If you’ve worked in the same sales role for more than a year, then by now you should be getting the hang of things.
You should have a handle on your presentations and common objections, on how to sift through qualified and unqualified prospects, on common priorities within the industries you service, and on how to maneuver through your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
So now that you’ve made it through that awkward first year, what should your next step be as you continue down the path of mastering your current responsibilities?
From this point forward, your primary focus is to examine the sales tools you use most and make sure to keep them sharp and ready for action.
Be careful because a lot of sales professionals mess up at this stage and things can get ugly really fast. In fact, most sales professionals start to lose interest in their current job after the first year and start looking for another position (or are at least more open to recruiters that start reaching out to them).
During the first year in a new sales role, most sales people are kept occupied in training or even just by just learning from their mistakes. In this stage, they feel there is still hope in hitting their quota and reaching their income goals. And when their employer is less than perfect, it’s easier to let things slide since the sales people themselves are still learning. However, as sales professionals get through the new-job learning curve, their expectations get more grandiose.
Now that they are no longer stumbling through the presentation, or chasing the wrong prospects, they expect to get noticed and maybe even promoted—or at least expect sales to start closing with less effort. And when these things don’t happen, they start to point the blame elsewhere; now that they’re no longer novices, it’s no longer their fault.
Those of us who’ve actually stayed in a sales role for more than 2 years know that things get real after you’ve made it through the novice phase.
These common expectations are like a new recruit going through the Navy’s 8-week boot camp and expecting to join Seal Team 6 on their next mission. Not going to happen!
So what are sales professionals to do once they are no longer newbies, but still not experts in their field? While the end-goal may be obvious, the steps to get there may not be. Here are 5 steps that sales professionals should implement to redirect their focus internally, sharpen their tools and start creating income multipliers in their role:
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Most (unfortunately not all) sales professionals will practice their presentation or their prospecting scripts when they first start a new job or maybe even when they get a new complex product to add to their list. However, very few will continue to practice after they are no longer stumbling.
Big mistake. Whether it’s by video-recording real presentations, or rehearsing with co-workers, the best sales professionals continue to hone their presentations. Every sales presentation should be a learning experience based on the things that go really well and the things that go bad. Take real-life scenarios and rehearse what should be done differently next time or what should be considered a best practice and continue to perfect your client interaction.
Sales-specific strength and endurance training
Being great at sales requires being a fast thinker and a fast problem solver. Just like athletes train for speed and endurance on a regular basis, sales professionals must also engage in sales-specific strength training on an ongoing basis. One of the best ways to do continue to develop critical sales traits such as problem solving, quick thinking, un-self-conscientiousness, perseverance, and audaciousness, is to participate in improvisation drills.
Practice should be ongoing and can be as simple as playing improv-style games with family and friends, speaking in front of large audiences, or something more structured like joining an improve group or camp. Take advantage of any opportunity you can to develop strengths and improve upon weaknesses and develop your sales-specific endurance.
Research shows that teaching others is one of the best ways to master a task. Experienced sales managers know this and many will kill two birds with one stone by having their slightly more seasoned sales team members train new team members. If that scenario is not an option, sales professionals should seek other opportunities to train others—for example, sign up to be a guest speaker at a local business school or relevant community program.
Learning from others
While many sales professional tend to be lone rangers, pairing up with other sales people on their team, or even other employees in R&D, marketing, or operations, can provide valuable insight. Learning from other sales team members can help identify new best practices.
Cross functional relationships can be very productive and will help sales professionals improve their knowledge on the company and products as well as get a broader perspective on how their role affects others in the company. If you really want to beef up the cross-functional exposure and get an insider’s view of what your clients need most, spend time with your clients’ operations team outside of a sales meeting.
While perfecting your golf game may still be a good way to build relationships in some industries, many prospects are looking for a lot more than schmoozing on the golf course or chatting over drinks.
In the 2016 Altify Buyer/Seller Index, a survey of over 1,000 purchasing companies shows that buyers are looking for value in the form of industry expertise from their sales professionals. Most importantly, the research shows that when sales professionals deliver on this value, closing rates significantly increase.
In most situations, the work it takes for sales professionals to develop their reputation as an industry expert quickly pays off and translates into less prospecting and cold calling. To jumpstart this process, sales professionals can join a committee or board in their trade organization, start posting professional articles on social media, and even offer e-books with valuable insight into their specific industry. If executed correctly, it does not take long to reap the benefits and get recognized.
To bring it all together, once you have made it through the first year in a new sales role, continue to focus internally and take the time to sharpen your tools. Develop yourself as an expert in your field and become more than just an above average prospector and presenter. Sales professionals must keep their tools sharp and strive to bring value to their team and their customers. Doing so creates synergy in your role, helps you exceed your sales goals and career goals, and creates skills that become income multipliers you’ll keep with you throughout your career.