The following is a guest post by John Eaton, a sales professional with over 15 years of experience in SaaS. During his career, John has helped deliver new business for companies like Act-On Software, Cisco WebEx, and Charles Schwab. He started selling at age 11, offering car washes to neighbors in Hollywood, Florida. John’s passions include his family, the Boston Red Sox, and rock music.
I’m a salesman. I’ve been a manager or individual contributor for the past 15 years and it’s a career I love. I take pride in helping companies tackle their objectives and appreciate that virtually every interaction is different.
But what do I enjoy most about sales? The competition.
Ask a salesperson about their competition, and most will reply with a feature, service, or price that is either better or inferior to their own. While it’s imperative that we’re attuned to our adversaries’ strengths and weaknesses and know how to sell against them, we must always be wary of the most formidable competitor – ourselves.
I keep a note at my desk that I wrote in 2005. I consider it to be my version of Jerry Maguire’s ‘Agent Manifesto’. On it, I listed two simple areas I wanted to focus on and believed that, if I paid close attention to these areas, I could be a pretty good salesman.
“Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory.” – Bill Russell
Willingness to Change
It’s not easy to change how I do things, especially if it’s working. But that’s how I break out of plateaus. When I underperform, I need to consider that perhaps my way of doing things isn’t quite cutting it and that there is room for improvement. One thing I like to do is ask the people I admire most for suggestions on how I can tweak my approach. I usually walk away with one or two useful tips that I immediately put into practice.
Most of us have heard the quote about the certainty of death and taxes. As a salesperson, increasing quotas and changing territories are also certainties. At the end of the day, I have to remind myself that this is my territory and my quota. Ultimately, I have control over hitting my number and the strategies and tactics I’m going to employ to get there. And if I don’t, at least I can say I did everything I could.
Other factors outside of my control? Pricing changes, bad leads, marketing is a bunch of slackers, yada yada yada…
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison
Selling with Urgency
“Time kills deals” is a phrase used in situations where there’s no urgency or energy attached to a sales opportunity — you know, the ones we call every week and ask, “Hey Mr, Smith, just checking in with you…”.
I try to keep conversations focused on the future. Skip Miller calls this strategy ‘time travel’. For example, “We’re already halfway through the year – what’s going to happen in 2015 if things don’t change now?”. By helping companies identify and mitigate future risk, I’m creating a sense of urgency and giving prospects a reason to take action before it’s too late.
The most valuable asset a salesperson has is time. For example, do I make sales calls during a prospect’s lunchtime? A Lead Response Management study shows that between 4 and 6pm is the best time to call in order to make contact with a lead. In fact, it’s 114% better than calling between 11am and 12pm, right before lunch. I also make sure to set up my calls based on time zone to reach prospects and customers at the optimal time.
The way consumers interact with businesses is rapidly changing. For example, according to research conducted by Experian, 50% of all unique email opens now occur on smartphones and tablets. Thus, in order to ensure that my emails are still being read, I have simplified my messaging to fit the screen of a mobile device.
Throughout my career, I’ve learned that being an early adopter of technology will make me a better salesperson and give me a competitive advantage. At Charles Schwab, I began using web conferencing tools to help stock and option traders around the world manage risk. At Cisco WebEx, I piloted an early iteration of email software, which helped me reach my large territory efficiently and grow my pipeline.
In my current role at Act-On Software, aside from actively using our own software, I leverage Datanyze to identify opportunities and be more prepared for customer interactions. Their data has shown me that prospects using a certain combination of technologies are more likely to buy, thus enabling me to direct my outreach efforts more effectively. I also leverage the Datanyze/Salesforce.com integration, which helps me to identify the marketing tools that a company is currently using (or perhaps not using) directly within a lead, contact or opportunity page. Last month, I closed a $22k deal directly as a result of my use of Datanyze. A really effective tool…
Of course, there are many other factors that contribute to a successful sales career. Things like building and nurturing relationships, being responsive to prospects, helping co-workers succeed, and working well with internal and external partners are all important skills that every salesperson should strive to develop. And while the constellation of factors varies for each person, I find that with mental and professional toughness — and just the right technology — I know just enough to be dangerous.
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