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How to Spot a Great Salesperson
By Jeff Thull, CEO, Prime Resource Group

To understand what makes a great salesperson, put yourself in the shoes of your customers. Only then will you truly understand how to distinguish between a great salesperson — one who can have a significant impact on the customer's bottom line — and your "average" salesperson — one who is met with indifference.

As a financial services customer, consider what you expect from today's sales professionals who ask for your time. You may be thinking, "I expect them to answer my questions, sell me the product or service I need at a fair price, deliver on time, and follow through on their promises." This sounds reasonable, but as you know, in today's complex business world, it's difficult to sort through the resources available to solve problems that are challenging, constantly evolving and difficult to fix.

So today's salespersons need to shift roles. They need to move away from roles centered on polished presentations and glossy brochures. Instead they need to become "trusted advisors" who communicate value to you, their client, and become sources of competitive advantage to your business. It's a challenging shift in mindset and execution, that results in creating value with you.

There are other financial institutions that offer the products and services you need. Yet, all too often their sales force is competing on the basis of capabilities and pricing. Those succeeding in today's marketplace will not emphasize price. Nor will they focus on products. Instead, success will come to sales professionals who understand the very real, very complex problems you face as a customer and who help you sort through all the available alternatives. The right salesperson will be able to guide you and create a solution that you would not have been able to come up with on your own.

The ability to collaborate with the customer, stimulate their thinking and create revenue-building solutions that they don't have the time or the understanding to create for themselves, are the characteristics that you should look for in sales professionals. The sales professionals who function at this level will provide a competitive advantage for customers. Those who can do this effectively don't sit across the desk from the customer spewing information and hoping for a commission. Instead, they become an integral part of their customer's business.

So how do you distinguish top professionals from the traditional sellers? Your ability to spot the top professional is now even more critical to your business, and most importantly, to your continued success. Look for these clues as a guide:

  1. They diagnose the customer's problem. When a sales professional launches into a description of a "solution" without first establishing a clear understanding of your situation, be wary. A great salesperson never assumes that you or any other customer fully understands the complex problems you face. Instead, he methodically diagnoses with intelligent questions until he gains a solid understanding of the problem to be solved.
  2. They ask questions, rather than tell stories. Conventional salespeople tell stories about their solutions, praising their company in the process. Prospective customers expect to hear these stories yet rarely take them seriously. However, the customer will take a salesperson seriously when he, or she, displays concern for the customer's business objectives and demonstrates the kind of expertise that can help you achieve your goals. They do this by asking thoughtful, probing questions, the kinds of questions that customers would not have thought to ask themselves.
  3. They allow the customer to set the pace. If a salesperson truly wants to meet customer needs, he will not rush, pressure or manipulate them. He or she will let the customer discover business challenges, understand their impact and take ownership of these problems. Only after this process is completed will the successful salesperson discuss or present solution options.
  4. They help the customer calculate the cost of their problem. It's not enough for a salesperson to say, "You have a problem and it's costing you money." She must say, "We need to determine how much this is costing you and if it makes sense to pursue a solution." If a salesperson shies away from establishing an accurate cost, it's either because she doesn't know the cost, is not able to articulate a conversation around it, or is afraid the cost will be too low to justify the solution.

Truly good sales professionals are invaluable. They function as an advisor to the customer, a strategic partner, and even an advocate. They bring the customer a competitive advantage and form a partnership based on mutual trust and respect — a partnership that is sustainable and beneficial to both businesses.

About the author

Jeff Thull is a leading-edge sales and marketing strategist and valued executive advisor at major companies including Shell Global Solutions, 3M, Microsoft, Intel, Citicorp, IBM and Georgia-Pacific.

He is also the author of the best-selling books Mastering the Complex Sale: How to Compete and Win When the Stakes are High and The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale. Jeff’s new book, Exceptional Selling: How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales, is now available.

For more information, please contact: Prime Resource Group, 3655 Plymouth Blvd., Suite 110, Plymouth, MN 55446, [email protected],, 1.800.876.0378 or 763.473.7529, Fax: 763.473.0792.

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 . . .
FPS regularly works with financial services companies to maximize the impact of their client communications, including e-mail and online communications. To find out how we can help you develop effective strategies for communicating with corporate financial executives, contact FPS President Vince DiPaolo at 847-501-4120 or [email protected]. You can also write him at the following address:

Financial Publishing Services Co.
464 Central Avenue
Suite 8
Northfield, IL 60093

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