By William H. “Bill” Blades

I speak and consult on a wide range of industries and I find it hard to find 1 or 2 percent of the sales personnel that would be classified as “great.”

Shocking? It should not be.

Most corporations hire sales personnel that were never trained, educated and held accountable for greatness. Following their hiring, almost all are again not provided with training and education. And then one is later named vice president of sales—without any skills training and education to be a “great” vice president of sales. The cycle goes on and on, resulting in fewer sales and reduced margins than could be achieved.

Those individuals wanting and needing to be in the top 2 percent take charge of their own destiny. What do they do? Read on.

They work harder for themselves than they do for their employer. Who wins with this philosophy? The individual, the clients—and their employer.

Most industry representatives don’t read every trade magazine in their industry. Read. Be an expert. I read over 400 trade magazines monthly. Yep, 400-plus. Would you hire a speaker or consultant who stopped reading and learning? No! And do clients want to deal with a salesperson that’s gone stale? No. And don’t just read magazines in your industry. Read magazines from other industries to help you get out of your “box.” They’re usually free. If you don’t read, you don’t grow.

Over 80 percent of all clients make their vendor selection because they like, trust and respect the salesperson. Ask yourself what you’re doing to get prospective clients to like, trust and respect you. You have to earn a great reputation as a leader; or else you’ll be stuck in the role of selling something to somebody at a price. That’s not a profession, but a boring job. Think hard about this paragraph.

Are you a giver? Do you give more of yourself to your clients and employer than anyone else does? The top 2 percent do. If you receive more gifts from clients than you give out, you’re in the top 2 percent. If you wind up paying for golf every time, you’re not. You have to give a lot to get a lot. Give your best stuff to everyone.

Think of and for clients at all times. Do you cut articles out and mail them to clients? Don’t just read for your personal benefit. Read with an eye out for your clients. If you see an article that would be interesting and beneficial, send it to them so they’ll find you to be interesting and beneficial.

Be a value-added sales professional. Figure out how you’ll provide unheard of services that no one else offers. If you don’t, you better hope I don’t provide field training for your competitor—and close 90 percent of your “former” clients.

Be more creative than ever before. Always think and act on this question: “What am I going to do to make this the best sales visit they’ve ever seen?” And be creative before and after the visit. Creativity (emotion) beats logic (technical) almost every time in sales. Win them over emotionally first followed by the details later.

Winners understand they can’t be status quo. They know they’ll never “arrive.” Even if you become the best in the world, you can’t remain the best if you start feeling and acting as if “I’ve arrived.” No matter how good you are today, you can be 25 percent better in 90 days. And over 90 percent of all sales representatives I’ve worked with could become 50 percent better—yes, 50 percent better. Grow or perish.

Those that are serious about their profession become certified. Salespeople are like consultants in that only one in about 25,000 become certified. I’m certified in both of my professions—a CMC and CPS after my name means I’ve earned them—and I earn more. My two big needs are money and oxygen; and professional designations bring me more of one of them. Earn yours.

Don’t be a salesperson—be a fantastic businessperson. Fridays are a great day to be such a person. I suggest you forget about making sales calls on most Friday afternoons. How many visits can you make between 1:00 and 5:00? One? Two? Work at your desk instead. Mail 15 postcards, make 15 phone calls and get organized. Once a month, invest an all-day at your desk and mail 25 postcards, make 25 phone calls and act on every item in this article. Beats three or four prospect-and-service visits almost every time.

Be a leader in your association. Be a good speaker, serve on a committee and/or run for an office. The message is: Don’t do what 98 percent do, which is just show up at the convention or trade show. Most trade show booths look just like they did the year before. Most advertisements look like they did the year before. Prepare now so you are different at next year’s show. You’ll gain respect.

Look, act and be the part. Remember, Kennedy beat Nixon in their first televised debate. Kennedy looked the part and spoke with vigor, or “vigah” as he pronounced it. He had it all that night: dark suit, a tan and enthusiasm. Nixon who was ill at the time, sweated and looked pale in his gray suit. Historians claim the election was won that night based on the way Kennedy looked and acted to get the part he wanted. By the way, Nixon “won” according to radio listeners due to his content. Get a consultant to help you with your appearance, style and actions. Then get an engineer to help you with the technical side. Not the technical stuff first.

