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In the right industry, a top sales performer can end up pulling in a higher salary than some of the most senior executives at the company. Leading tech firms such as Microsoft and Oracle, for example, have more than a few salespeople who are earning upwards of US$500,000 a year (if not more), with the majority of that of course coming via commissions.
Now, startup business owners are not concerned with paying themselves commissions. It’s rather about feeding the company with much needed revenue to get that infrastructure in place and grow. And when you look at one of our favorite stats about sales –which reveals that 8% of salespeople generate 80% of all sales– we know that this has little to do with luck, and much more to do with the effort put in. In other words, you control your destiny.
Success in sales, perhaps more than any other job role, comes from the sheer effort that the salesperson puts in. In fact, only 2% of sales occur at a first meeting, which means that 98% of the time you are going to have to literally “chase down” that sale. This does not mean hound and stalk and become a royal pain, but it does mean you are going to have to do a lot more than send off the information and wait for a response.
Let’s now take a look at four key ways top salespeople go the extra mile to win the business.
1. Send a package (not a gift!)
You’ve made your initial contact, sent over your proposal, and had a brief follow-up chat with your prospect. Now it’s time to play the waiting game, but that does not mean your role is a passive one. One tactic many salespeople use to stay top of mind is to send over some sort of reminder of why you would be so great to work with.
I am not talking about a lavish gift, but rather something that you think they will find genuinely useful in the business context in which you are tying up with them. For example, say you are trying to secure the sale of a small business financial software package. Why not send the prospect a book on financials for the small business, or one of those fancy business calculators?
The key takeaway here is relevance, otherwise it indeed just ends up looking like good old-fashioned bribery. And with that relevance you are also demonstrating that you care about contributing to their business success, which many will add a lot of weight to come decision-making time.
2. Offer a free sample of your work
A big part of the sales process is discussing your prospects key business pains and challenges in order to help them overcome these. But do you have to wait until you have closed the deal before you can demonstrate your company’s ability to address those pain points or challenges? Let’s say your company sells outsourced IT services. Why not offer to take on a small project for free to demonstrate the effectiveness of your service first-hand?
Now depending on the product or service you provide, this might not be realistic (or even possible at all), but in most cases there is a way to demonstrate your worth up front, be it a limited trial of your product, a free week of the service, etc. Of all the lessons I have learned over the years in business, one stands out very strongly, and that is the following: Providing a truly great service can make you indispensable very quickly.
3. Reach out
We spend so much time in our “corporate heads” that it’s easy to forget our prospects are people too. But we would do well to remind ourselves that a little humanity can go a long way. If your prospects are in the same city, why not invite them to a casual meetup away from the formalities of the office walls? A little fun never hurts when it comes to sales.
If your prospects are not in the same region as you, mix up the way you communicate with them from time-to-time. Don’t only contact them to press for a decision, but rather get in touch to share a piece of content that they may find useful or interesting, or to see if there is anything you can help them with in the meantime.
Also along those lines is getting in touch in a genuinely friendly manner. This works for the most part only with those you had the initial chemistry with, but when it is there, run with it. While we are all so apprehensive of taking a phone call from a salesperson, how often have you ended up having a really pleasant chat with that absolutely likeable, friendly, genuine salesperson who was just doing a casual follow-up call? For many, this is in fact a very welcome break from the workday, and can make all the difference when it is time to award the contract.
4. Persistence is needed in the digital age more than ever
Believe the old saying about persistence paying off, because it does. And it is now needed more than ever. The prospects you are chasing are, like the rest of us, busy people, and in the digital comms age, we get frustrated all too easily by that phone call, that email, that text message, etc. In fact, so much of the time we just want to make the noise go away.
How often have you just kept brushing off that salesperson, hoping they would go away, only to eventually cave and grant the meeting when they finally got you on the phone or in person on attempt number seven or eight? And then how often did those meetings result in a very serious discussion about a product or service that you could, in fact, see adding value to your company?
Today’s salesperson needs to be aware of this “comms reality” and keep pushing until contact is made. And it is not just to get the meeting, but also to get the final answer once discussions have moved further along. Again, we are so quick to say “no” nowadays just to get rid of the perceived annoyance, and this can happen at any stage of the sales cycle. But in reality, that prospect may truly benefit from that product or service you are selling, and you just need to catch them at the right time.
It’s a fine line between being persistent and stalking, but that is for you to use your best judgment on. Here’s what a recent study has to tell us about how persistent the average salesperson is: 44% give up after the first “no”; 22% after the second; 14% after the third; and 12% after the fourth. Do you need to be that person who goes for it the fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth time? Maybe that is what it takes to get in the 8% category of salespeople I mentioned upfront who are responsible for 80% of sales.
Back to the basics: what is sales, really?
Like anything, sales is a very legit trade when practiced honestly, and most of the salespeople I know and have worked with are all about finding the right prospects so as to genuinely discuss needs and challenges in order to ascertain if there is a fit. Sure, it happens enough of the time that someone really pushes an unnecessary sale on a vulnerable individual who was just too nice to say no, but that’s a lousy way for the salesperson to get through his or her career.
The takeaway for me from the above four points is to adopt the right sales mindset, which goes something like this: we are not here to make people’s lives miserable by chasing them, but we have a responsibility to chase where we believe there is a fit. Now the key thing to keep in mind is how we chase. If you are aggressive in a manner that just makes the whole process unpleasant for the prospect, that can’t work. But if your timing is on, if your tactics for getting in touch are well thought out, and if you work on striking the right balance between your personal and business self, you are doing what you need to do. Trust your gut, and don’t give up too easily, and you might find yourself among the 8% sales elite.