Rio Olympic Games - The Road to Gold

August 19, 2016

How the right mix of personality, behavior, and compensation drives success

It’s hard to believe that the 2016 Rio Olympic Games are coming to an end. So far, we’ve seen spectacular gymnasts, thrilling rugby players, and even some weirdly green swimming pools. With this one in four year’s chance for countries to showcase their hardworking athletes, we can only imagine how much time they spend perfecting their skills and pushing past their limits to win. It takes a certain mix of natural talent, drive, discipline, and support to mold a great athlete into an Olympian. For a successful salesperson, the same basic principles apply. In order for organizations to create that ‘medal-winning’ sales team, they must first understand the mix of influences that will drive sustainable success.

Surpassing the Stereotype

When you picture an Olympian, what comes to mind? A tall, perfectly built superhuman. It’s a stereotype. Many people do the same thing when they picture a salesperson: an aggressive, loud alpha male. While some may give-off a “knuckle-dragging meathead bro”-vibe, the top performing reps have very simple, down-to-earth characteristics. According to one Harvard Business Review article, over performing salespeople possess the following personal attributes that contribute to their continuous success:

  • Focus. They know what they need to do, how they need to do it, and what they will receive in return. Having a clear understanding of both their personal and organizational goals and how those goals coincide with compensation is an essential piece of this attribute.
  • Emotional connection with customers. This doesn’t mean mimicking Steve Jobs and getting a tearful response to your sales pitch. Simply put, buyers have access to so much information that they need someone who can weed out the noise, listen to their problem, and provide a solution. Likeability is a key attribute to success because the more comfortable a buyer feels with the sales rep the better chance they will want to pursue the sales relationship – and, down the road, sign a deal.
  • Self-perception. The study reviewed in this HBR article found top-performing salespeople consider themselves confident, likeable, responsible, and productive. They possess more self-confidence and pride than their underperforming counterparts that described themselves as humble and empathetic.

Implementing a training module for on-boarding and career development workshops gives sales reps the opportunity to work on these personal traits and a clear vision of how they can supplement their individual selling characteristics.

Evolving Sales Behaviors

For a typical sales team, generating leads, developing territories, and closing deals are the foundational behaviors of success. However, the buyer journey is evolving those typical sales functions into a more customer-centric scene. Forrester Research reallocated staple sales behaviors into seller archetypes that better align with the needs of this new customer:

  • The Order Taker. In this scenario, the buyer doesn’t want to hear the sales pitch. They only care about what is available and how much it will cost. The sales rep will succeed in this role when they are quick on their feet and have all essential resources at a moment’s notice.
  • The Explainer. Buyers who are unsure of their needs will benefit from a sales rep that has enough product knowledge and creative abilities to walk them through the entire sales process. These sales reps must know what content they have available to them and how that content would help solve the prospect’s problem.
  • The Navigator. Unlike the Explainers, Navigators surpass the lengthy process of showcasing the wide variety of products and services that their organization offers. Instead, they already have solutions prepared because they understand the industry context of the buyer and know which key players would be interested in these specific solutions.
  • The Consultant. These knowledge-focused reps pre-emptively contact prospects with a solution before prospects recognize their need for one. Consultants dazzle C-level buyers with the capabilities of their product or service in hopes that they will see the benefits and want to know more.

Sales leaders, especially those in the B2B world, should adapt their end-to-end sales strategy and KPIs to keep up with this customer-centric focus. This allows the sales team to make the most of their prospect interactions and produce meaningful results instead of purely hitting their numbers.

Incent to Drive Success

An organization can thrive on hiring people with ideal sales personalities and training reps to mimic successful behaviors. At the end of the day, however, money still matters and developing a clear incentive strategy is a vital first step to retaining and motivating the sales team. Organizations with a clearly defined Sales Compensation Philosophy can capitalize on the chance to align business objectives and sales strategies while also considering internal culture and market influencers.

Once there is a clear understanding of the approach to compensation, developing strategies for specific sales roles becomes much easier. For example, an incentive plan aligned with Forrester’s ‘Order Taker’ archetype can be defined with specific quotas and metrics to track their quick sales cycles. On the other hand, more strategic sales roles, identified in the ‘Explainer’ archetype, can be compensated for their ability to develop relationships through metrics of renewed business and customer feedback. Each of these comp plans must be simple enough to recall but detailed enough that the sales team understands how their compensation was calculated.

Sales teams are full of different personalities and can often become disjointed when there isn’t a defined set of successful behaviors and strategies to learn from and follow. Organizations must consider how these personality, behavior, and incentive influencers can positively impact business in order to drive success within their sales team in the long term. By nature, sales people have a passion to win and surpass their goals. Feed that drive with a sharper vision of what it will take for them to get there so that they can surpass their consistently average performance and reach that of a sales Olympian.

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