Russ Kathrein, fellow contributing editor, suggested we write on the same subject this month after having a dialogue about the metaphor of arrows in the quiver. Thus, we agreed that leaders and salespeople both need to accumulate a library of skill sets. Know first that Russ is a Michigan State grad, and I attended the University of Michigan; thus, he always promises he’ll speak slowly and not use big words which might confuse me.
Second, it is often said great minds think alike, to which I reply, “So do mediocre ones.” You be the judge! The ubiquitous question I face as a mentor to salespeople begins with the words, “What should a salesperson do when… ?” In other words, situations pop up for salespeople to ask which arrow should be pulled for the unique situation. Here are the categories—i.e., skill sets—I believe a salesperson needs for long term success.
Ears and Questions.
Notice that “ears” were listed before “questions.” A fallacy of many sales trainers and managers is that asking open-ended questions is the foundational skill of selling. I disagree, and instead believe that proactively seeking and hearing the right information is infinitely more important. One salesperson asks a perfectly phrased question about a buyer’s current challenges with their suppliers, to which the buyer says, “Truthfully, we don’t have any. We’re good.”
Another salesperson across town simply hands out a business card and, before she can ask a question, hears the buyer lay out a laundry list of complaints. “Wow. Your timing was perfect. I’ve had it with our current lumber supplier. Materials are left strewn at the job site, my projects are delayed, and that is not good for my cashflow or relationships with my customers. I want to see if you guys would take me seriously as a customer, because my current supplier sure doesn’t!” Any sensible salesperson would rather have the second conversation, which proves that the answer is more important than the question.
Scripts and Phrases.
Words are the stock-in-trade of superior sales leaders. They build a library of phrases for prospecting, handling negotiations, scheduling future meetings, and developing proposals. Each one focuses on delivering the right presentation for the situation. Consider the car dealer who greets the walk-in customer.
It would be ridiculous for the salesperson to initiate a presentation by using the owner’s manual. The 700-page document in 8-point font on ultra-thin paper would only confuse and potentially scare a buyer. Instead, they go to great lengths to produce brochures that illustrate a lifestyle for potential buyers. It should be no different for the product vendor of building materials. There is a right presentation for the right audience at the right time.
Communication Assets and Third-Party Apps.
There are samples, sales brochures, and other promotional assets a salesperson must leverage with mastery. Additionally, sales- people should become familiar with the apps and software that enable contractors to sell effectively and manage their operations. Finally, there are texting, social media, and e-mail apps that require proficiency with communication tools. There is a little dot (.) at the bottom of the keyboard; it’s a great tool for ending a sentence. There are two “Shift” keys; they’re great to use at the start of a sentence after the dot. (Did you catch the semicolon to link two congruent thoughts that could also be independent sentences?) We’ve all seen enough communication with run-on sentences without punctuation this is not a good way to establish professionalism and in fact probably makes the person seem less smarter than they really am … like this last sentence!
Prepare yourself with the arrows for success. Build your repertoire of skills; it’s the differentiator between sales mediocrity and excellence. By the way, Russ, what’s a quiver?