Prepare and stick to a plan. All but 2 percent of salespeople operate without a solid plan because, as they say, “I don’t have time to plan.” Start with a 12-month plan and work it backward into quarters, to the month, to the week and then by the day. Who are the next 10 clients going to be? When will they come on board? Which products will they buy? And how much will they buy? How am I going to make it happen? Don’t know? Then you’re drifting. I’m not talking about an unrealistic marketing plan. I’m talking about a sales action plan. And review it weekly to beat deadline dates.

Develop a Target Account Program. Start by identifying the three, five or 10 accounts that merit an all-out effort by you and your associates. Then list every action you will take, with deadline dates. Do more for them than anyone else has done before. Many sales people start to settle in after they land an account. Catch those settled-in sales people flat-footed.

Keep a voice recorder on your front seat to capture ideas that pop out of your brain when you least expect it. Use it to dictate letters while driving. “Not any big deal” you might think. Well, it is. One, you don’t want to forget the ideas. Two, why dictate letters in your office when it could be done during driving time? Three, pick up just five minutes a day and you’ll gain 20½ hours annually.

Manage your time like it’s currency—because it is. Major time should be invested into major things such as Target Accounts. Minor time should be spent on minor thinks such as minor accounts. Don’t spend the same amount with someone who can buy $500 of goods as you do with a $5,000 or even a $50,000 or $500,000 client. Harness your time so you have more time to make more money. I wrote this article on the weekend—not between 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. on a weekday. That’s client time.

Choose your role model carefully. Pick someone who’s in the top 1-to-2 percent. It may even be a competitor. Ask, “who am I currently hanging around and what are they doing to me”? If you make $50,000 and truly want to make $150,000, do you hang around someone earning $50,000 or someone earning $150,000? The message is to mimic your role model. And try, at least, to help them as much as they help you.

Encourage your corporation to invest in training and one-on-one education. They invest in equipment and more equipment, but few are progressive enough to invest an adequate amount into training and education. If your employer is too shortsighted to understand, invest into training for yourself. It’s not a cost. It’s an investment. It will come back to you in big-time dollars.

Take a little quiet time once in a while. While serving as vice president of sales and marketing, I used to send the entire sales force off, twice a year, to a park, hotel room or wherever just to think. No phones. They took their annual plan, day planners, position descriptions, etc. They went to think: “What am I doing that I should not be doing?” and “What am I not doing that I should be doing?” The brain works much better when there’s no stress and no noise interruptions.

Conduct a “needs” analysis with every prospect and every client. Always ask a question such as “How can I personally serve you better?” With a prospect you’ve called on for a while, try: “Sir, I’ve been calling on you for 17 months without success. I must be doing something wrong. Will you please tell me what it is?” Whatever the questions are, listen intently to every response, take great notes and act. Great selling is listening—not talking.

Be open to change—really open, because being in the top 2 percent probably requires radical adjustments. This is a fast, ever-changing world. Be ahead of the curve or leave the profession. We change jobs, friends and spouses. Why not ourselves?

I’ve heard your industry is a very technical one. It’s not. Sending a space shuttle up into space is very technical. Yours is primarily a people business. Who develops and produces the products? Sells it? Buys it? People. I make sales calls for my clients all over the world and I ask for the toughest ones—and we close 90 percent of them. And… I know little to almost nothing about the industries. I can get the technical information from my client’s technical personnel. My job is to get my client’s client to WANT to buy from them—and NEED us. How? Just start with the above steps.

Just about anyone can be in the top 2 percent. This applies to sales departments and sales representatives. Will it be tough? Of course. Is individual and corporate greatness worth the prices to pay?

It’s a very easy answer for smart and progressive people.

About the author
Bill Blades, a certified management consultant (CMC), is president of William Blades Inc., with offices in Gold Canyon, Ariz., and Manchester, England. At 22, he became plant manager for a major manufacturer while still a full-time college student. He later served as vice president of sales and marketing for a food manufacturing firm, finance chairman for Congressman Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Speaker of the House and on the faculties of The Graduate School of Banking of the South, College of Estate Planning Attorneys, National Association of Sales Professionals. He has lectured at several universities, including the American Graduate School of International Management, as well as at the National Ground Water Association convention. Author of Selling: The Mother of All Enterprise and co-author of several other books on related subjects, Blades has been chairman of sales and marketing committees for the National Speakers Association and Institute for Management Consultants. He can be reached at (480) 671-3000 or +(44) 161-776-4048.


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