Can you achieve sales excellence without sales knowledge?
By Jake Thompson
Colloquially, there are two definitions of smart that people use. Book smart is used to describe someone who understands the academics of a subject. They are well-educated and can recall and explain concepts and theories. They can quickly tell you best practices for a specific situation, why they work, and why they’re important.
But book smart doesn’t necessarily guarantee results.
Street smart is the other type of intelligence that people reference. An individual with street smarts may or may not have the formal education of their book-smart counterparts. They gained their knowledge through experiences, both positive and negative, and succeed by continuing to build on and grow from those experiences. They may not be able to tell you theories or overall industry standards, but they can tell you how to handle a specific situation — and why.
Excellence in business can come from both types of individuals. Often, however, some people will assume that sales excellence requires a specific education or book-smart knowledge of best sales practices in order to succeed. And that’s not necessarily the case.
For example, we know eating a salad and drinking water is healthier for us than that large pizza and adult beverage. Just because we know we should choose the healthier option doesn’t mean we will. In other words, having the best, most complete sales knowledge is beneficial, but it’s what we do with that knowledge that’s most important.
Pursue sales excellence by focusing on process.
There is no shortage of information, tips, advice, and more for achieving sales excellence. Managers and directors study the latest and greatest sales articles and programs to find one that will give their teams an advantage in their industry. Trainers are hired for workshops and sales teams are given homework so they are up to speed on current best practices.
Unless they are leading their office in production, most sales professionals feel overwhelmed by all of this information, especially when there are multiple ways to achieve sales excellence.
The best sales professionals focus instead on creating excellence in the individual processes that create the desired sales outcomes. This can still include education, but it is a more focused version, including leveraging company intel. A salesperson can focus their learning on knowledge bases, data and information in their CRM platform, and proprietary information that directly affects the company and customers.
Sales excellence means consistency and high standards.
Sales excellence is defined as achieving consistent results at or above the desired goal. It’s having a sales professional and sales team who can be counted on to deliver results even when the target sales goal is slightly out of their comfort zone.
Sales excellence drives a company forward because company leaders knows they can rely on the sales team to deliver revenue year after year and set a standard for the rest of the organization.
Key metrics for measuring sales excellence include total sales, closed opportunities, win/loss rate, and a detailed, individualized dashboard that helps account executives, salespeople, and management be aware of all ongoing activity.
Achieving excellence requires preparation.
The key to achieving excellent sales outcomes starts with creating processes for excellence. For those who played competitive sports growing up, they may have heard their coaches say, “You earn your trophies in practice. You simply pick them up on game day.”
Those coaches want to instill in players that the outcome — winning the game — would take care of itself if the athletes focused on excellence in their preparation. Just the same, the desired outcome of sales excellence will take care of itself when salespeople have a strong process to prepare for it.
The following are four key tenets to achieving sales excellence.
1. Focus on the process.
Just as coaches preach the importance of focusing on practices instead of the upcoming game, reaching a level of excellence in sales requires one to focus on the process instead of the target goal.
Many professionals focus on the target sales goals they need to hit this quarter or this year. Successful sales professionals focus on the actions they need to take today and this week.
The outcome isn’t always in your control, but the actions you take in the process are. How can you focus on giving your best effort and taking action today? Consider the following questions:
How many quality calls are you making today?
How many new leads are you researching?
How many follow-up emails or calls have you made today?
2. Own your schedule ahead of time.
To own the daily process, you must own your daily schedule. This starts by planning it out the day before. Outline your entire day, from the moment you get to work to the minute you leave, and dedicate an activity to every half hour of the day.
By planning your schedule the day before instead of the day of, you prevent the inevitable distractions that happen when you walk into the office each morning. By planning for tomorrow at the end of today, you can see which important activities are incomplete, review where you may have gotten off-schedule today — so you can course-correct next time — and have a clear focus when you start the following day.
Assign times for checking email, making phone calls, eating lunch, attending meetings, and other assorted tasks. Sales excellence requires a disciplined use of time every day.
You don’t win your day by passively entering it and floating through a haphazard schedule. You win your day and, by extension, your process, by having a clear plan outlined and attacking it.
3. Get your repetitions in.
Practice makes better, not perfect. Successful sales professionals are those who has completed countless repetitions, whether it’s practicing their pitch, delivering their pitch, being rejected giving their pitch, or improving their pitch to close a client.
Your first time giving a presentation is usually shaky. Your hundredth? Much smoother, far more confident, and a lot more convincing. The only way to get from one to 100 is through repetition and practice.
Reading from a script can sound inauthentic and robotic, and very few customers want to do business with a robot. Practice that script repeatedly with your partner, spouse, or roommate, and test it with your co-workers. This will allow you to work the script effectively without reading it verbatim. Through this practice you can add life to the words and create a human connection while selling to your prospect.
4. Embrace accountability.
Accountability is a key trait found in every successful team, from sales to sports. It is the ability to hold our teams to an agreed-upon standard of excellence, and then issue positive or negative consequences when that standard is exceeded, met, or missed.
It’s imperative to hold individual team members accountable to their goals and work in order to achieve excellence. It’s not about micromanaging every detail; it’s holding them to an agreement they are capable of fulfilling.
Accountability starts with a clear outline of expectations and the nature of each individual’s role. Helping sales professionals outline their process in detail will, in turn, help managers evaluate how well they are sticking to that process.
Some organizations display a scoreboard in their office as it relates to the process-driven activities for accountability. Once a process activity is achieved that day — for example, X number of calls or client meetings — a team member will put a big check mark in the box for that day for their name. This visibly shows they hit their process goal for the day.
This activity encourages team members to hit their goals so they aren’t left with a blank space, but also gives managers a way to see how quickly and efficiently certain team members work their daily processes. When they see someone struggling, they can either help the individual modify their daily process or achieve better consistency.
It’s not about the information.
None of these tips and advice requires the latest and greatest sales knowledge. Salespeople don’t need to know the current best practices. Sales excellence doesn’t require book learning. It requires a proven process and a commitment to that process.