How Do Customers See High Performing Salespeople?

By UPSA, United Professional Sales Association

We intuitively know there are skill and proficiency differences between salespeople who consistently achieve high results and those who don’t. The search for defining those differences has been a robust area of discussion and study for many years. The assumption is that if you can define the behaviors that correlate with success, you can hire and/or train to that profile. Competency studies, formal academic research, anecdotal stories, and insights from sales managers and executives have all been the bases of models of high performance that, in the final analysis, revolve around some level of customer focus as a salient, unifying concept as well as on face-to-face, product knowledge and relationship skills.

At C-Lens Index, after working for many years with different sales organizations, we recognize that all these studies and discussions describe a salesperson focused on delivering value through the sales process. That means the customer actually benefits from the sales experience, both before buying anything and throughout the relationship that follows. For example, the discovery process results in new insights about needs and their impact on the business, products and services can be creatively configured to the situation, the salesperson’s resource network can be brought in to help, and application ideas and examples from other sources in the customer’s industry are discussed. To put this example in plain terms, if you are a car insurance consultant then you need to use insightful questioning to ascertain the needs of a particular customer, and use your response to these needs to build rapport and present a solution to the customer’s need. You may add value to the customer’s experience if you compare bike insurance options as well as car insurance options. This is what a superior sales person does. In all, the relationship-through the sales process-becomes an added value from the vendor. Our point of view is that a salesperson who recognizes that delivering this value is the key to his or her role and whose actions reflect that philosophy will be a High Performer compared to those who are otherwise focused on product, fulfillment, or price-based selling.

We’ve been able to identify the behavioral indicators of that value-laden relationship and use them to measure what customers are actually seeing in the sales process. We call those indicators “Sales Actions,” and they mirror the behavior and attitude of a salesperson who is focused on customer value. In a recent C-Lens Index scan for a manufacturing company, we collected data from over 400 customers on their views of their salesperson. We asked them how frequently they saw the sales actions played out and how important those actions were to them. In analyzing the data, we compared the results of salespeople who were identified as High Performers with those identified as Low Performers. These were defined by our client in terms of consistent long-term results as well as reputation in the company for professionalism. In our sample of 58 salespeople, we worked with eight salespeople in each category. The results provide some insights into what customers are seeing High Performers do more frequently than Low Performers.

High Performers Seen Performing All Sales Actions More Frequently

Overall, customers see High Performers demonstrating each and every C-Lens Index sales action to a greater extent than low performers. While this helps to validate the C-Lens items and concept, it also shows that High Performers are seen differently in the eyes of the customer. The average frequency score of High Performers was 64.28 percent while the Low Performers scored 47.75 percent. The larger differences will be discussed below. However, it is important to point out that these sales actions are associated with success, and they are aligned with delivering a value-based experience to the customer. Apparently, customers see this difference.

The Largest Gaps Between High and Low Performers

We identified 12 Sales Actions out of 28 where High Performers scored 20 percentage points or more than Low Performers in terms of frequency as seen by customers. It doesn’t matter what products are being sold whether they are payday loans or investment properties or fancy dress or even an essay writing service, these figures tend to stay true in any market. Since the numbers in the sample were not large enough for statistical comparisons, we felt 20 percent was a sufficient arbitrary difference to note any trends or themes between the groups. The following are the Sales Actions which were the largest gaps between High and Low performers

1. Asks in-depth probing questions to better understand my business and my needs.

2. Discovers what is on my mind by focusing on what I say and how I say it

3. Reassures me that the vendor company’s team working with me has experience and expertise in addressing needs

4. Finds other valuable resources for me that also might help address my needs

5. Always remains diplomatically straightforward in describing issues

6. Tells me how the vendor company, its products and services are uniquely different from other vendors

7. Provides clear, easy-to-understand examples of how the vendor company, its products or services will help me and my own customers

8. Directly and creatively addresses real or perceived concerns that I raise

9. Takes appropriate steps within the vendor company to accomplish tasks for me in a timely manner

10. Uses internal/external experts and resources to maximize the value to me of the vendor company’s products and services

11. Ensures my company and I are receiving the promised benefits of the products and service provided

12. Stays current and informed about my business performance, its strategy, recent changes, and emerging needs

What this tells us about High Performers versus Low Performers is most interesting:

High performers more frequently practice basic face-to-face selling skills. [Asking questions (1) and Listening (3).] We presume that comfort in using these fundamental skills effectively is an indicator of High Performance. Euso The lower frequency by Low Performers may indicate a need for training, lack of experience, differences in coaching and supervision or poor execution.

High performers also are seen more frequently describing product or service uniqueness and examples of how these can be applied. [Tell how uniquely different (6), Provide clear examples (7), other basic face-to-face skills.] Fluency and confidence in product knowledge is apparently an indicator of high performance. It is one thing to describe features and benefits and quite another to tell convincing stories about how product or service uniqueness plays out and how applications actually work for customers.

High performers more frequently bring other resources and expertise that can help the customer to the sales process and, if needed, help solve problems. [Find other resources (4), Creatively address concerns (8), Use internal/external experts (10.] This suggests an openness to leverage value that salespeople have cultivated in their own personal networks as well as to widen out the scope of the customer’s situation and open it up to creative problem-solving. Seeing beyond the immediate set of facts and data is a sophisticated skill that not only requires product and service knowledge, but confidence and knowledge of other applications. Creatively solving problems-whether independently or with internal colleagues-shows a command of concepts and applications and fluency of thinking skills.

High performers show empathy as reflected in reassuring the customer that he or she is in good hands and acting diplomatically. For example a sales consultant for resveratrol would show sympathy with the problem of ageing and assure the prospect that others have had good results from using the product. [Reassures me the team has experience (3) and Always remains straightforward (5).] Is this a matter of higher emotional intelligence or experience in pre-empting difficult situations? These Sales Actions could signify the High Performer is more “tuned in” to the customer’s reactions as the relationship unfolds.

Finally, High Performers are seen as more frequently being invested in the customer’s company and the buyer. [Ensures benefits (11) and Stays current and informed (12).] These are higher-order Sales Actions, requiring an effort and a certain amount of risk by opening up the possibility that the customer is not getting what he or she bought. Hydroxatone Nevertheless, this kind of pro-active inquiry into the outcomes of product and service applications as well as customer status is a mark of being truly interested in serving the customer.