The Importance of Mastering (Sales) Fundamentals

Staying inside the ropes for a moment, Tiger Woods is arguably the greatest golfer in history.  The influx of great young players from around the world, combined with, uh, Tiger’s distractions in the last 15 months seemingly challenges that argument until you look at even one more unbelievable statistic.  The current top twenty “up and coming” professional golfers under the age of 30 have won a combined total of 19 tournaments worldwide.  Tiger Woods won 55 tournaments all by his lonesome before he hit the age of 30.  Case closed (sorry Golden Bear.)

Woods’ accomplishments seem all the more remarkable when you consider the way he has gone about it.  Who else with the talent and record of a Tiger Woods would re-tool their swing from the top of the backswing all the way down to his spikes four times, the first three of which led to progressive improvements and breakthroughs in an already masterful game.  The answer is simple:  nobody.  No one else would even contemplate such a radical and risky approach to their golf game, much less to their approach to any profession.

So what motivates Woods to do this?  An absolute belief that the basic fundamentals must be perfectly in place before building the rest of the business (in this case his golf swing.)  And an unquenchable desire to break through all barriers, be number one and dominate his profession.

Wouldn’t those be nice characteristics to have across your sales force . . . .

In business, and more specifically in sales, as in Woods’ golf swing, an adherence and a mastering of sound fundamentals is the key to success.  What are these fundamentals to success in sales?

  • People/Personnel
  • Sales Methodology/Process
  • Systems/Measurements
  • Customers and Products
  • Leadership

 Let’s break these down a little bit:

  • People/Personnel:  each individual sales rep’s ability to perform at a consistently high level and win the business.  There are some given’s which must be worked on and improved, and some intangibles which must be exploited
    • Skill sets:
      • Proven Sales Performer
        • Desire and Attitude
        • Sales Activity and Time Management
        • Sales Skills
        • Product Knowledge
        • Sales Strategy
        • Generic Attributes
          • Integrity
          • Intelligence
          • Energy
          • Decisiveness
          • Execution
      • Savvy:  Street smarts to go along with book smarts
      • Likability:  People buy from people they like
  • Sales methodology/Process:  what is the sales cycle path laid out for your sales team to take their prospect through on a consistent basis
    • Needs to map to what works with sales reps’ skill sets and type of business
    • As detailed (or not) as can be managed and reported against
  • Systems/Measurements:  what systems are in place and/or need to be in place to gather meaningful data and provide the ability to measure that data against a series of pre-defined metric benchmarks in order to gauge necessary improvement 
    • Ability to capture key data points during the progression of the sales cycle and provide territory management measurement and analysis for continuous improvement
    • As automated (or not) as can be implemented and adhered to across the sales team
    • DO NOT automate your sales methodology, system workflow and feedback analysis until you have mastered the fundamentals and all “manual” processes are in place and adhered to by your sales team
  • Customers and Products:  sounds obvious a company needs to have customers and products, but there are many fundamental questions and decisions to make before building a sales and marketing strategy
    • Do I have a defined target market to capture the types of customers that make sense and are profitable for my business?
    • Product(s) must be at least “adequate”
    • Product(s) must be “believed” in by the sales team as providing legitimate value
    • Does not have to be the “best” product on the market
    • More importantly must be fully understood and believed in by the sales team
  • Leadership:  consistent leadership built upon fundamentals that can be relied on by sales team for guidance, attitude, motivation, measurement and continuous improvement
    • Speaks for itself

 As Tiger Woods has demonstrated over and over again, the bottom line is until or unless your sales team fundamentals are in place, you cannot build the rest of the structure and expect to ascend to and maintain world class sales performance.  All the marketing programs and lead generation in the world will not make one bit of difference without perfect fundamentals which will lead to breakthroughs in sales performance.

Ask yourself this question:  Does your sales executive leadership have the vision of building a team of Tiger Woods’?  Or a team of Happy Gilmore’s . . . . 

First, the fundamentals – then the breakthroughs.

How do you hire a world class sales team?

Hiring a world class sales team (WCST) is undoubtedly any organization’s desire and is in fact necessary to survive and thrive in these challenging times.  Breaking down the general category of “hiring” into a measurable and achievable process is vital to achieving the goal of building your WCST:

1.         Candidate Characteristics

There are arguably a finite number of basic qualities to look for which serve as a starting point and common ground for whittling down a larger talent pool to the finalists you would choose from to build your WCST.  One could argue that there are two parallel lists of desirable characteristics:  those for selecting a proven sales performer, and a more generic list that may be used for any hiring model.  Combined they cover most of the innate and learned skills needed to be successful in today’s competitive environment:

  • Proven Sales Performer
    • Desire and Attitude
    • Sales Activity and Time Management
    • Sales Skills
    • Product Knowledge
    • Sales Strategy
  • Generic Attributes
    • Integrity
    • Intelligence
    • Energy
    • Decisiveness
    • Execution

In order to find the best sales candidates during the hiring process (and it needs to be a well thought out process) to maximize your chances of building a WCST, a case can be made to dig even deeper than these necessary qualities:

  • Trust/”normality”:  Integrity is an admirable quality, but will your customer/prospect truly trust your sales candidate?  Will he consider his sales rep “normal”, i.e. can he visualize being a friend with your sales candidate beyond just being a transaction?
  • Street smarts vs. Book smarts:  While a high degree of gray matter is absolutely necessary, a healthy blend of street smarts with book smarts is vital to gauge in your sales candidates.  There is no substitute for common sense and instinct in your sales candidate beyond just having a high IQ or a high GPA. 
  • Attitude:  Attitude is not just desire or aggression.  It’s the entire way your sales rep carries himself in the prospect’s eyes.  It’s the perfect blend of confidence and competence in their product knowledge and sales craftsmanship.  Despise, yet respect your competition.  Believe and convey you hold all the cards in winning the deal.  
  • Consistency:  To guarantee success in a given prospect situation and across their entire territory, your sales candidate must have consistent practices and processes deployed so that no step in the sales cycle is missed and therefore your sales leadership is confident that repeatable processes are practiced across the entire WCST.
  • Creativity:  Assuming a given sales candidate shows strength in the above mentioned categories, heavily weigh perceived candidate creativity in winning business using methods that are outside the norm.

2.       Interview Process

  • Questioning preparation and technique:  Start by developing a list of customized questions around agreed-upon desirable characteristics from the lists and arguments above to challenge sales candidates.  A consistent questioning approach with each candidate will ensure a fair comparative before your final selection.
  • Stop and listen:  Make your candidates do nearly all the talking, listen intently, take notes and compare answers across all candidates.
  • Layered approach:  Once a list of “finalists” has been established, have a consistent team approach to cross-interview each candidate.  Ideally, have a nagging naysayer on the interview team that will challenge conventional wisdom on who best to hire.

3.       Candidate selection

  • Don’t just rely on your gut:  Ideally, you will have multiple thoroughbreds to choose from.  Discipline yourself against a “gut level” decision, but rather scientifically dissect your finalists’ skill sets and create a consistent tiebreaker question or theme in the event of a too-close-to-call situation.
  • Pedigree does not always win the day:  If you have developed insightful questions, and scientifically analyzed candidate characteristics and responses, then do not revert to purely prior experience or scholastic pedigree to take the easy way out in your decision to build a WCST.
  • Don’t assume you will be 100% right:  You won’t always hire the exact right candidate to build out your WCST despite developing and adhering to the perfect process.  In the event of a hiring misstep, be fully prepared to pull the plug after a quarter or two and reload.  There is no greater mistake than carrying dead weight on your WCST.

 

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