What is it that Sales Superstars have and how do you get more of it?

Having worked with many sales teams over the years, I’ve discovered that regardless of the type of sales or the industry, almost all sales people would like to be ‘sales super-stars’.

Most sales managers or directors would like teams of ‘sales super-stars’, so it is not surprising that virtually all sales training is ultimately aiming at this objective too.

But what does a ‘Sales Super-star’ actually look like?

There are many ways of looking at this question but there are a core set of factors which most people would include in the definition;

  • Consistently high performing – in the top ten per cent of league tables.
  • Handles any challenges constructively, seeks multiple solutions.
  • Stays calm under pressure, not overwhelmed or stressed.
  • Bounces back quickly from major set-backs, shows resilience.
  • Enthusiastic, engaged in the company and team.
  • Good to be around, people respect and enjoy working with them.
  • They enjoying a healthy work/life balance rather than being ‘workaholics’.
  • They are financially very well rewarded.

Are you or your team Sales-Superstars ?

So, how many stars would you give yourself or your sales team, based on one star for each of the factors above? How happy are you with that score? What could you do to maintain or improve the score?

Oh no, not more sales training!

The most obvious way to improve at anything is some form of training or coaching. The bad news is that most training doesn’t result in anything changing for very long and coaching can be expensive. Recent research shows that after six weeks most sales training has been largely forgotten and behaviour has reverted back to old habits. We’ve all been there – even if the training seemed fantastic at the time, when we get back to our normal day to day activities, the training manual gets put on the shelf and despite our best intentions, it starts to collect a film of dust.

I remember, many years ago when I was training to be a sales person that some of the training consisted of sitting in a room by myself, watching the videos and listening to someone drone on about various sales techniques. I’m absolutely certain that I slept through a significant proportion of the videos, despite my best efforts to stay awake.

Of course, in these enlightened times, we all know better, don’t we?

Consider what happened when you learnt to drive. It probably went something like this;

  • The basic controls were explained and demonstrated.
  • The basic ‘rules of the road’ were explained.
  • From now on, you’re in the driving seat…
  • You were taken through various tasks one at a time, pulling away, steering, changing gear, braking and so on.
  • Over a period of several weeks you practised the skills, gradually adding in more stretching tasks as your level of skill improved, such as reversing, overtaking and parking.
  • You probably practised the skills in between lessons, until they became habits.
  • Some of those skills were more difficult to acquire than others, so you kept practising them over and over until you mastered them, even if they seemed impossible to start with.
  • You ventured onto different types of roads and traffic conditions.
  • You learned what to do in unexpected situations, such as emergency stops and breakdowns.
  • Until finally you had the skills and experience to handle most situations, take and pass the test, but you also realised that there was still much more to learn.

Almost any-body who wants to, can learn to drive, so this approach definitely works. So what can corporate sales training learn from this?

Timing, relevance and pace – you learn to drive when it is most relevant to your life and circumstances, at times that suit you and at your own pace. Frequently sales training is done on a ‘sheep-dip’ basis, just putting everyone through at the same pace, whether the timing is right or not and whether it is relevant to them or not at that moment.

Training plus coaching – there are certain specific skills and knowledge that must be acquired, such as using the clutch. These skills are then developed through on-going coaching which establishes self-belief and confidence to overcome the challenges.

Flood or drip feed? – with driving, your learn over an extended period of time, allowing the skills to build through repetition and practise, establishing new habits. If the training is delivered as a single ‘flood’ then it tends to wash away as quickly as it came.

Passive or active? – with driving you are continually involved and active in the process, as opposed to just observing it happen. By actively using the skills, over and over, you eliminate bad habits and establish new more helpful habits.

Follow-through? – with driving, once you pass your test, you have a two year period where you are subject to special rules and you probably had someone keeping a watchful eye over your driving and supporting you as your confidence grew. Often with training, you’re on your own the moment you leave to room or complete the program.

Imagine for a moment that you only had a one day crash course in learning to drive, how do you think the chances of passing the driving test would look in comparison?

So training, in itself, often isn’t enough to bring about long lasting results. It has to be relevant, self-paced, supported, drip fed, interactive and be followed up on, to result in any long lasting changes in behaviour. The next question then becomes ‘What should the training actually be about?’

What does the research say about critical factors in sales success?

Much has been written on the critical skills, technologies and information associated with successful selling, but research has shown that success involves more. It isn’t too hard to be a ‘Can-do’ sales person, knowing all the information required to be a high performer. But what is needed is to be a ‘Will-do’ sales person, who actually does the things required to be a Sales-Superstar.
A number of positive psychological capacities underpin successful selling. Arguably, however, one of the most important psychological capacities involved in sales success is intrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation is the degree to which people want to work well in their jobs in order to achieve personal satisfaction and success, rather than external satisfactions, such as pay and working conditions. The link between intrinsic motivation and effort, persistence, productivity and turnover has been repeatedly and reliably demonstrated in many studies.

Successful selling requires sustained motivation in the face of frequent and multiple rejections, difficulties and setbacks. But are we born with a certain level of intrinsic motivation, as part of our personality, or can we do anything to improve it and if so what exactly?

