What separates high-performing salespeople who exceed their quota from underperformers who miss their quotas by more than 25%?
Recent research carried out by Harvard Business Review involving nearly 800 salespeople and sales leaders to better answer this question. The information from these two sources provides interesting insights about the attributes of high-performing top salespeople compared to their lesser successful counterparts.
Verbal acuity. This refers to a communication level where the meaning, nature, and importance of the words spoken by the salesperson are personally understood by the customer. For a salesperson to establish credibility requires that messages be conveyed at the recipient’s communication level, not too far below the level of the words that the customer uses. On average, high-performing salespeople communicate between the 11th and 13th grade level when scored by the Flesch-Kincaid test as opposed to the 8th and 9th grade level for underperforming salespeople.
Achievement oriented personality. Eighty-four percent of the top performers tested scored very high in achievement orientation. They are fixated on achieving goals and continuously measure their performance in comparison to their goals.
Situational dominance. Situational dominance is a personal interaction strategy by which the customer accepts the salesperson’s recommendations and follows his advice.
Inward Pessimism. Over 90% of high-performing and underperforming salespeople described themselves as optimists. However, upon further review nearly two-thirds of high-performing salespeople actually exhibit pessimistic personality tendencies. I theorize the explanation for this dichotomy is that salespeople always have to maintain a positive attitude and pleasant demeanour while in front of customers. However, inward pessimism drives a salesperson to question the viability of the deal and credibility of the buyer. Therefore, top salespeople are more naturally driven to ask the customer tougher qualifying questions and are more likely to seek out meetings with senior level decision makers who ultimately decide which vendor will be selected.
Sales management impact. Does a salesperson’s manager play a determining factor in achieving success? Study participants were asked, “Outside of setting my quota, my sales manager plays a key role in determining whether or not I make quota?” Surprisingly, the response from high and underperformers was identical. Forty-six percent stated the sales manager plays a role in my success and 54% were neutral or disagreed with it. Moreover, 69% of high-performing salespeople rated their sales manager as excellent or above average compared to 49% of underperforming salespeople indicating there is a correlation.
The top three factors for underperforming salespeople were industry expertise and product knowledge, communication and coaching skills, and fights for the team. These results reveal how high and underperforming salespeople utilize their managers differently. Underperformers tend to use their managers to make up for the product and industry knowledge they lack.
Sales organization influence. The research suggests that sales organization morale influences individual sales success. Fifty three percent of high-performing sales rated their sales organization’s morale as being higher than most sales organizations. In comparison, only 37% of underperforming salespeople rated morale higher than most companies.
When taken into account with all the research above, sales performance is more likely dependent on the attributes of the individual and sales environment characteristics over company-related influences.
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