A truly great hitter in baseball is one who only fails at the plate two-thirds of the time, which makes baseball a lot like sales. A really, really good salesperson is one who makes their quota, maybe even exceeds it. But sales managers know that even on the best sales teams, that will be at best about half of the staff. Steve Weinberg, a career salesman whose resume includes stints as Vice Presidencies at Dun & Bradstreet Software, AC Nielsen, Solcorp (then part of EDS, now HP), and Deloitte and Touche, knows the statistics but explains in his new book, Above Quota Performance how to improve sales performance.
Weinberg has spent his life selling and helping others sell better, sell faster, and sell more. He is an expert at building, guiding, and sustaining high caliber sales teams, and creating exemplary standards in account management. We asked him about what has changed in sales, what is unlikely to ever change, and the eternal question, are good salespeople born or can they be trained?
Grit Daily: Sales is one of those rare professions (detective is another) that has its own place in popular culture. I am thinking about Death of a Salesman and Glengarry, Glen Ross. Can sales skills be quantified, taught and learned, or is sales more of an instinct that maybe we can work on and improve, but fundamentally you either have it or you don’t?
Steve Weinberg: I have gone back and forth, in my mind, on whether success in sales can be taught — or is part of own’s personality, an innate trait. My conclusion is that it is mostly (80/20) part of one’s personality, that you have it or you don’t. However, there is much evidence that people who do not have sales or extroverted personalities can be taught sales basics and can succeed. (I am evidence of that. Prior to going into sales, I was an accounting manager.) They are an exceptional minority, but this group is increasing, perhaps because sales has become far more complex, requiring different skills than it did just 10 or 20 years ago.
Grit Daily: Of course, a lot has changed since Death of a Salesman. Are there sales training theories still being taught that you consider obsolete? If so, what is relevant now that is not being taught regularly in sales training?
Steve Weinberg: You have anticipated a chapter in my book that is titled “A lot of what you have been told by sales trainers is wrong.” Wrong may be an exaggeration, but obsolete for sure. For example, I list the various closing “tricks” that are ineffective, and some are insulting, why objections are good and should not be fought or dismissed by the salesperson and “always be closing” is sales malpractice.
Grit Daily: Among the many points you touch on in your book is how managers can identify high sales performers. It seems to me that would be easy once they are hired and you can simply look at whether they meet their quota or not, but what should managers look for when they are hiring salespeople?
Steve Weinberg: The most difficult part of the sales managers job is hiring, training, coaching, and firing, not managing the successful salespeople, deal management, sales forecasting, budgeting, and negotiating contracts. I have tried to identify traits that are common in most high performing salespeople. There is a large degree of variation in the strengths and weaknesses of each in the different categories. In hiring and managing over 1,000 salespeople I have never encountered any high performers who were not intelligent, achievement oriented and had sales acumen, for example. Looking simply at their last sales quota does not tell the whole story. For example, how many or what percent of the salesforce reached quota? If it was 90% the success is not exceptional. If they were one of only 2 or 3% then it is. Also, what did they sell? If they were selling Tesla cars, RVs or videocall technology that is not exceptional. If they were selling cruise vacations and were 150% of quota I would be very impressed.
Grit Daily: Speaking of sales managers – the people doing the hiring and training and, presumably motivating – how do you identify someone who will be good in that role? Is it simply a matter of promoting the top seller?
Steve Weinberg: Many top sellers are not good managers. There are different skill sets. (Look at sports, most superstars are not good managers, and many good managers were never better than average performers.) So, by taking a top seller out of the salesforce and making her or him a manager you are reducing the probability of your team reaching quota. However, if this person has the necessary skills and ambition, it may be worth trying. If you do not, the salesperson may leave to take a sales manager opportunity at another company. It is also impossible to return that person to your salesforce if they are unsuccessful. It is too big of an ego hit. The skills necessary are the ability to transfer knowledge, train, coach, manage deals, hire, and fire, accurately forecast and manage upwards.
Grit Daily: You’ve been in sales for more than 30 years, which means you were selling before social media was ubiquitous. How much difference has LinkedIn made for selling?
Steve Weinberg: Social media has its advantages and disadvantages. Many of the buyers today solely rely on it for information, rather than doing extensive research, which is usually a negative. They are very concerned with what their peers think about purchasing various items. Buyers check their cell phones constantly, even during meetings, which can be a distraction. On the positive side it has made more information easily accessible, even to one’s cellphone. And it makes it easier for salespeople to reach prospects. For example, LinkedIn.com, Facebook, and Twitter.
LinkedIn.com was a game changer for me. I called it my “secret sauce” in my book. It has made it easier to identify potential prospects in target companies and to approach them by connecting with them in advance. I used LinkedIn.com extensively for new business development. The basic LinkedIn.com is free, but advance sales functionality is available at a reasonable cost.
For example, I used LinkedIn.com to follow a targeted company. When they posted they hired a new person in charge of an area that utilized my product and service, I approached the new hire and requested that we connect. Once connected I asked if I could provide any assistance. This led eventually to him passing me on to one of his new hires who was tasked with the responsibility of finding a new solution. We worked with him over a period of 18 months and then closed the largest sale in the history of our company.
Grit Daily: Are there any points you would like to raise that I have not asked about?
Steve Weinberg: Yes. Throughout my career I have seen many high, average, and low performers focus their efforts on beating the known competitor that is normally encountered in most sales situations. However, whichever competitors (can be more than 1) named, they are not the “real” competitor. The real competitor, and by far the toughest to beat, is do nothing, status quo, or remain with the current solution. The best salespeople understand this, and their strategies and tactics are oriented to provide the buyer with sufficient reasons to leave the status quo and purchase another solution. The battle is not over, but it is easier to win with a motivated and informed buyer that is invested in a change.