential insight: Our company’s CRM system, the customer’s website, LinkedIn, various web-based information aggregators, Google, our colleagues and contacts -- you name it. All to better anticipate customers’ needs, build credibility, and hopefully create a connection.
Customer prep 401
So, what do star performers do so differently than average reps? In terms of tactical activity, probably not much.
They’ll consult the same types of resources and ask the same kinds of questions. Granted, they might have a few extra connections to consult, a bigger network to tap, and possibly more experience to fall back on. But that might be equally true of many highly experienced, well-connected core performers unable to translate that knowledge into actual sales performance.
So, what makes the best sellers different? A partial answer is that some just work harder. But for all top performers, a bigger part of the answer is about posture.
The contrarian mindset
Whether it’s conscious or not, our research shows star performers tend to adopt a contrarian mindset as they process information. Nothing’s taken at face value. Instead, it’s subjected to skeptical scrutiny as star performers look for faulty logic, overlooked opportunities, sub-optimal execution, and inefficient operation.
Simply put, star performers are looking for places where the customer might have got it “wrong” -- through omission or commission.
Did they overlook an opportunity for savings? Did they rely on faulty assumptions in pursuing their current path? Star performers are looking for an “in” or a reason to have a conversation with the customer about their business on their terms.
They do this in a way that provides the rep an opportunity to offer that customer an alternate perspective, rather than a confirmation of one they maintain already. That’s how best sellers add value in the eyes of the customer -- not by sharing common perspectives but offering alternate ones.
So, where do these “alternate perspectives” come from? Often, they come from the same information, resources, contacts, and preparation pursued by any other seller in the same situation. According to CEB, now Gartner, research, the difference isn’t what they look at, but how they look at it. It’s a perspective purposefully geared to question everything:
- What business are they in: Is that a good business to be in? Is it a stable business? What kinds of challenges or threats are most likely to challenge this company’s performance?
- How do they operate/make money: Are there potentially other/better ways for them to make money or monetize that capability? Are there unseen or emerging alternatives that could threaten that ability to make money?
- Who are the key stakeholders in this account: Who should be the key stakeholders in this account? Who are we overlooking? Who is the customer overlooking?
Every question should be questioned. Nothing should be taken for granted. And nothing should be assumed to be (completely) accurate.
That’s not to say each question will generate interesting, contrarian insights. The source of any good “ah-ha” will certainly emerge within the specific context of that particular company. That’s why the overall “posture” is more important than the specific questions on a list.
You never really know which information, perspective, or action might best present an opportunity for disruption. But you won’t find it if you’re not looking for it.