As a sales manager, a big part of your job is to hire the right people. Hiring the right people involves predicting their success. You want to be able to predict how much business they’ll bring in during a given quarter and how well they’ll gel with your existing team. You probably wish you had a psychic medium to give you a look into the future.
That magical crystal ball may not be so far out of your grasp. Sometimes, you can get a sense for how likely success is very early on in the game. We reached out to many top-notch sales experts to get their answers to the question: what is the number one predictor of sales success? Here’s what they had to say.
Your Product is Your Foundation
“To cut to the chase, the greatest predictors of sales success are the product and the people,” said Brad Fleming, a sales manager for Cincom Systems. “If a product does not have market share or a good market perception, there’s little chance of a great salesperson being successful.”
It makes sense that the product is the foundation of a good performance. It’s the first part of the equation. The members of a sales department may feel far removed from the people leading design, development and manufacturing of the thing you sell. But those different groups are simply different gears working in a bigger machine.
Successful sales rep Markus L. Horner echoed that sentiment. “How much do you know about your competitors’ product, as well as how much do you know about your own product?” Think about it: a rep should be able to accurately answer any questions that a potential client might have. To do that, they’ll need to know the thing they’re selling inside and out. And it’s inevitable that some of those questions will point toward rivals. If you can know the industry like the back of your hand and still believe that what you’re selling is the best choice, your chances of closing deals will be vastly higher.
Have the Right Stuff
Build on a great product with a great set of characteristics in a sales rep. Whether you’re trying to hone your skills for the field or you’re a manager weighing job candidates, here are some important traits that our experts highlighted.
Communication skills can make or break every deal. “The best sales people I know are excellent listeners, compassionate, and good conversationalists,” said Nicole Wright. “The conversation is casual, just like you’re speaking with a long-time friend. So casual you don’t even realize it was a sales conversation.” Ben Lazarov, an account executive at UrbanBound, seconded that concept. “Being able to talk with people, instead of at them, is one of the most valuable skills I have learned in my sales experience,” he said. He also discussed the need to find balance in how you interact with customers. “It can be extremely difficult to tow the line between pushing too hard and not pushing hard enough, especially when you believe in your product as much as many of us do.”
George Athan, chief strategist at MindStorm Strategic Consulting, highlighted two key areas for those pros. “We’ve found that the #1 predictor of sales success is one’s ability to operate in two areas: productivity and effectiveness,” he said. “Each alone would make a person average or just above, but when you combine the two, top producers are created.”
Another important trait is a focus on goals. “It’s not enough to have desire and a big dream,” said Michael Chadwick, a licensed real estate salesperson with more than a decade in sales and sales management. “Unless one has the discipline to break down that big compelling ‘why?’ into the mechanism of what is the work involved on a day by day basis, then the disconnect happens.”
The right mindset and the right incentive are major factors in kickstarting success. “The greatest predictor of sales success is motivational clarity,” said Barrett Riddlberger, CEO of xPotential Selling. He that the best reps find the overlap between internal motivations and the rewards of the sales profession. “As a result, they possess both the drive and ability to persevere through difficulties, to learn more about their craft, to self-evaluate their performance and to passionately find a way to consistently achieve their sale goals.”
Mark Roberge, Chief Revenue Officer at Hubspot and former SVP of Sales and Services said, coachability. “A big part of my interview (technique at Hubspot) is roleplaying. I’ll say for example, “I’m VP marketing locally, you’re a HubSpot sales person, I just got to your website, go.” And we do roleplay for 5 or 10 minutes, and I watch their style and how well they know HubSpot and whether they leave with questions. At the end I’m like, “Okay, great, how do you think you did?” If they’re like, “I did awesome,” that’s a big red flag. If they’re analytical and reflective, “I like what I did here, I could have done this better,” I like that. “
“So, coachability is huge, prior success is big, and that doesn’t just have to be in sales. I’ll ask, “Oh, you’re an account executive at Oracle. How many account executives were there? 70? What was your rank? Two? Fantastic. What is that based on? One quarter or all year? Is it revenue?” So I get really specific there. And prior success doesn’t have to be in sales. We’ve got an Olympic gold medalist on our team from the hockey team from the 90s. We’ve got a guy who’s a professional comic who’s made it to Comedy Central. Like these are people who went after something and achieved it. That’s what you’re looking for. Work ethic, curiosity and intelligence (along with coachability and prior success) are the big five that we are looking for.”
Succeed With and Because of Customers
It’s easy for managers to start getting an insular view of their team. Managers tend to be buried in numbers, charts and reports. With all that minutiae, you can miss the forest for the trees. An outward-looking mindset can’t be overlooked. After all, there are no successful sales without customers.
MJ Rulnick Callaway, sales conversion coach at RockMoreSales.com, said that success begins with qualifying a customer’s needs, and determining if the match is a good one. But that’s not the only piece of the puzzle. “The customer’s experience is key to closing the sale,” she said. “Sales professionals need to connect with their customer.” She made the analogy of a tour guide: “If you had a choice to have Charlie Brown’s teacher or Bruno Mars, who would you choose?” The rep needs to be a guide with good trust and communication in order to successfully lead a customer through the sales pipeline.
And success doesn’t end with the final handshake. Joe Neil, a sales manager at Maxwell Health, also emphasized the need of keeping the customer in mind after closing. “The key is once you’ve gotten buy in from the customer that there is a problem or inefficiency,” he said. “When you’ve achieved this you can build a vision around how your product or team is equipped to tackle that.”
CEO Mike Solow of Idea Harvest added his thoughts on what traits he looks for in building a sales team. He cited organization and motivation as important traits, but the first thing he looks for is a positive attitude. “Sales is a contact sport after all, and they’re going to hear a lot of no’s, but can they stay positive and power through all of that and focus on building the necessary relationships,” he said.
The breadth of responses our experts had shows that success is still a very individual pursuit. There may not be a single key to determining your odds of victory, but rather a combination of the right people and the right product coming together correctly that impacts the outlook.
Obviously, some of these important traits for a great sales rep are ideals that are innate and some can be learned with the right guidance. If a sales pro can put impeccable skills in communication, interpersonal relationships, and motivation, then in the right place, there’s no way to hold them back from being Number 1.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments how you’ve been successful at predicting success in sales.
Thank you to Anna Washenko for all of her work on this article!