Spend any amount of time on LinkedIn or some other social channel, and you will find all kinds of sales-related content, whether it is a blog post, a new technology all the best companies are using, or a grouchy vice president of sales bragging about how they refuse to take cold calls while requiring their sales force to make the very same calls he won't take. (That last one is a performative contradiction, i.e. hypocrisy.)
There is no end of things you might spend time on, but there are four investments of time and energy you must prioritize to find success in sales. Without these core four investments, you will struggle to produce the results you are capable of, as each one of these is necessary for success.
Developing Yourself and Your Effectiveness
Abraham Lincoln said that if he was given six hours to chop down a tree, he'd spend the first four hours sharpening his axe. I am not sure how sharp Lincoln believed his axe to be or how tough was this hypothetical tree's bark might have been, but you get his point.
Selling effectively isn't something easy to learn, nor is it easy to master. It takes time and experience to become competent. It's also a craft that requires you to have the character traits that allow people to engage with you and eventually buy from you. A few of the more important character traits for a salesperson include self-discipline, optimism, resourcefulness, initiative, communication skills, and accountability. Your client buys from you, which means you need to be someone of high character.
As if it isn't enough to need these character traits, you also need a set of skills that are equally difficult to master. You need to know how to acquire commitments from strangers; prospect and schedule meetings; and help the client discover something that would cause them to explore change, negotiate, and manage change—all while leading your client.
There are two kinds of people in sales. The first group believes they know everything they need to know. We can describe them as One-Down because they don't recognize what they don't know. We describe the second group as One-Up. They are aware they don't know what they don't know, and they do something about it.
The greatest investment you will ever make is the investment you make in yourself.
Insights to Trade
What follows here is a critical investment most salespeople and sales organizations fail to recognize, causing them to lose deals they might have won, had they invested in developing insights that would benefit their prospects.
No client ever wakes up, pours themselves a cup of coffee, and wishes that a salesperson would call them and try to sell them something. They do, however, ask themselves questions about how they are going to improve their results, solve certain challenges, and address their many problems, most of which they are aware of.
The investment you need to make to succeed in sales includes learning what you need to know to explain to the client why they are having a difficult time producing results that were once easy to accomplish. You also need insights that explain why they are experiencing the challenges and problems that seem intractable to them.
Your insights and your perspective need to extend to the advice and recommendations your client needs to address their poor and degrading results, as well as their challenges and problems.
But most important are the insights that would cause your client to recognize the need to change before they start to experience poor results.
Insights and a perspective are now a fundamental need for B2B salespeople. The strategies and tactics that work to create and win deals start with your insights. You need to invest time in organizing your knowledge and experience.
Prospecting on the Phone
There are sales organizations that spend a lot of time tracking activity, including things like phone calls, emails, and InMails. Of the three mediums, the one you should make the greatest investment in is cold calling. While your competitors over-invest in email, as many are conflict-averse One-Down salespeople, you call your prospective client and offer to trade your insights for your client's time, a One-Up approach that proves you have the chops to command a meeting.
After developing yourself and building insights, there is only one reason a salesperson doesn't have the opportunities they need: underinvesting in prospecting on the phone. The more you need opportunities, the more you need to invest in prospecting on the phone.
You are likely to outperform your peers simply by making more calls.
Increasing the investment in prospecting by phone pays dividends to those who can will themselves to do so.
Preparing for Meetings
Asking a client for the gift of their time means you are obligated to show up prepared for the meeting. I once attended a sales call where the salesperson opened the conversation by asking the client what their business does. It was a short and unsuccessful meeting.
When someone gives you their time, you should honor that by preparing. Three days before writing this, I had a sales meeting, and when it ended, the senior leader thanked me for all the preparation I had done. I didn't tell them I prepared, they felt it.
It's incredibly important to prepare for meetings. You are in a contest where the person who creates the most value is most likely to win, so taking the time to prepare is an investment you must make.
Making these four investments will improve your results. Each of these four investments need to be made continually. The more you invest in the core four, the better your results. There is no technology that can replace a sharp, prepared salesperson with insights and a perspective.