June 25, 2009

SALES SUPERSTARS: Do you have a Ronaldo on your sales team?

At a time when Spanish Soccer Team Real Madrid has paid a total of 130 million in transfer fees for superstars Ronaldo and Kaka, we turn our attention to the superstars of selling and ask what are they worth?

What about the sales superstars?
Manchester United has parted ways with leading goalscorer Ronaldo in return for £75 million from Real Madrid, setting a new transfer fee record. Ronaldo has been the clubs most talented player, scoring a total of 118 goals in 292 football games (that is the equivalent of a 40% conversion rate, I guess). But, what about the unnaturally gifted in selling? Is there such a thing as the sales superstar and what exactly would such a stellar performer be worth?

Do you have a Ronaldo on your sales team?
Some salespeople are superstars, always hitting their numbers and never failing to perform. But, what makes a superstar? Are they hired from the outside to boost sales performance, or can they be home grown from within? Can every salesperson become a superstar, or is this title reserved for a small chosen few? We set about answering some of these questions, setting out some of the typical answers and subjecting them to scrutiny.

Transfer Fees in Selling
First let us talk about transfer fees for salespeople. Everybody knows that the rates of turnover are high, especially for new hires. As many as 2 out of 3 new recruits in sales stay for no more than a few quarters.

So, there is no question but that sales force turnover is expensive. In fact we would suggest that the cost of a salesperson walking, or being pushed is 2-3 times his, or her annual salary. That is the equivalent of paying a pretty big transfer fee, but without getting anything in return.

Some people are better at selling than others, right?
Well, it is certainly true that the gap between the highest and lowest performing sales person in any organization is great. Indeed, it can be as much as 75%. Certainly not every salesperson gets to play in the premier league.

One sales superstar is worth 10 ordinary salespeople, right?
Well, that level of analysis is a little simplistic and could be dangerous. After all, finding a sales superstar is not easy. Most organizations cannot afford to hire a superstar salespeople, and those who can end up recruiting several average performers before finding their star. Therefore the reality is that most organisations must must aspire to develop sales champions from their existing ranks of full forwards, centre halves and so on.

Great salespeople are born not made, right?
The naturally gifted salesperson is a common misconception. Yes, there are certain personal characteristics and traits that are inherently beneficial in selling, but we firmly believe that sales stars are not born, but made.

We believe that sales is an equal opportunities employer. Everybody can sell and sell well, with the discipline to learn and apply the right strategies, skills and techniques. In the increasingly complex world of B2B sales, great salespeople are the result of great effort on their own part, as well as their organisations.

Would you rather have a great salesperson or a great sales manager?
The formula was hire a great salesperson, set the incentives and stay out of his, or her way. If he, or she does not perform find a replacement and fast. The management of sales people started and stopped at the setting of incentives. Well that just does not work.

We have seen time and time again that the ordinary salesperson can achieve superstar levels of performance if he/she received the right coaching and support.

Similarly, the average sales person who applies the right sales process can frequently win 'man of the match'. That is the opposite of the traditional view in selling where there has been too much focus on people and not enough on process, technique, or skill. The salesperson was expected to work his, or her magic on the customer, as opposed to following a process, or working within a framework.

One Superstar is Not Enough – Selling Requires a Team Effort
Traditionally, the salesperson was seen as a lone ranger, riding off into the sunset alone and coming back some time later with the order in hand. Now the approach has very much shifted to a team based approach to selling.
It is teams that win matches, not superstars. However the exalted sales superstar can be a reluctant team player. He, or she may be reluctant to pass to colleagues, either the information, or the credit. However, in complex B2B sales just as teams are involved in the buying organisation, a myriad of skills and talents are required in the sales effort. So the salesperson must orchestrates the efforts of a team, that includes technical, support, financial and other players on both sides.

Once a Superstar, Always a Superstar?
The premier league salesperson on
moving to another industry, company, or market can quickly face relegation. For example, we have worked with a number of salespeople who previously belonged to the Golden Circle of a major global vendor, but on moving to a newer and smaller enterprise struggled to perform.

There is no universal standard for a
sales superstar, it is highly context dependent and a wide range of environmental factors are at play, including the role, the levels of sales and marketing support, the organisational culture, etc.

There is no ideal salesperson and the failure to appreciate this is where the problem begins. Different sales organizations and different sales situations require different personalities and skills. There is no template for the universal superstar salesperson, or no magic formula, or set of ingredients.

The right salesperson depends on the requirements of the role, for example:
- Different skills are required for consultative, as opposed to transactional s
elling, and for B2B versus B2C.
- Different behaviours, attitudes and skills are required for selling to senior executives in big organisations, as opposed to lower levels, or smaller ones.
- Different skills are required for selling new products, or technologies, as opposed to existing ones and for selling to new, as opposed to existing customers

Creating A Sales Superstar
If the world is full of average salespeople, how can they be transformed into superstars, or at least be enabled to perform at their best?

Well our research shows that incentives and remuneration are not the enough. Nor is training, particularly once off training interventions. If you are going to be a Ronaldo, you will need to have a Ferguson as your leader and coach. That is because coaching is clearly the number one factor in determining salesperson performance. Added to this is process and systems, proposition and strategy, of course.

In Conclusion.
If you have got a Ronaldo on your sales team, great, hold onto him, or her for as long as you can. However, if your salespeople have more natural, as opposed to unnatural levels of ability you can still get into the finals. Either way attention to those fundamentals of sales strategy, teamwork, coaching and process is vital.

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