Get to work!

Over the past number of columns, I’ve been taking an in-depth look at what I call the secrets of highly successful sales people – those who consistently perform in the Top 10 per cent of their profession. Today we’re going to wrap up this special five-part series on the Engage Selling Innovation Model by showing you how you can put everything you’ve learned into action, and Get to Work!

It never ceases to amaze me how many sales people identify the activities they know they need to do to make a sale, grow their business or increase their revenues, but then lack the basic discipline needed to carry out those activities on a daily basis!

Yes, preparation is important. But top performers don’t spend their valuable calling time doing hours of Web surfing or reading annual reports. The Top 10 per cent understand that the key to avoiding “paralysis by analysis” is to strike a balance between having enough knowledge to engage the customer in an intelligent and informed manner, but not so much that they come off sounding like a know-it-all.

Last year, one of my clients decided to encourage her staff to shut off the Internet and Get to Work between 9-11 a.m. and 1:30-3:30 p.m. every day. After taking just this one simple action, her business grew by more than 60 per cent, or almost $25 million.

The 80/20 rule

How can you apply this principle to your business?

Start using the “80/20 rule” for sales success. For most sales people, the last 20 per cent of the preparation they do eats up the most time, and costs them the most business. So when you feel you’re 80 per cent ready, don’t wait any longer – go, and get to work!

The top 10 per cent are constantly taking action towards hitting their goals. This can mean taking some calculated risks. But the potential rewards that come with those risks can far outweigh those few times when they don’t pay off.

Was it the right time to get married? (Maybe not the first time.)

Was it the right time to buy a house? (It sure was if you did it in the last four or five years!)

Was it the right time to have children?

There’s never any surefire way of knowing whether or not it’s the right time to do any of these things. Yet, when it comes to our personal lives, most of us are willing to take the chance that we’ll fall flat on our face, in order to have a real shot at getting what we want.

In our professional lives, however, most salespeople – like most people – almost never take any risks, or try anything new. Most of us are too comfortable, too balanced and too unwilling to stretch ourselves or get into our “un-comfort zones,” to take the risks we know we need to in order to get ahead.

Think about the cream of the crop of Olympic athletes, the top three in the world. Did they get to the medal podium because they were comfortable with last year’s performance levels? No. In order to get better at what they did, they refused to get comfortable or satisfied with their results, and instead pushed themselves each and every day, year after year, to keep doing better than they ever had before.

Often times, the difference between standing on the podium and watching the ceremony from the locker room is simply the refusal to allow yourself to reach a comfortable plateau, and say, “That’s good enough.” Just ask Tiger Woods. Despite being (arguably) the best golfer ever to play the sport, the first thing he does the day after he wins a major tournament is go back to his coach, and work to see how he can do better the next time.

The benefits of taking risks

Let’s say you were the coach of the Olympic track and field team, and your goal was to get your best runner to improve her time for the 100 meters from last year. Would you set the same training plan you used for the past 12 months? Of course not, because doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity.

What you would do is create a different training plan – one that is harder, more challenging and more disciplined. One that would, I suspect, hurt, though not so much as to risk a potentially career-ending injury.

Like high performance athletes, high performance salespeople constantly challenge themselves to do better. They are also constantly taking smart risks that can lead to maximum profits from their pipeline.

Let me be clear about this: 100 per cent of risk is positive. After all, the only real risk is to not take a risk at all – a course of action that is almost guaranteed to lead to stagnation, loss of business or loss of a job.

Every time you take a risk, on the other hand, you win. Either you win the business, or you win the knowledge of what not to do the next time. Either way, you come out ahead.

One of the most profitable “risks” you can take is learning when to walk away from business you know or suspect will not be profitable.

When I was a sales manager for a high tech company, I had a sales rep named “Lori” who was always in the Top 10 per cent. One time, Lori had a difficult prospect, “Mark,” whose favorite habit was seeing just how many hoops he could make us jump through to get his business. Finally, he pushed Lori too far, and presented a hoop that we simply weren’t willing to jump through.

Lori made the decision to walk away, and I joined her on the call. With just enough paraphrasing to protect the not-so-innocent, the conversation went something like this:

Lori: “Mark, thanks for the opportunity to present our solution. We feel honored that we are being considered. At this point, however, we don’t think that there is a good enough fit for what you want and what we can do, so we’re pulling our proposal.“

Mark: “But Lori, I don’t understand. How will we get our information to choose the winner?”

Lori: “No, Mark, you don’t understand. I’m breaking up with you!”

Gutsy? Yes. Risky? Yes.

Profitable? Yes!

The truth is, Mark’s company was going to waste more time than we could afford to spend, eat up more resources than we could ever hope to recoup from the sale and likely never make a firm decision anyways. Even if they did finally make the call, given how demanding they’d been before they were customers, I didn’t even want to imagine what they’d be like to deal with after they’d actually given us money . . .

In short, bad prospects are not like fine wine. They do not grow old gracefully.

Roberta Fox is president and senior partner of the Fox Group, based in Mount Albert, Ont.

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