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Go from Good to Great: Five Ways to Boost Your Sales Career


Last updated 8/5/2010

Just because you’ve been doing something for years doesn’t mean you can’t or don’t need to improve. An experienced sales professional may say to himself, “I’ve been selling for fifteen years, so I must be great.” Such thinking can limit him from achieving an even higher level of success, because one’s number of years experience is not necessarily a measure of excellence (any honest golfer knows that).

Becoming great doesn’t mean you have to work harder. Rather, you need the discipline to execute your tasks in an extraordinary way every day. If a salesperson becomes too self-satisfied, he may stop doing all the little things that made him great, such as using a pre-call checklist, asking for referrals and testimonials, conducting timely follow-up and sending thank-you notes.

Consider U2 front man Bono’s example of taking something good and making it great. He told USA Today, “An early version of our first single, Vertigo, was massaged, hammered, tweaked, lubed, sailed through two mixes and got U2’s unanimous stamp of ‘very good.’ Very good is the enemy of great. You think great is right next door. It’s not. It’s in another country.” Instead of releasing the song at ‘very good,’ the band rearranged Vertigo with new melodies and rhythms. They soon discovered untapped reserves of creativity and fortitude, and the song went on to become a number one hit.

Has your sales performance been “good” or “great”? Have you been on cruise control in your job? When was the last time you went back into your “studio” and reevaluated what you do and how you are doing it? If your performance could use improvement, consider the five following strategies.

1. Ask, “What Can I Do Better?”

When was the last time you asked a client what you could do to improve his or her experience with you? Years? Months? Never? If you want to continuously improve your skills, your clients and prospects have the most valuable insight into how you can become better. So make it a priority to regularly ask them for their suggestions on how to improve and add more value.

Keep in mind that asking for feedback is only a first step. When a client starts talking, don’t try to defend yourself or justify your actions, just listen to what he or she has to say. Take your client’s suggestions seriously and follow up with the person later to ensure you’ve made progress.

2. Set a Clear Goal for Each Day

What activities drive performance for your business? Is it number of contacts? Referrals? Phone calls? Appointments? Determine these factors, then set a measurable goal for doing a certain number of these activities each day. Many sales professionals think in terms of a sales funnel, where they need to keep a specific number of people in that funnel at all times to remain successful. How many new prospects do you need to contact to keep your funnel full?

As you set your goals, don’t forget about past clients. Many sales professionals become so focused on acquisition that they forget about retention. Past clients are easier to sell because they already know you and love the service you provide. But your competition is constantly trying to take your past clients away, and they may succeed if you show indifference. Keep in touch with past clients in a way that is simple and adds value. So, how many past clients are you going to call today?

3. Keep Track of Your Progress

A good way to track your progress and ensure continuous improvement is to keep a written record of what you do. Create a scorecard to record your key performance numbers for each day—number of appointments, sales, referrals, etc. For example, if you want to make ten cold calls each day, then keep a record of the number of calls you make as well as the number of days you achieve your cold calling goal. Repeat this procedure for each goal or activity and post it where you can see it easily. You can’t mange what you can’t measure, and the quickest way to lose momentum is to stop tracking your results.

4. Tell an Effective Story

Everyone has a success story, and you may notice that businesses and products often use their stories as marketing tools. Whatever your story is, it must be unique, compelling and it must solve the customer’s problem. Real estate agents, for example, may take pictures of their clients in front of their new homes and then show these photos to their prospects. Even a bottle of wine or a consumer product can tell a story to differentiate it from other products on the shelf. Consider how you can document your success with quotes, testimonials, case studies and pictures, and then creatively use your story to attract new business.

5. Record Yourself

No one likes to admit they aren’t good at what they do. Even if a person fails, he or she won’t likely admit that individual performance was to blame. But people are often mediocre or just plain bad at sales, and they don’t even realize it.

Have you ever recorded yourself while you’re meeting with a client or prospect? This is an excellent way to identify your strengths and weaknesses. How do you record a sales presentation? Explain to your client or prospect that you are consistently trying to improve the way you tell your story and your listening skills. Then ask if you can record the meeting for personal use. Most of the time, the prospect won’t have any objections and they’ll admire your professionalism. If you are speaking to a group, ask to use a video camera.

Once you have the recording, the moment of truth arrives. Yes, it takes guts to review the tape! On your first viewing, takes notes on all the good things you do and write down all the questions you ask. Then go back, ideally with a more experienced peer, and identify areas for improvement. The danger is the more you know, the more you tend to talk. So you’ll often find that you need to ask more questions and talk less.

Continuous Improvement in Your Future
Remember that the key to taking your sales career to the next level of success is to work smarter, not harder. Many sales professionals use the strategies outlined here initially, but then let these good work habits slide. Providing a superior experience for your clients means constantly improving and refreshing what you do. One of the best ways to gain momentum is to readopt good habits. When you do, you can achieve limitless success.