Making Them Great

By Malcolm Fleschner

Auto mechanics and sales managers alike understand the critical importance of alignment. Without it neither cars nor sales organizations will run properly. From an incentive perspective, proper alignment means just offering rewards for those behaviors that drive bottom-line results. Too often, however, sales incentive programs are designed exclusively to reward those who hit sales numbers, regardless of whether those figures achieve established corporate goals such as profitability or market share.

Writing recently in Incentive Magazine, Jeff Thull, CEO of the Minneapolis-based Prime Resource Group and author of Diagnostic Selling, suggests the key driver determining sales professionals’ success in today’s sales environment is not aggressiveness, competitiveness or being the best closer. Rather, he argues, the most significant trait is the rep’s ability to understand customers’ problems. When considering just which activities should be targeted for incentive rewards, consider the five distinguishing characteristics Thull says today’s top salespeople exhibit.

1. Customer focused. Too often salespeople prefer to talk up the wonders of their terrific solutions before diligently assessing a customer’s unique circumstances. Great salespeople instead approach a problem with the mindset of physicians, methodically probing and analyzing symptoms before arriving at a diagnosis. This takes time and hard work. But by working with the customer and determining the nature and extent of the pain, they more often find a mutually agreeable plan to heal whatever it is that hurts.

2. Inquisitive. Traditional salespeople like to spin yarns about the superiority of their brand, products and company. Few discerning customers are taken in. Great reps, on the other hand, demonstrate genuine concern about problems by asking questions that wouldn’t even occur to other salespeople.

3. Patient. Salespeople frequently want to rush customers. In fact, training often emphasizes finding ways to persuade prospects to sign up today rather than pausing to consider options. Mistrust and confrontation often ensue. A better approach is to let customers set the pace. Customers often need to take ownership over problems before they can begin to weigh solutions. Good reps calmly work through this process in ways that put customers at ease about communicating their true feelings.

4. Realistic. Customers’ problems often cost money, but how much? Where average salespeople tend to be vague about this issue, top salespeople determine precisely how much a problem costs a customer and then examine whether a potential solution is worth the expense. If the fix just doesn’t make good business sense, a true professional will walk away or try to find a new solution that does.

5. Focused on long term. In the heat of developing a sales solution, customers can get so enthused they might be willing to sign up for a whole laundry list of options, even some they don’t really need. Traditional reps gladly keep ringing the cash register. By contrast, more circumspect salespeople, with an interest in the long-term relationship, rein in these impulses and focus instead on solutions based on reality, not fantasy. Besides, in today’s sales environment, stretching the parameters of a solution often invites the possibility that another member of the decision-making team will come in and shoot down the entire project.