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The Four Crucial Habits of Successful Salespeople Part One

Success depends on both salespeople and proactive management.

Features | May 1, 2022 | By: James Auerbach

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 1 of a two-part series by the author. You can find Part 2 here.

I regularly get asked what the most important factor is that contributes to building and managing successful sales teams. While there are many contributing factors, the most critical is engaged sales leaders who proactively identify the four bad habits that impede a salesperson’s ability to efficiently manage his or her time and exceed organizational goals. Failure to recognize these issues and quickly course correct results in unproductive salespeople, staff turnover and missed quotas. 

A formula for success

The R-S-P-F Sales Formula focuses on four measurable and repeatable habits, traits and processes that all salespeople must be proficient in, and that all sales leaders must monitor closely. They are Research, Scheduling, Presentation and Follow-Up. Mastering each of these is deeply intertwined with the daily activities of top-performing salespeople. 

Salespeople who are continually working to improve in these areas will have every opportunity to flourish. Sales leaders who are using this process to analyze their teams will experience higher productivity and less turnover. 

The goal is that you will be able to identify where your team is excelling or struggling within these four key areas and address these issues to improve performance. You will become acutely aware of where you need to lean in as a leader with each sales representative.

Ground rules

All sales leaders think they are proactively managing their team. They really do. There are weekly meetings to review a wide variety of numbers and metrics. But often very little additional investigating is done to understand why one salesperson is missing his or her quota every month, while others are consistently top performers. 

Many sales leaders only see “the numbers.” They are quick to put underperforming salespeople on performance improvement plans (PIP) that primarily focus on an increase in phone calls, appointments and other traditional KPIs. Unfortunately, a high percentage of the time this just delays the eventual turnover of the salesperson. 

Just reviewing “the numbers” is never enough. We are in one of the toughest employment markets in decades. The time and effort it takes to source, onboard and train new employees is substantial and costly. Understanding how you can positively train and develop each member of your team into a successful contributor is paramount to the long-term health of a business. 

Habit One: Research

Don’t hope. Attack. Think about clothing stores at your local mall. Each day they open their doors and “hope” people will choose to visit the mall and walk in and buy something. There is rarely any research done or efforts made to generate new customers beyond traditional advertising. 

Growing your revenue begins with a focused approach to doing the research. 

Research is broken down into three parts: 

  • What you don’t have (new account acquisition) 
  • What you already have (current customers)
  • Mastering new technologies and tools to connect with both. 

If salespeople are not constantly doing research, chances are high they are falling short on their goals (and losing customers). 

New account acquisition. The first question I ask salespeople when visiting a business is “show me your pipeline or list of prospects.” I am simply asking to see a list they have compiled of potential new customers that they are going after. It could be in a customer relationship management (CRM) program, on an Excel spreadsheet, or handwritten on an old-school yellow legal notepad. 

It is staggering how many salespeople don’t have a prospect list that they are actively pursuing. It is even worse when sales leaders do not make this crucial activity a priority for their business. If salespeople do not have a current prospect list that they are attacking daily, then what are they doing to generate new revenue for the business? Immediate red flag. 

Building a robust pipeline of prospects is an ongoing collaborative effort between management and the sales team. Prospect lists are generated by researching new business opportunities, vertical untapped industries, competitors’ accounts, referrals from existing customers and other market intel. The list is always evolving. An approved “hot list” of prospects should be targeted each week for discussion and follow-up. New account wins are always celebrated.

Existing accounts. Your current customers are yours to lose. Never forget that. If you don’t take care of them, they will find someone else. Salespeople regularly proclaim about “how busy they are,” but then act surprised when they lose a large account to a competitor. It is imperative they have an organized plan to maintain these key customer relationships with multiple people at each top account. 

Historically the top 20 percent of customers make up more than 80 percent of the revenues for the business (80/20 principle in sales). All salespeople should have a plan to connect with their top 50–75 accounts each quarter with a non-sales-related interaction. Annual business reviews should also be scheduled to do formal account reviews to discuss how both businesses can continue to grow together. Year-over-year growth in existing accounts should be the norm and not the exception. 

Master social selling. Few things have evolved faster than how we communicate. An effective sales team must be present and active across all relevant social media platforms. The key is to be engaged by following, liking and commenting on both customers’ and prospects’ accounts. Take advantage of the tools available on LinkedIn and other platforms to generate contact and prospect lists.

An increasing number of customers use social media messaging apps as one of their primary forms of communication. Showing your continued interest in their social media activity will strengthen connections both on and offline. 

Habit Two: Scheduling

Have a plan…or you are lost. 

The most pivotal habit for a salesperson to master is efficient scheduling. Daily schedule management is key to driving positive results and removing all non-revenue-generating activities. Simply put, minutes count. And before you know it, a salesperson could be wasting weeks of prime selling time every year.

For example, what happens if a salesperson wastes 30 minutes per day? Based on a five-day workweek, that equals 7,800 minutes over 52 weeks. That is 130 HOURS, or 3.25 full weeks a year not selling. Now imagine if your entire sales team is doing the same. Before you know it, you are paying for months of inactivity and missed sales goals.

Blocking time is the most effective way to help your team members manage their time. Teach them how to develop a cadence of when they are in the office making calls and doing paperwork, or out in the field doing site visits, cold calls and customer visits. Help them schedule their days by region to eliminate extended drive time to increase customer interaction. Creating a routine will give them the structure to drive positive sales activity and limit time wasted.  

How important is compulsive schedule management for a sales leader? In a typical week commissioned salespeople work 40+ hours. If they do eight to 10 in-person sales calls, that takes up about 10 hours. Adding in 4 hours of drive time, 8 hours of prospecting, and 8 hours of paperwork equals a combined total of 30 hours. What are they doing with the other 10 hours each week? Those are the crucial 10 hours that you must help them use to focus on sales-related activities like visiting existing customers or new account acquisition calls. 

Part Two of this article will appear in the June issue. It will cover the importance of Presentation and Follow-Up in the sales process.

James Auerbach is vice president, Event Segment at the American Rental Association (ARA). He joined the ARA in November 2020 after spending the past 25 years in the event rental, event planning/production and hospitality industries. He has managed businesses of various sizes from small owner-operated companies to large corporate and private equity-owned businesses. 

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