Do you know the single most important behavior a salesperson can engage in to become a better seller?
(Spoiler Alert: This is a lot like the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”)
In Susan Cain’s book Quiet, she dedicates a section to the value of solo practice in developing a skill or expertise in a subject. She cites a study conducted at the elite Music Academy in West Berlin that found that the very best students, those assessed by their teachers as on a path to international stardom as solo performers, spent almost three times more hours practicing alone than did the lowest-ranked third of their classmates. The study’s author, psychologist Anders Ericsson, attributed the power of solo study to something he calls Deliberate Practice – the type of activity in which you “identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly.”
This type of practice can be extremely valuable for salespeople, too. Most salespeople we’ve encountered at CFS have never thought to take the time to practice their selling skills. But sales, like playing the violin, is a skill that can be honed and should be practiced. You might be asking, “How do I practice sales?” Here are three areas to focus on – and how to start practicing today.
1. Identifying killer problems
We find ourselves telling clients this over and over: you are not a salesperson; you’re a problem-solver. You’re a problem-solving machine. In order to be a problem-solving machine, you must also become a problem-finding machine. Developing your ability to uncover, recognize, or sniff out problems will be critical to your success in sales. But how do you practice identifying key problems? First, it helps to know what you’re looking for. Keep in mind that you’re not a broad-brushstrokes problem-solver: your product or service is best for a few very specific problems. Match up your company’s features and benefits with the problems you solve, and you’ll have a list of Common Problems your customers face that you can learn to listen for during sales meetings.
2. Asking great questions
Coming into a sales meeting with a few truly excellent questions will set you apart from the pack in your prospect’s eyes. Great questions show professionalism, preparation, and deep knowledge of your product and your prospect’s needs. How do you know what questions are “great”, both for your product and for your prospect? Start with the list of Common Problems you’ve been working on from Step 1. Match these problems you solve with key questions to uncover the pain that problem is causing. For example: if you know your product helps customers improve collaboration within their sales team, a great question could be “Tell me about a time your sales suffered because your salespeople didn’t collaborate with each other.” This question flies like a heat-seeking missile directly into your prospect’s pain and should give you a clear opening to demonstrate your product’s value.
3. Telling great stories
Human beings are wired for stories. Stories have been used throughout human history to communicate, entertain, educate and persuade – and they are a salesperson’s greatest tool in building rapport and demonstrating value to a prospect. Top salespeople have great stories to tell and know how to connect them to their products and services and to the problems they solve for customers. Take some time to write down as many great success stories as you can. Then start practicing – tell them in different ways, with different terms and focal points so you can fit your story to your audience. You could also practice with a coworker and get their feedback to continue to improve.
Set some time aside today to build your skills in each of these three areas. Identify where you’re weak and plan to keep working on that area until you feel confident in your abilities. These three elements are a part of the CFS Problem/Opportunity Matrix, a core resource in our Sales PlayBook and training programs that helps salespeople organize their presentations and better communicate value.
photo credit: ancasta1901