4 Sales Breakthrough Lessons from Top Sales Pros

Learn from these sales breakthrough lessons shared by top sales professionals so save yourself from making the same mistakes.

November 9, 2017

  • sales-breakout-lessons

We’ve all had “aha moments,” those instances of transformative realization where things finally click. It’s an amazing feeling. Top sales pros have them too – It’s how they got where they are. How can we use their experiential insights to our advantage?

With “aha” in mind, we scoured the Web for stories of light-bulb moments in sales – experiences that yielded important revelations for sales professionals as they carved out their paths. Read on for learning opportunities that can help you avoid the same mistakes and flip the light switch yourself.

Don’t Wait for Prospects to Approach You

If you’re still on the fence about the value of social selling, we can provide plenty of evidence to sway you. But perhaps you’d rather hear it directly from a peer.

While Director of Sales at AG Salesworks, Chris Lang realized he needed to start engaging prospects online rather than leaving it entirely in the hands of his marketing team. He started sharing his knowledge and experience in the online marketing and sales community, answering questions, commenting on blogs, and tweeting. Within four months, he noticed an impact.

At the networking events he regularly attends, people would approach him with questions. Prospects opened and replied to his emails more often. He was getting more returned calls from his voicemails.

Understanding that the CEO cares about closed deals, Lang then evaluated his win/loss ratio on proposals and saw that the number of wins was steadily rising. He hadn’t changed anything about his process, other than getting more involved in social media and networking.

Don’t Treat Referrals as a Sure Thing

We all know how valuable a referral is, and we all want them. But there’s even more at stake. Referral partners, like referrals themselves, are gold. If you want to keep getting referrals, you had better impress the heck out of those new connections, otherwise you’ll remain caught in the world of perpetual prospecting.

As the owner of his sales training company, John Barrows is responsible for generating his own business. He learned the hard way not to take a referral for granted.

A good friend of his had joined a company as VP of Sales and wanted to bring Barrows in to train their field reps on prospecting. Before giving it the green light, the CEO wished to meet with John. As Barrows says, “I prepped for the meeting as usual – did my homework, looked on LinkedIn, reviewed their website, came up with some specific questions, set my goals, etc.”

Once face-to-face with the CEO, John says he kicked off the meeting as he often does: “Reviewing what I knew about them and then asking something specific about him, their business and where he wanted to take things.”

John was told he was wasting the CEO’s time by asking questions instead of explaining what he intended to teach the sales team. Barrows tried – unsuccessfully – to recover. The meeting was over in less than 15 minutes, and he didn’t get the business.

John’s main takeaway was this: “Regardless of how strong the referral you have into a prospective client, make sure you don’t take anything for granted. I may have been a little too comfortable walking into this meeting based on my relationship with the VP.”

He also realized that the meeting might have gone very differently if he had sent a shared agenda beforehand and made sure it aligned with the CEO’s expectations.

As John says, “This woke me up a bit. It reminded me that you always need to bring your ‘A’ game, you can’t miss steps."

Trusted Advisor Status Is Gradually Earned

Being seen as a trusted advisor has long been the goal for B2B sales pros. But it’s not a badge of honor you earn overnight.

When Tony Rodoni was senior vice president of commercial sales at Salesforce, he challenged his new sales hires to think about what it takes to be seen as a trusted advisor. It requires discipline and attentiveness to sufficiently understand a prospect’s business. Even once you have reached that coveted position, you need to proceed with caution and carefully guide prospective customers to consider new perspectives and options.

To illustrate the point, Rodoni shared the story of his ski instructor friend. This instructor knows that the best chance of getting good tips and repeat business is taking students just 10 percent past their comfort zones. As Rodoni says, “Customers do not want someone who will make them inhale all of our vision in one breath. Don't be viewed as the most visionary vendor ever."

In other words, make sure you don’t ask your prospect to absorb too much, too quickly by expecting them to go from bunny hill to black diamond in a single session.

It’s Best to Walk Away from Certain Customers

Whether you sell a subscription service or do business through contracts, every sales pro knows it is always far more cost-effective to keep an existing customer than to bring in a new one. Or is it?

Colleen Francis, an award-winning sales strategist and best-selling author who started her career in sales, learned the hard way that you shouldn’t necessarily renew business with every customer.

“It took me too long to realize that not all clients are created equal, and I should not treat them equally,” she said. “My lesson was that there’s no law stating you must sell to everyone, or keep servicing clients that are the wrong fit for your business.”

Francis rightly characterizes poor fits as “lose-lose situations.” If you continue serving a non-profitable customer, you can’t give it your all and that means the customer isn’t achieving their goals in working with you.

She shares two examples of customers her company should have never taken on:

1. The “no one else matters” client. While you certainly want each customer to feel like they’re always your top priority, you can’t practically deliver on that promise for every client. As Francis explains, the relationship is bound to fail if that customer expects you to be available at their beck and call any time, day or night, weekdays and weekends.

2. The “check is in the mail” client. Money, as the saying goes, makes the world go ‘round. Without it, your company ceases to operate. If a customer stops paying, then stop servicing them until they do. This may even require you to disable access to your solution. Maybe that will be enough to get them to settle up. If not, pull the plug for good.

As Francis says, sure, you’ll take a hit in the short term when you get rid of a wrong-fit customer. But that frees you up to focus on finding the right fits for the long term.

For more sage selling advice from those who have been there and done that, download our eBook, Proven Strategies From the World’s Top Sales Professionals.