We get it. You’ve been around the block a few times. You’re hot stuff. You’re the MVP on your sales team. But you want to do better.
Master salesperson and perhaps one of sales’ biggest advocates for continual learning, Zig Ziglar, said, “Life is a classroom—only those who are willing to be lifelong learners will move to the head of the class.”
In the spirit of lifelong training and forging ahead on your path to taking over the sales world (or whatever your goals are), we’ve compiled a list of some of the best kept secrets of master sellers. And to complete the list, we collected some of the biggest “don’ts” in sales, to help you correct bad habits or keep from forming them in the first place.
1. Listen and consult, don’t sell.
People know when they’re being sold, and they don’t like it. Fight your instincts and keep from turning prospects off by learning to consult, instead of sell them.
Do this by asking a lot of questions and getting to know the prospect’s business. Listen, learn, and then advise. Believe it or not, when a prospect feels like you care and knows you’re knowledgeable about your industry, they’ll want to work with you, regardless of your product.
2. Be disciplined with activity goals.
Track the number of cold calls you make, number of prospects you contact every day, and other daily activities to measure your success. Having goals in place will keep you motivated and also help you track your progress as you hone your sales pitch and process.
3. Take your time with buyer qualification.
High-quality prospects become long-term buyers and give strong referrals. Those are two things a stellar salesperson simply can’t live without.
Don’t skip over the research process with prospects and understand who the decision maker is going in. It’s not worth chasing a sale that will never come to fruition because you can’t get a meeting with the head honcho.
(Tip: Fileboard helps you track engagement so you can organize prospects by how interested they actually are in your product. This allows you to focus on selling warm leads and nurturing cold ones, all with a few clicks of the mouse.)
4. Keep up on competitors.
You should live and breathe your industry. Understanding the landscape of the market helps you impress prospects and fine tune your sales process according to the latest trends.
Keep in mind that knowing your competitors is about more than memorizing their products. You should understand how your product and customer experience differs from others’ so you’re prepared to answer any question a prospect throws at you.
5. Welcome critical feedback.
It’s not always easy to hear critical feedback, but sales pros know how to take that information and use it to strengthen business relationships.
Directly address complaints from clients and demonstrate how you’ll improve. Additionally, train yourself to accept criticism gracefully, instead of getting defensive. Keep in mind that the customer is always right, even if he’s wrong. Learn to use that fire in your belly as fuel to improve, not implode.
Also, don’t just wait for feedback. Proactively ask for critical insights when your offer is rejected so you know where to improve next time.
6. Act on facts, not feelings.
Conversely from prospects, you want to train yourself to react to facts, not emotions. Maintain an emotional distance from clients to avoid conflict or feelings of rejection. When it comes down to it, it is just business.
You also want to manage your pipeline efficiently, not emotionally. Don’t chase after unqualified prospects because you really like a brand or want to prove a point. Spend your time on prospects that make sense for your company.
7. Get eight hours of sleep a night.
Believe it or not, this is one of the most important secrets to becoming a superstar salesperson. Successful people know how important sleep is. Arianna Huffington, Google chairman Eric Schmidt, and Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos have all publically spoken out about the importance of being well-rested.
Sales is a high energy job and relying on caffeine is ineffective and unhealthy. In order to fight off brain fog, afternoon crashes, and a negative attitude, make six to eight hours of quality sleep a night one of your top priorities.
8. Have a backup plan.
Not for your career, but for your sales pitches. Always have two asks ready at the end of every pitch: a primary closing strategy and a fall back position. Rarely is a sale an easy slam dunk, even when you think the stars have aligned for you and the prospect.
Don’t get caught off guard by coming prepared with a fall back plan in case the prospect doesn’t go for your initial offer.
Sales Don’ts to Unlearn
When you’ve been in sales for a while, there are some bad habits that become a part of your daily routine. Sometimes lifelong learning has a little unlearning involved.
Whether you need to cut these practices from your repertoire or stop them in their tracks before they become habits, it’s essential you know what mistakes to avoid.
1. Don’t let the client take over calls.
Although you don’t want to monopolize the conversation, you do want to be in charge of where it goes. As you start to understand your own sales process, break down call agendas into talking points with time allotments so you know when it’s time to move on to the next item of business.
2. Don’t ignore the emotional connection.
Facts aren’t all you need to close the deal. Focus on building an emotional connection by finding ways to relate to the client in a genuine way.
3. Don’t let your ideas be forgettable.
Become a storyteller, not a salesman. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of “Made to Stick,” found that after a presentation, 63 percent of attendees remember stories, but only 5 percent remember statistics.
Tell a story with humor and vivid imagery to get your ideas to stick in the prospect’s mind.
4. Don’t misuse technology.
Technology shouldn’t be your crutch (like a wordy powerpoint), but should support you while existing in the background.
Instead of relying on technology as a prop, use it as a tool to better serve your prospects. For example, Fileboard has a unique tool that helps you track a prospects engagement while you host digital presentations. If a participant clicks away from your show, you’ll know, so you can alter your pitch to re-engage the prospect.
5. Don’t entrap prospects with hard-sell hypotheticals.
Hard-selling prospects is the quickest way to destroy trust. Don’t ask leading questions and propose “If X, would you buy now?” scenarios. Stay in reality to keep from turning off potential clients.
6. Don’t be a beggar.
Examine a prospect thoroughly before pitching your services, like a doctor would, instead of begging for the opportunity to show them what you can do.
7. Don’t feel the need to fill the silence.
Silence is a powerful tool when used correctly. Pause during presentations to give clients the chance to process information and take your time responding to “nos.” Clients may follow up with the solution you need to present to them.
8. Don’t beat around what you want.
When you nurture a prospect, it’s easy to feel like you’re walking on eggshells, but you can’t court them forever. When it’s time to close the deal, have a clear objective and use clear language with the client, even if that results in a “no.”
9. Don’t close through a third party.
You need to close the person you’re talking to, not a person on behalf of someone else. Get a definitive answer from the decision maker, not the middleman.
10. Don’t be naive about competitors.
Address your prospect’s needs, first and foremost. If they would have to be shoehorned into using your product and a competitor is simply a better fit, recommend them to build trust with that customer for the future.
11. Don’t blame others for mistakes.
Clients can forgive an individual they have a relationship with better than a stranger or an entity. Maintain trust by not using your company as a scapegoat or blaming the process for mistakes.
You can turn this negative situation into a positive one by taking responsibility and working with the client to solve the issue so it doesn’t happen again.
All of these tips and tricks aside, the best way to become a master salesperson is to dedicate to lifelong learning and loving the sales industry. Having a passion for what you do is one of the biggest secrets any master can share.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2014 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.