Passion and ideas matter most in marketing and sales

Posted on: October 12th | Filed under: Inspiration

In a recent study discussed on the Harvard Business Review blog, the Sales Executive Council set out to determine which characteristics define the top-tier sales professionals — those that make the cash register ring, no matter what state the economy happens to be in. The results are surprising, and in some ways quite validating.

The study created five distinct categories of sales personas:

  1. Relationship Builders – Those who focus on building strong relationships and cultivating their network.
  2. Hard Workers – The come-early, make more calls than anyone else, stay-late folks.
  3. Lone Wolves – The “it’s my way or the highway” types.
  4. The Reactive Problem Solvers – Detail-oriented follow-uppers, mess cleaner-uppers.
  5. The Challengers – Strongly assert their ideas on their customers and bosses — even if their ideas are controversial or unconventional.

It turns out that the highest performing sales professionals are “Challengers.” By a mile, apparently. In fact, touchy-feely Relationship Builders fared the worst. The authors of the study gave three simple reasons why Challengers perform best.

First, they TEACH their customers. I’ve heard this referred to as “consultative” selling. When you know more than your customers, they come to rely on you as an expert and information source. Makes sense to me.

Second, the TAILOR the message. Instead of reading off of a script or the company song book, these folks do their homework, understand their prospects’ needs, then explain features and benefits in a way that’s relevant to the prospects’ business.

Third, they STRONGLY ASSERT THEIR POINT OF VIEW on product and price, even if it creates some tension. In other words, they’re not interested in kissing their customers’ (or their boss’s) asses. They’re passionate about their product and ideas; and interested in creating meaningful value for customers.

As someone in the business of selling ideas, I found this quite validating. It turns out that customers appreciate ideas and information above all else. Hmm. Fascinating.

I wish every schlocky sales organization that demands XX number of phone calls an hour (yeah, I’m talking to you Wachovia/Wells Fargo) of their sales people, would read this and stop torturing their sales teams to ‘work the phones.’

I’ve actually seen “Challengers” succeed firsthand. Back when I was cutting my teeth as a copywriter in the marketing department of U.S. News & World Report magazine, marketing staff were paired with ad sales staff in order to help them pitch their business. Time and again, the sales folks who, along with us, researched their clients’ products, who came up with ideas, were passionate about conveying their ideas outperformed the ones who would just pull together an “off-the-shelf’ sales kit. In fact, the company celebrated Challengers, giving them a chance to present their “wins” as case studies at annual sales conferences.

To me, this is yet more concrete evidence that the best people and the best ideas always float to the top, resulting in better bottom lines.

So, what are you doing to improve sales? Are you focusing more on sales activity or ideas? Where are your best ideas coming from? Are you challenging yourself, your sales and marketing teams and your clients to be more passionate, more assertive, more creative?

So many questions, so many opportunities…






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