What Are The Characteristics of a Great Sales Rep?

I was asked on LinkedIn what a great sales rep is. It seemed so easy, but the answer took me some time. The following is my answer as written, unedited:

I’ve worked with some great sales reps, some I’ve had to carry, and a huge multitude in-between. Discounting/ignoring inter-personal skills with prospects/customers, what a sales rep needs to be depends entirely on their own actual/perceived knowledge of what they are selling.

Lets face it, sales people sell “confidence”. They are convincing people to take a risk, and being confident in doing so. Selling tangible, inventoried things is a different world from selling what they have to envision, conceptualize, or flat out imagine. Are you a good story teller? If not, you don’t need to be to sell vacuums or shoes. People already know 2 things:

1. What a shoe is, and
2. Why they need one.

In conceptual, as well as strategic, selling, that is not the case. We have 2 possible ways in:

1. They want what they don’t have, or
2. They have what they don’t want.

Traditional Sales is always asking “Where is their pain?”, which is a classic case of the legacy version¬† of #2 above. That kind of selling is not fun. Once you fix something, out you go. That is not consulting, but contracting-to me at least, and yes, I am simplifying things greatly, glossing over a lot of exceptions for the sake of brevity.

Strategic Sales (#1 above) is about getting the prospect somewhere, achieving more, and generally speaking: succeeding. I can either patch you up so you are as you were, or I can transform you model to be more innovative to your vertial, and capture more from your competitors.

Which do you think is more fun? More profitable? More efficient? :)

With that foundation, we can now approach the ideal sales rep with a clearer perspective. And guess what… there is more than one perspective.

If I had to choose one personality trait, it would be humility, or at least enough humility to listen to the prospect/customer and Sales Engineer with open ears when he/she is trying to help you make more money. And having a rep make more money is how most Sales Engineers make more money, so you can hope for/expect a low level of baloney. If I can’t get a sales rep to listen, I can’t foster their skills & career as their manager & I are tasked with, and they will never drop/modify their well worn bad habits.

From the perspective of their managers, the bottom line is all that counts. Reps are easily & often replaced. A good sales rep is one who sells. You can’t take anything away from that. From their perspective, their own compensation is based on how much product their reps sell.

As a fast aside, people ask me what should a sales rep do, or what are they currently doing & why. My simple answer is “look at their comp plan”.

So now we get to the perspective of the prospect/customer (imagine this being the third overlapping circle in the triad), who once again is looking to be convinced, and then assured, that what you offer will do the trick.

There’s just one problem, and it comes back to what I said about what the rep is selling. It can be summed up as a question:

Q: Does the prospect know what they should about their need? (see want vs. have at top)

If they are a technology company, and you are selling technology, it is not a slam-dunk. Just like a sales rep with bad habits, a prospect who “knows” what they have & need is a pain. They lack perspective (trees vs. forest) and will always consider “build” when given the “buy vs. build” decision. I cover this axiom in my videos (can’t remember which one!). If you’ve ever raised a teenager, you know how difficult to negotiate with someone who already “knows everything”.

Lets bring that concept home. Unlike with shoes, I need to tell you about a conceptual/ethereal thing that you must understand as being bad for you, or you have to have (want/need). Only once I convince you how miserable you are without it can I then suggest the way out (us, of course), and have you confident that this is they way out of the jam you had no idea you were in!

So imagine you go to a prospect who has never heard of shoes! You say, “Buy some shoes!”, and they go, “What is a shoes?”. That is what it is like in a strategic selling situation, and if the rep will not delegate account responsibilities to those able to answer these questions wisely, they will lose the opportunity.

If the rep has no vision, or ability to sell conceptualization, they had better depend heavily on someone who can (Sales Engiener), or go sell pencils. You can see where a naive rep would lead off with the only thing they know-addressing the “pain points”, where a wiser rep would take the “kitchen of the future” approach.

I describe this sales rep attitude as asking whether your sales rep is selling drills or holes.

With all that on the table, you asked about the rep & the prospect organization. We in sales management or sales support/consulting need to work with what we have. Too often we only have reps that are only a rolodex. They don’t see their jobs as anything more than getting the call/meeting, an introduction.¬†They don’t want to learn. They sit in the corner checking scores & emailing while others do their job.

I also don’t like reps who know too much, as they look at selling as a technical problem/task, when it really isn’t. I want a rep that is approachable and can be counted on to help create a plan fopr the account, deal, and meeting as an equal participant. I want the rep to get the Sales Engineer in on the very first call to guide qualification. All of this takes humility.

I guess a “great sales rep” is a team player, who sees their team as working for their own best interests, and not unnecessarily introducing complexity that will spook the prospect. A team should have skin the game, too, to be respected by the rep(s).

I have avoided the closing part until last. In the larget deals I have ever done, 7 figure deals, I have so prepared the prospect that in the last meeting they just ask which paper to sign. My rep wasn’t the closer-the prospect was.

A person in front of the prospect who is looking for the quick kill is poison. The rep claims something, and the prospect looks at me and asks, “Is that true?”. How do the negative people on the prospect side get dealt with? This is not a closing skill to satisfy their sniping in front of their managers. You can’t solve having sharks in a sales call by adding more sharks.

The prospect needs to come up with your ideas/solutions on their own. They need to be patiently taught what a shoe is just to the point where they are begging you to sell them a pair.

So who is the “closer” here?

This question would seem to have a simple, generic answer. But I’ve learned over a long career that really important things in a complex, dynamic environment are never simple, and never repeatable.

And that is why I like being a Sales Engineer!

I have the best of both worlds, and the worst of neither! :)

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