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Whether it’s selling myself or selling products, I’ve been in the sales business for more years than I care to mention, and I’d like to think I’ve learnt a thing or two about what makes a good sales person.

I believe there can be no ‘guide to selling’ capable of condensing years of experience into simple, fool proof steps, but that’s not to say there aren’t key areas to identify and focus on when it comes to training salespeople to be, well, the best.

Here are three areas you can’t afford to drop the ball on when it comes to sales:

1. The Sales Process

By ‘sales process’ I mean a set of identifiable steps that transform a prospect into that magical end-goal: a customer. All follow a fairly basic routine which will look something like this:

Prospect -> Initiate Contact -> Research -> Present -> Close

For me, there’s an art to being able to seamlessly move from one stage to the next like this – and, as ever, the devil is in the detail. If you’re going to take a prospect on the journey to becoming your customer, you’re going to need to delicately balance a mixture of key ingredients: authenticity, empathy, and assertiveness.

Authenticity is the number one tool sales people need to master to develop trust between themselves and their customers (or customers-to-be). It’s important to believe fully in what you’re selling and its capacity to benefit the customer. Without this conviction, it becomes incredibly hard to convince another person that you are trustworthy and reliable. So, how to make sure you’re authentic? That’s where empathy comes in. By identifying and understanding your customer’s desires or a particular issue they’re having, you’ll be in a much better position to suggest products that will actually help, and, in doing so, you’ll build rapport. In order to pull this off credibly, though, you’re going to need our third ingredient: assertiveness. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and make sure to pay close attention to your prospect’s answers. You already know you’ve identified the perfect product because you are authentic and empathetic, so let your prospect know that you have the answer for them loud and clear.

2. Sales Management

I’ve seen it happen; the urge to over-manage and under-lead can drive sales teams into despair. A strong sales team requires a truly capable leader to motivate and inspire success. The way forward? For me, good management is all about establishing a culture of recognition and reward, and that means recruiting managers and team members who are enthusiastic about developing a spirited team atmosphere – one for all, not all for one! It’s all very well implementing a structured sales process and setting organisational goals, but the best way to reach those targets is to align them inside a team structure that promotes a united front.

Readers of my previous articles will know that I favour coaching and mentoring above an overly-engineered or processed approach to people management. I think this is especially pertinent inside a sales environment due to the nature of people that the profession attracts. It’s true: sales people are a special breed, often impatient and competitive by nature, implementing an overly regimented feedback schedule or rigid sales process can devastate their natural enthusiasm and creative flair. There’s plenty of CRM and dialler systems that can track sales performance in real time and – when combined with a firm open-door policy – managers can take advantage of every opportunity, scheduled or otherwise, to offer guidance and feedback to their team.

I will say on this note, however, that strong leaders also know when it’s time to quit flogging a dead horse. Every manager that has inherited a team (or even made a recruitment mistake along the way) knows that not everybody is worth the investment of coaching and developing – and, in fact, not everybody is capable or even wants it. I’ve learnt the hard way that, no matter how hard I try to help and encourage, some people just cannot pull their weight; it’s a sad but true aspect of being a good manager. In this instance, I’ve always made it my business to act in the interests of my performing team-members. After all, my loyalty as will always be to the real team-players out there: if I don’t speak up for them, who will?

3. Customer Care

It’s an age-old adage: the customer is always right – but what if we changed this to the customer is always first? It’s hard to go wrong in sales if your customers remain at the heart of everything you do.

I receive too many sales calls from (so-called) professionals who haven’t put the slightest effort into researching me or my company and yet imagine they can sell me a product or service based on the presumption that I need it. Quoting organisations and name-dropping people in the industry isn’t enough (and can land sellers in hot water if their prospect knows more than they do!). A quick look at my LinkedIn profile clearly outlines my history, it’s not rocket science, guys!

There’s plenty of sales advice out there about ensuring to always ‘be an expert in your field’ but how about being an expert in your customers? Getting to know your customers, their interests, areas of concern, and what they feel good about can uncover a real motivation for buying that leaves both parties feeling great at the end of the day. And don’t forget to follow up after closing a sale. A brief call to make sure your customer is 100% satisfied speaks volumes about your level of care - and your commitment to good service.

All in all, teaching sales skills, or hiring one good manager won’t cut the mustard when it comes to creating excellent sales-people. It’s getting the mixture right between process, management, and care that will turn prospects into customers and customers into life-long enthusiasts.