What traits does it really take to sell?

Picture a sales rep in your mind. What traits do you see? Someone confident, maybe even brash, maybe even with questionable honesty. Whether this is a fair stereotype, we all know it.

For a lot of people coming from technical backgrounds into sales, this is a problem. We may not think we fit the mold for sales success.

So, how well does the stereotype correlate with sales results?

Mark Roberge, Chief Revenue Officer at Hubspot came to Austin recently and talked about how they built a scalable, predictable revenue engine. They used metrics to figure out what worked for and what attributes they should look for in sales reps. What did they find?

The “traditional” sales skills– closing, objection handling, and pushiness, correlated negatively with results. What did correlate with success? The number one factor was coach-ability. Curiosity and conscientiousness also helped a lot. This doesn’t sound like such a personality mismatch now, does it?

(Roberge notes that different situations may call for different characteristics. His point is that you want a process for figuring out what those characteristics are for your organization. My point is that in many cases, what leads to success is actually what you have, and not what you think of as the stereotypical sales profile.

 

Don’t Fight the Customer’s Buying Process

When we start selling, we often find a blog post, a book, a CRM tool, etc that gives us a “sales process”. Then we implement the process. As engineers, this feels good. There’s a system with defined inputs, activities, and outputs. We get excited and start (gasp!) making phone calls. However, something feels off.

We’re fighting with the customer’s buying process. So we’re working very hard with little to who for it. Because we have defined success exclusively in our own terms– moving prospects through the stages in our funnel– we have a hard time with prospects who don’t move through the funnel as quickly as we would like.

Yet, when we buy something, we hate pushy sales people who are more focused on closing the deal than helping us.

It is important to have a sales process (and we’ll get into that in later posts), but your sales process can’t (shouldn’t) fight the prospect’s buying process.

Mike Wilner, co-founder of hellocompass.com, has a great post called “How Our Customers Taught Us How to Sell“.

We did this by waving goodbye to the “always be closing” mentality and stepping outside of the vacuum where our first sales process was created. Instead, we let our customers teach us how to sell to them and designed a new sales process to reflect that.

Check it out, and think about how your customers want to buy. Then design your sales process to support your goals and theirs.

Oh Crap, Now I Have to Do Sales?!?!?

 

Engineers often don’t trust sales. There are good reasons for this. We’ve all encountered sales people who have been less than honest. Sales people who have pushed what’s good for them, rather than what’s good for us. The kind of people who become engineers often insist on accuracy in representing products. We also have found ourselves on the receiving end of commitments that “optimistic” sales people made to win the deal.

(“Of course it integrates with your abacus-based accounting system. No problem!” Who has to make things actually integrate? The engineers. Then, when the project is late and you didn’t get your bonus, while the sales rep buys a BMW and takes his family to Tahiti with his commission, your resentment deepens.)

Then, when you start your own consulting business, you suddenly realize how important sales is. Not that you’d ever promise things that you can’t do, but you need to close business. How can you win deals without turning into the very caricature you hated? How do you grow without putting yourself and your team in the same impossible situations that made you miss your bonus?

This site is for people who didn’t mean to end up doing sales (and marketing), but  somehow did. Maybe you started your own company, or got promoted to a position that requires sales. I’ll share some of my stories (many hilariously awful), and stories of people who have succeeded in sales from unlikely backgrounds. As I’ve talked about my journey, I realized a lot of people are on a similar journey, and we could help each other learn the easy way instead of the hard way (at least some of the time).

Welcome to Sales for Nerds! Leave a comment with your stories, challenges, and questions.