November 12, 2010

Ingredients for Sales Success (guest post)

Guest Post by Mike LaTella

Ask anyone what it takes to be successful in sales and you are liable to hear a string of positive character attributes such as outgoing, attractive, funny, persuasive, interesting, and even charismatic. This leads many to believe that the recipe for sales success includes a base of great personality, two cups of good luck and good looks, and a seasoning of positive attitude.  Bring to a boil, add a dash of karma, garnish with harmonious feng shui and, POOFARAMA!  Out pops the perfect sales person!

We’ve all heard the He’s a natural born salesman, mantra.  I don’t disagree that these types of personality traits can be a factor in being a revenue contributor for an organization.  I would argue however they are not among the most important factors of defining what makes for a great sales person.  Sticking with the recipe theme for a moment, if you need a cake, these mystical attributes only represent the icing.  Pretty to look at and very sweet, but far from being a cake.  Unfortunately, too many in business today focus only on the icing when looking for a high-producing sales individual and sadly mistake it for being the cake.  They identify someone who radiates all that we have come to believe a sales person should be and push him out the door confident of his impending success.  Months or even years later we bang our heads against the wall wondering how we could have been so wrong about Mr. Right, as he who can sell ice to the Eskimos fails to produce.

Before we look at the ingredients of the sales superstar, I want to make sure we are on the same page in defining what sales really is and, perhaps more importantly, what it is not.  My definition of sales is simple:

Finding and identifying persons or companies who have a need for a product or service  offered in a competitive marketplace, who purchase that product or service as a result of persuasive dialogue and representation.”

Account Management is not Sales.

What account managers do is important stuff… vital to the success of any organization.  These folks maintain relationships and keep customers happy.  They get calls at 2:00 a.m. in the morning because a truckload of widgets is stuck in a snow bank in East Lansing and Wally’s Widget World Store #214 has nary a widget on its shelves.  They fix it.  Account Managers are usually good golfers and they can always select the correct aperitif before a meal of orange pork loin at an expensive café overlooking a moonlit bay.  When contracts need to be renewed, these guys make it happen.  If their customer adds a low-carb frosted widget to its organic food line, the account manager gets the business and adds revenue to his organization.  Again, this is important stuff… its just not sales. It doesn’t take sales skills to add new revenue with a captive audience. See my definition above: finding and identifying! This is not a slam on account managers, it’s just a great example of where we muddy the waters between sales and a lot of other activities.  This is a dangerous and costly misconception for a business.  I see it happen all the time where we hire accomplished account managers into sales roles and vice versa.  What a disaster.

I am a sales guy.  Meeting an existing customer for dinner to start the arduous process of renewing a three year contract with accelerators and rate increases based on CPI with caps based on PPI gives me a headache and bores me. I’d rather watch cats sleep.  Actually, I’d rather be smiling and dialing, calling people I have never met and do not know me to see if I can get an audience to sell my product and service. Now to me, that is exciting. But to an account manager, that’s a nightmare.

We are a passionate bunch.  Not just about sales, but about everything we do.

Also, we must win.  Its not that we want to win; most people do.  We must  win. That’s true if it’s a sales deal we are working or shooting hoops with the ugly third grader across the street.  There is no compassion when it comes to winning and losing. The stakes aren’t important.  We win because we don’t know how else to exist. True Sales people are risk takers.  We see the world a little differently than most people do and are willing to put up stakes to prove it.  Our reputation, income, and self-worth are on the line every day in sales.  I like to say that I have taken a pretty severe mental disorder and turned it into a damn good living.  I smile when I say that but there is some truth in that statement. These characteristics aren’t learned. They are pre-wired in our DNA.

Are you smelling me some cake yet?  Now we are cooking.  I’ve just described a few of the attributes of the high-performing, revenue-producing animals that are the people you want in sales.  Need a few more?  How about a sense of urgency combined with passion and resiliency? Ever heard this: I am tired of leaving this guy voice mails.  I am going down to his office and camping out at the front door until he agrees to talk to me.   You think I am kidding?  I’ve done it and if you are a sales super-hero, you have too.  Back in my door-to-door sales days, we used to have a rule:  If you hadn’t been thrown out of a few office buildings for breaking the no-soliciting rule, then you hadn’t really been doing any selling.

Don’t be fooled by the icing.  It’s what goes into a cake that makes it truly great!

Mike LaTella was a top-performer at a client of mine in 2004-2005. He’s a true hunter through and through. I appreciate and respect his tenacity, work-ethic, creativity and view of sales. I not only enjoyed working with him, but he taught me a thing or two about using email to supplement telephone prospecting. He really energized me during a recent phone conversation so I asked him to write  up what he was sharing with me. Thanks Mike!