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Becoming an Exceptional Sales Professional

The two things that salespeople must do are to sell and to keep customers happy. It's not complicated, but it's not easy. One of my assignments while at AT&T involved designing a sales competency model. We wanted some way of assuring ourselves that our salespeople could sell effectively. We wanted to know we could relied on them to consistently deliver results that we and customers wanted. We were especially concerned about preventing mistakes by identifying the skills or knowledge they needed ahead of time.

Until we developed this competency model, we did as most companies did. We hired people. We sent them to a sales training course and did other training from time to time. We assigned them a territory. We gave them a manager. We gave them sales goals.

Their territories were large, which meant that the sales manager didn't get to spend much time with each salesperson. So we weren't sure that they were doing the job as well as they could be doing it. Yes, we could measure results, but could the objectives have been higher and still have been realistic? Were they even the right objectives? We really wanted to be sure the salespeople were competent to do the job.

So we developed a competency model. This model started with the two results we wanted from our salespeople, sales and customer satisfaction, and worked backward from there. If the salespeople had to be able to make a quality sale and maintain customer satisfaction, what specific skills and knowledge would they need in order to do that? How would we measure their skill level in each area? How would we develop those areas that were weaker? What type of person would best match the job? Those were the questions we started with to develop the competency model.

Bear in mind that competency is a lot like fluency in a foreign language. You can take a language course in school, but that doesn't mean you are fluent. Just because you know something doesn't mean you can do it well. When you represent your product or service and your company, you don't want to take a chance and find out you are not "fluent" in some important skill or product knowledge area. You lose credibility, which is costly.

When I've asked sales managers for the profile of their best performers, they described them in the following ways.

  • The best performers have a wide range of contacts within the account. They develop those multiple points of contact to expand or protect the business. They communicate with people at various levels in the organization, not just at the contact level (management, executive, and professional), and with people in various functions (engineering, finance, or product development, for example).

  • The best performers take initiative. They take responsibility and ownership without being asked to do so. They don't ignore issues; they take action. They drive business decisions.

  • The best performers understand business, not just sales. They work to come up with solutions that address the customer's business issues. They know how to put together a business "deal."

  • The best performers are good communicators. They communicate with a variety of people. They get their message across, making sure it is not misunderstood or lost. They are excited about what they do and are convinced that it is the right thing to do for the customer. They don't rely on force to get things done, but are diplomatically persistent in getting people to act quickly.

  • The best performers have a positive attitude. They may face obstacles, but they believe they can achieve their objectives in spite of those obstacles, or even because of them. They rarely (if ever) complain, whine, or commiserate; they are more likely to act to change a situation they don't like. They tend to have a good outlook on life in general, are able to look at the big picture when they need to, and often have a sense of humor that helps people feel at ease. One sales manager told me that in Europe they call it charisma. No matter where you are or what you call it, it works.

This is the profile of someone who is highly competent in a range of important skills: a leader. It's someone who not only makes the sale, but influences others to follow their lead to accomplish great things.

What is your competency level? How do you know? Could it be improved? What new knowledge or skills do you need to keep pace with product, technology, and industry changes? Could your attitude be improved? How much time are you willing to invest in developing professionally? Are you willing to critically evaluate your effectiveness and accept feedback? These are some of the questions exceptional sales professionals answer and act on.

If you want to be among the world's sales leaders, you will find a treasure trove of strategies contained in these pages. Use them and expect exceptional results.


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