From Good Rep to Great Rep
Watch a sporting event — such as the Australian Open tennis tournament; a professional golf event; a basketball, baseball, or football game — and you will see two kinds of competitors. The first is the group possessing the kind of extraordinary talent and athletic ability that allows them to rise above the rabble and compete at the highest level.
In tennis, for example, this group can be seen in the first few rounds. They are buff and tanned as they make their way onto the court, steely-eyed and focused on the match, battling it out for the chance ... to get destroyed by the next level of talent: The Elite.
This level of competitors are often described as “special.” You might watch a documentary on their life and that word is almost always present at some point as a coach recognizes the talent and the unique abilities in someone at a young age. They are special. On TV, they appear bigger and faster. The look in their eyes is one of supreme confidence, like they’ve already beaten their competition before the match has even started. They are more focused and sometimes, almost robotic. What got them there is a lesson for the rest of us — we who are at a high level in our career (in this case, print sales), but have plateaued. Our future can go one of three ways:
- Cruise control — Years of steady annual numbers, with the occasional bump up or down, but we have peaked at this level. Sales, to this group, is a milk run of daily activities that can be predicted from week to week. Little changes from one to the next;
- Pothole — The loss of one major account and we’ve blown out a tire. Stuck at the side of the road, we are faced with the challenge of getting back up to speed or the reality of being towed to the garage where we are eventually sold for parts.
The third option is to find that next gear, the one we all have but precious few reach. This elite sales status would put us at the top of our profession, at the top of the sales leaderboard in the office, and would create separation from the mere average sales rep.
But is this achievable through genetics or effort? Are the best athletes in the world special because they were born that way, or special because they had better training, better coaching, and put in more effort than the others? It might be one of those things but, more likely, it’s all of them to some degree. The trick is to take what was given to you (i.e., your makeup and personality) and improve using the tools available to us all.
Baby, I Was Born This Way
Lady Gaga was not singing about sales reps, but she might as well have been. It is far easier to reach elite sales status starting from a position of natural ability. You can’t teach personality any more than you can teach someone’s physical makeup, such as height.
If you are organically outgoing and amiable, you’re off to a good start. If not, you can either work to imitate those important personality traits or accept that you are who you are and know that your target market exists as well. Not everyone is going to want to buy from Mr./Mrs. Wonderful. Steady Eddie/Edie has a shot, too.
What Can You Change?
Education — You have the ability to improve steadily through the constant pursuit of knowledge. You can read books or listen to tapes on sales, business, and self-help. In addition to learning new and innovative tactics, it helps to become reminded of the basics, the fundamentals.
Lesson: Make it a habit to ask the best salespeople you know, “What are you reading?” Chances are, you will discover some common titles. Sometimes you can read the same thing over and over, and suddenly it is put a certain way and something clicks.
The School of Hard Knocks — There is no substitute for the kind of experience that comes from grinding out sales call after sales call. Some things can be taught (negotiating, closing, overcoming objections, etc.), but until you have been on the battlefield, you are only dealing with theory.
The Harvard Business School does not accept applicants who do not have work experience. Why? Because what they teach will make more sense to those who have held a job for two or three years. In order to learn from mistakes (one of the best improvement methods available), you need to go out there and make mistakes. So …
Lesson: Get out there and make some mistakes!
Hustle — This is where things get interesting. Effort is the great equalizer. A sales rep who possesses natural abilities, both physically and in terms of personality, can lose to someone of far less talent but greater persistence and diligence.
Larry Bird was tall, but he was far from athletically-gifted. Still, his work ethic and overall smarts contributed to his Hall of Fame basketball career (Note: he was also voted the NBA’s all-time best/worst trash talker. Fact check through YouTube, if you must).
Lesson: Outwork and outsell your competition. Make not only more sales calls, but more calls to the same prospects. How many calls? One more! Always one more!
Expertise — While it matters what you know about printing (or packaging, labels, wide-format, or wherever convergence leads you), it is more important to study the customer’s business and vertical. Your job is to help your clients to grow. You can only do this when you have an understanding of their business needs and opportunities.
Lesson: Keep an eye out for information pertaining to your top accounts. Newspaper and online sources should be scoured on a regular basis. Share what you find with your clients as a way of letting them know you’re keeping them top of mind. This allows you to move from the quote stage to the design stage, and build the coveted brand of “Subject Matter Expert.”
Confidence — Believe in yourself, even if you have nothing to base it on. Sell like you already know the outcome. At the first NBA three-point contest during All-Star weekend, competitors sat nervously in the locker room awaiting word the event would begin. Larry Bird walked past, stopped, and said, “Which one of you ^%$#@’s is coming in second?” It was game over (again, fact check).
Lesson: Believe in yourself. Handle quotes like they are yours to lose.
Understanding your product and service offerings is a critical piece to sales success. But, being a student of sales itself and mastering sales skills, are what will get you to the next level — that elite status that separates you from mere mortals. The overwhelming majority of us are not “born salespeople” but, even if we were, we'd still have work to do. Either way, control what you can control and Elite status is reachable.
Let some other ^%$#@ come in second