The business of sales is often described using sports analogies. That makes sense, because the art of making sales is a never-ending competition. Salespeople are competing against competitors' salespeople to respond to inquiries faster and close deals more quickly; they are competing against others on their team to see who can close the biggest deals and make quotas each quarter; and most importantly, they are competing against themselves in an effort to exceed their own benchmarks for performance.
In this way, the business of sales is like the game of baseball, encompassing elements of individual performance within the framework of being on a larger team. Every salesperson wants to be a star player, but some salespeople end up riding the bench.
With baseball season just taking off, it's a perfect time to consider how salespeople can stop warming the bench and put themselves on their manager's starting lineup for 2015.
One of the main factors keeping salespeople from reaching the next level is simple fear. Benchwarmers tend to hesitate to make a call, set up a meeting, ask for business, or close a deal—not because they don't know how, but because they're afraid that they'll make a mistake or sound stupid. Star performers have confidence. Star salespeople know that even if they make a few errors along the way, they will ultimately learn from their mistakes and failures, and constantly improve.
Succeed at Any Stage of Your Career
Sometimes in baseball, a savvy veteran can exceed expectations and win a spot in the starting lineup, even when people have already written him off as being washed up or over the hill. In the same way, sales success is not limited to up-and-coming talent. Salespeople can always change their managers' perceptions of them and show that it's not too late for them to be a big-impact player on their team, no matter what stage of their career they're at. To do this, though, you have to be the type of person who is not satisfied with mediocrity. If you find yourself feeling complacent, and content not to keep striving for even greater success, then regardless of your age or experience, a career in sales is no longer the place for you.
Pay Attention to Undervalued Stats
One of the biggest innovations in baseball during the past 15 years has been advanced statistical analysis, as popularized in the best-selling book (and movie starring Brad Pitt) Moneyball. The principle of moneyball is that some baseball players are undervalued because they don't "look like" typical star players, but they have a lot of valuable assets (they get walks, get on base, play good defense, etc.) that most teams have ignored or undervalued. With the rise of advanced statistical analysis (aka Sabermetrics), baseball managers are getting better at figuring out which in-game performance measures actually make the biggest difference in winning games. In the same way, there are a few important metrics and sales activities that tend to be undervalued by sales managers. Closing deals is definitely important, but it's not the only way to measure sales talent.
Two of the biggest undervalued stats in sales are:
- Conversion rate: This is a measure of the percentage of sales leads that get converted into opportunities, and the percentage of opportunities that result in closed deals. If the conversion rate is extremely high in comparison to the close rate, salespeople are not qualifying leads appropriately, and are wasting their time working on opportunities that don't exist.
- Lead nurturing: Anyone can answer the phone when a new prospect calls and say, "Yes, we can work with you." The real star performers are the salespeople who can nurture a lead from concept to close.
Star sales performers don't wait to be chosen or to be invited to talk to a customer—they make things happen. For example, one trick that I like to use when recruiting salespeople for a new job is at the end of an initial interview, I'll say, "I'll let you know something before I leave the office today." And then instead of calling them back, I'll wait to hear from them. If the salesperson hasn't called me back by the end of the following day, this is a sign that he's not really a top performer. The best salespeople keep driving business, even if the customer isn't getting back to them—even if the salesperson has to make the first move.
Be Different from the Benchwarmers
The best salespeople are industry experts. They know their clients' business really well and they position themselves, starting from the first call, as helpful industry peers who can help their clients spot and exploit opportunities. The best salespeople also have an appealing personality of humble confidence. They love to learn. They're driven by the thrill of closing business. Most importantly, they are willing to fail. They're willing to have deals fall apart or to hear lots of customers say "No." In sales, if you're scared to take risks, if you're scared to fail, then you're also afraid to succeed.
Sales, like baseball, is a complex game, with many variables that contribute to success—but the biggest factors are within your control. Do what you can to become a better individual performer and a better contributor to your team and you'll be more likely to become a star salesperson in 2015!
Carolyn Betts is CEO of Betts Recruiting, which specializes in revenue-generating talent for sales, marketing, and customer success positions.