What I’ve Learned About Sales from Watching Great Sellers

A look back on three years of running an enterprise software organization and getting to observe great sales people in action.

I’ve learned a lot about sales over the last three years at Percolate. Coming from the world of advertising agencies this is particularly interesting to me. Agencies don’t have salespeople in the same sense that an enterprise software company does, mainly due to a product that is different for each and every client and pitch. At agencies I got to work with an array of really talented folks, from creative directors to producers, but never someone with the word “sales” in their title.

What I’ve learned from observing the world-class team we’ve built has been fascinating. There’s the obvious stuff around team structure and process, which makes it clear that sales is easily as much art as it is science. But what sticks out most is what it takes to be a great seller.

Coming from the world of agencies I spent a lot of time working with producers. A good producer, if you’ve never gotten a chance to work with one, is an amazing creature. They’re able to take a situation, no matter how complex, and keep it on track. Their approach is generally brute force: No matter what challenge stands in front of them they bowl it over and keep their path. A truly great producer (of which I got the chance to work with a few during my career), clears every single pebble from the team’s path and works around every contributor in their own unique way.

Sales, I assumed, was roughly a similar process. But having watched some amazing sellers work over the last few years it turns out I was completely wrong. The best seller in the world is more like a doctor than a bulldozer. They treat every new client as an opportunity to understand the challenges and try to reach a diagnosis. When they encounter a barrier they don’t run it over, instead they feel around, understanding every nuance of the barrier that stands in front of them. They feel for curves and openings and every other important aspect until they understand that the best way to the other side is one step up, three steps over, and a small twist of the wrist.

What I mean is the best sellers don’t bowl clients over, they work with them, understand them, and ultimately make their way around every potential roadblock together, no matter how vague it might at first appear. This isn’t just about asking easy questions and listening for answers, it’s about being able to get beneath the surface and actually identify a core challenge or opportunity. In this way the same thing that makes a great seller actually makes a great product person: The ability to get beneath the surface and get the root cause of an issue. The challenge here is that it’s not always easy. “Whying” sounds a lot like “whining” for a reason, and that’s the core question you need to ask to identify true opportunities. While a great seller might make a client feel uncomfortable as they go through this process, they build trust in their desire to actually solve a problem instead of just selling whatever it is they have.

It’s a fun thing to watch.

If this sounds like you, you should join our ever-growing team. We’re hiring sales people in New York, Chicago, Austin, San Francisco, and London.

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