Are Sales Super-stars Born or bred ?

Research has shown that it is possible to manage and fine tune the way we think and develop our motivation in order to enhance sales performance. Our beliefs about ourselves, our work and other people are the filter through which we view the world. They are the ‘rules’ we’ve learnt and developed over the years to guide our actions usually without us even being aware of them. Our beliefs and attitudes organise our day-to-day thinking and govern our behaviour; they determine how successful we are. Sometimes self-limiting beliefs become established which can severely limit sales performance. Usually these ‘rules’ are helpful, but not always.

A particular type of beliefs – the habitual way we explain good and bad events, especially successes and failures – are of special importance in selling. These beliefs affect not only intrinsic motivation, but also the quantity and quality of sales that are made. For example, sales people who tend to attribute their individual successes to external and temporary factors, such as “I had a lucky break with that client” will be less successful overall than their colleagues who make a point of looking for the part that they played in the positive outcome, particularly if they are able to pinpoint an ability they can exercise in different situations in the future.

These are very challenging times for many sales people and sales organisations. Motivation, self-esteem and performance can easily take a knock under these circumstances and ‘call reluctance’ can be the result.

What is the Psychology of success?

There has been much high quality research into Success. It has consistently been shown that Success involves strong self-belief, optimism and openness to try something different to achieve different results. Sales people who have a strong sense of self belief exert greater effort to master the challenges. Not only does optimism improve effectiveness, it has many other benefits too. Research has reliably demonstrated that people who view things optimistically:

  • Make fewer visits to the doctor
  • Have a greater immunity to diseases and illnesses
  • Achieve better at school and college
  • Perform better at sports and hobbies
  • Have more success in their jobs
  • Live longer

How do we apply this to Success in Sales ?

Dr Judy Proudfoot, an eminent psychologist, carried out a large scale scientific study within the sales division of a large UK household name insurance company, looking at sales performance, motivation, resilience, and dealing with pressure. The purpose of the research was to explore whether a well-designed psychological training/coaching program would make a significant long term difference.

The published research demonstrated that it is possible to help sales people improve their performance through a combined coaching and training program based on what is known as ‘Cognitive Behavioural’ psychological strategies.

The techniques involve learning how to become more aware of your key thoughts, attitudes and beliefs, checking if they are helpful, and changing those that are not.

Significant long lasting improvements were achieved;

  • Sales Performance – 20% improvement
  • Ability to cope effectively with pressure – 27% increase
  • Staff turnover – dropped by 31%.

Cognitive Behavioural psychology is one of the most powerful approaches to help people achieve more success. It has been recognised as the ‘Gold Standard’, the most effective, evidence based, approach available. The UK government is now investing £400 million in it as part of its Wellness program, where it is shown to achieve a 389% return on investment.

Thoughts + Feelings = behaviour

Let’s look at how this approach might work for a typical sales challenge. Imagine that you are about to make your last sales call of the year. If you win the sale you’ll be top sales representative this year. You are already planning how to spend the bonus and your partner already knows that it might be coming.

You really want to be top salesperson this year. However, the customer may not be very keen to commit yet and may want to wait until next year.

Imagine that you are thinking;

‘I reckon that they have decided that they are not going to commit yet. They’ll want to bring this meeting to a close as quickly as possible. I’m almost certainly wasting my time here, I can kiss that bonus good-bye’

What would you be likely to be feeling? Enthusiastic or despondent? How would you behave as a result? What would you say? What would your body language say?

Imagine now that instead you are thinking;

‘They haven’t committed yet and I’m curious to know why not. I’d like to help them remove any barriers and get the right result for them as quickly as possible. If I’m to get my bonus I’ll need to explore every avenue. I’m going to do everything that I possibly can to encourage them to commit today and won’t leave until I know I’ve given it my best.

What would you now be feeling ? How would you behave as a result ?

The important point here is that the salesman was facing exactly the same situation and challenge in both cases. All that was different was what he was thinking, and there are almost always multiple different interpretations and subsequently thoughts that we could have about any given situation.

Being able to control and adapt your thought processes is a learnt skill that we call ‘thinking success’.

Winning more

So you can choose to think something different, and by choosing more useful interpretations and thoughts about events, you will have more success and less stress. This is not the same as deluding yourself. You don’t choose an interpretation that is blatantly wrong. You choose a plausible interpretation given the (often limited) information available. There are always many different ways of interpreting any situation. What you think and believe influence how you feel. How you feel influences how you behave or react next. How you behave will influence your sales success, by influencing others thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

So if you or your team, want to be a Sales-Super-stars, learning these proven psychological techniques for ‘thinking success’ is a sure fire way to achieve that.

Bryan McCrae helps sales people, teams and organisations boost sales success by developing motivation, resilience and ability to cope with pressure, using advanced psychological techniques. He is the founder of Sales-Motivations and can be contacted at bryan@sales-motivations.com. Visit www.sales-motivations.com


One thought on “What is it that Sales Superstars have and how do you get more of it?

  1. Great article on sales. Im in the sales industry myself and find it easy selling fitness, but not much else. Hoping this will allow me to ‘sell’ other skills.


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