As published on Forbes.com

Leading Top Salespeople Can Be Challenging

I have the good fortune to work with many sales managers and their teams. Depending on the industry, each successful rep might have a different personality. They might be extroverts or introverts. They might speak slowly or fast. But, there are several essential qualities that I see consistently with top performing salespeople. Keep in mind, some of the most capable ones don’t even have the word “sales” on their business card. Regardless of the title, the ones who contribute the most to business growth are wired differently. As an executive who might have the daunting task of managing these maniacs, here are six areas where you can get the greatest results.

1) Take Ownership vs. Make Excuses

Top performers encounter challenges just like everyone else. However, those who excel at growing business never use obstacles as excuses. They don’t complain about things out of their control. Rather, top performers figure out how to succeed even when the deck is stacked against them.  As a manager, you need to do the same thing. Don’t complain that marketing has not produced what you promised. Don’t make excuses.  Top performers are not wired that way.

Instead, when faced with an obstacle, engage your top performer in the solution. You might ask “Chris – We were hoping to have what you need by now, but we don’t have it yet. I was thinking these [list them out] are the key elements of the marketing piece we would need. What suggestions do you have that would make this work for the client?” These people are great problem solvers, so they might have tremendous insight.

2) Reward Subject Matter Expertise

The line between sales and marketing continues to blur each day. Your team members who regularly interact with customers know the questions customers are asking and how best to address them. They might also know where your offerings shine, and where they might be seen as deficient. As Marcus Sheridan, an expert on inbound content marketing says, “Not everyone is a great writer. In that case, have someone interview them to capture their wisdom. In just an hour, you can come up with half a dozen pieces of valuable content/articles.”

The more your top performers are seen as subject matter experts, the more they’ll succeed  and the less they will be viewed as salespeople. Ask the following question: “Are your so-called salespeople valuable enough that the customer would pay for a meeting with them?” For many of your top people, the answer will be “Yes.” Encourage their proficiency, and invest in their development.

3) Be OK with “No”

Top producers certainly are driven. But, they also value their time. They are quick to qualify opportunities and know when an opportunity is not worth pursuing. This can frustrate many managers when you see an opportunity that, on paper, appears to be a good fit. You might encourage them to chase everything.

It’s ok to ask good questions to ensure you are not overlooking anything. But, trust that your top performer is likely making a solid judgment on a given opportunity. Even better, ask them why they feel the client is not worth pursuing. You might gain insight that will help streamline qualification of opportunities for others on your team.

4) Never Stop Learning

When CEOs and executives bring me in to conduct a sales immersion workshop, they often will say “My top dog may not want to participate.  She [or he} is already doing great and may not want to take time away from the field.” Ironically, the top performers often seek to constantly improve their skills. At a recent program with a group of skilled sales professionals, a couple of the attendees had a conference call scheduled. We scheduled our break to coincide with their call. They came back into the session high fiving each other.

The top performer said “We took some of these new concepts out for a test drive, and it was awesome. They client is thrilled, and wants us to take on more business. What else can you teach us?” Keep in mind, top performers can detect a fraud in about twelve seconds. But, if you bring in a true professional with real-world experience, you’ll see your A players turn into A plus players, some B players will become A players, and the C’s… well… not everyone can be a top performer. We don’t give prizes for twelfth place in the sales category.

5) Demonstrate How What You Want Benefits Them and Clients

Why do so many sales professionals hate complying with CRM systems?  There are two main reasons: 1) They don’t like someone looking over their shoulder; and 2) They don’t see how it will help them. If you want top performers to comply, then show them how what you want will benefit them or the client.

For example, instead of saying “Darn it! Enter your contacts into the CRM!”  Try saying “Pat – Customer service reached out the client today only to have the client say that you had just spoken with them last week about the same issue. We hate to do things that might interfere with your deal or make the customer lose confidence in us. If you could quickly log that into the CRM, we can do a better job of helping you and serving the client.” They still might not like you looking over their shoulder (yep – it’s an ego thing). But, if they see how it benefits them and the client, you’ll probably get SOME compliance using the system.

6) It’s Your Turn

OK – the list only had five qualities. The sixth one is for you to complete. What did I leave out? Please share your experience in the comments. I’m betting other readers will be glad you did. If your comment gets the most positive feedback, I’ll send you a signed copy of Same Side Selling.