Over the past 15 years, I've gained a lot of insight from interviewing my customers' customers. After talking to the heads of sales organizations, I ordinarily ask them to provide me with the names of three of their top salespeople. I interview these top reps to learn more about their industry, and then I ask them for some of their own customers to interview. What makes these customers so qualified to describe the attributes of a top performer is that they've been sold to by the best in the industry. Based on those interviews, here are the top five traits found in the best salespeople.
1. Focusing on the customer: Here's what one customer told me: "A good rep approaches the sale from what you need to get your business going. They'll often help you by showing you examples of what other people have done to be successful. They're not after the quick sale; they want a long-term relationship. They help you come up with ideas that are outside their product or service. Unfortunately, with most reps, you get the feeling they're more self-serving than customer-serving."
2. Following through: You wouldn't believe how many customers mentioned salespeople who never called back! The best salespeople get back to customers right away, even if it's just to tell them they're working on the answer and will contact them later. Here's how one customer explained it: "Some reps, when they're trying to get your business, call you all the time and answer your calls right away. But after the sale, they disappear. Suddenly they're never in the office, and you have to leave three or four messages before they call you back. As far as I'm concerned, that's the best way to lose me as a customer."
3. Having the right knowledge: As one of my interviewees said, "Sales reps have to know what they're talking about. And it has to be the right kind of knowledge--like how many people I reach and who my key customers are. Sometimes reps come on very strong and expound on things like they know it all. That's not knowledge; that's just showing off."
4. Understanding customers' problems: The best reps know how to fulfill customers' needs, solve their problems and help them achieve their goals. One customer put it like this: "A good sales rep has my best interest at heart. [The rep] should ask questions so she can understand my objectives. She might even help me define those objectives, and then make a presentation about how my objectives can be met with her product or service."
5. Going above and beyond: The most successful sales-people go out of their way to lend a helping hand. As one customer told me, "We're not a company that looks solely for price. What's more important to us is the extra effort and degree of service we get from the rep and from the company. There's one sales rep who is outstanding in both effort and service. If we have an unexpected workload that exceeds our supply, she's willing to [do whatever it takes] to get us through the crunch period. We had a case where she even drove the product from Greensboro, [North Carolina], to Charlotte [for us]. Because of her, we would not change vendors for a difference in price."
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