Surprisingly, when we interview high performing salespeople and ask them what makes them effective, they often cannot tell us. It’s like interviewing naturally gifted athletes and asking what makes them a great football or basketball player. They simply practice the right skills and behaviors and execute flawlessly on the field. Similarly, many top performing sales professionals do the right things intuitively, because they seem like the natural things to do in their role.

However, when we observe the behavior of sales professionals, we can see distinct differences between those who perform at high levels consistently and those who perform at relatively moderate-to-low levels. Fortunately, these skills and behaviors can be learned, providing a model of performance improvement and success for any salesperson.

From our observations in working with over 1.5 million sales professionals all over the world, we see trends in common practices used by most sellers, which are preventing them from performing at higher levels of productivity. These limiting practices and habits include:

  1. Not being agile – pursuing all sales opportunities in the same way.
  2. Not developing a personal brand – lacking situational fluency.
  3. Talking instead of listening.
  4. Selling products, not solutions.
  5. Selling price, not value.
  6. Selling to the wrong people – not getting access to people with power and/or influence.
  7. Lacking discipline based on standards of excellence.

Seller agility

In our book, The Collaborative Sale1, Keith Eades and I described the concept of seller agility: ‘There is not a single “best or only” sales persona that always produces the highest results. Instead, the most effective selling [behavior] matches each specific customer situation and aligns with the buyer’s current state.’ The best salespeople know this intuitively, adjusting their behavior and tactics to align with their buyer’s journey.

When top performing sellers interact with a prospective buyer, they first attempt to answer this critical question: where is this buyer in their journey towards a purchase decision? Selling to an early-stage buyer is different from selling to a late-stage buyer, and sellers need to adjust their selling strategy and tactics to match the buyer’s journey.

Recent research reveals that top performing salespeople employ multiple sales methods that align with different buyer situations2. They are agile in adapting to different types of buyers. Sellers who treat every sales opportunity the same way often find themselves in misalignment with buyers, resulting in a much lower success rate.

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