Whenever I write that sales success is individual, it causes an immediate response from readers who argue that there are other variables outside of salesmanship or saleswoman-ship (a clunky term, but as a person with a sales force almost exclusively made up of women, I'll use it). The following variables are most commonly cited as being key elements in sales success, but all of them can bring a deal only as far as the individual salesperson can manage.
Parity in Company and Offerings
Those who look for variables beyond individual factors argue that the company and its offering have a greater impact on results than the salesperson. These critics believe that their company and their products and services are differentiated, providing an advantage over their competitors. It must create cognitive dissonance when the salesperson leaves their position and joins the competitor, only to learn that their new company, which they once believed to be inferior, is actually the best. In truth, there is a general parity in most industries.
Most companies are good companies with equally good products and services. Both the salesperson's company and their competitor's create value for their respective clients. Both companies will also, occasionally, disappoint their clients—another area where you find parity.
When the salesperson walks across the street and joins their new employer, should you expect the salesperson's results to improve or to diminish? Or is it more likely the salesperson will produce similar results based on their salesmanship or saleswoman-ship?
One salesperson I employed complained that their territory had no real prospects. This salesperson's replacement generated three million dollars in revenue in two months. I promise you there was no change in the companies within the territory. The only thing that changed was salesmanship, or in this case, saleswoman-ship.
We can acknowledge territories have a greater or lesser number of prospects, but we must not lose sight of the fact that one person who fails in a territory can be succeeded by a salesperson who makes the President’s Club in that same territory. All things being equal, the variable to success isn't the territory.
I know a salesperson in a target-rich environment. He's always in the top of the stacked ranking. He also starts work at 5:00 AM, contacting 100 prospects every morning. Another person would not likely produce the same results as this salesperson, who maximizes his territory by working it. I am doubtful that another salesperson would do better without matching this salesperson's salesmanship.
We lie to ourselves about deals we lose. We tell ourselves a story about how the competitor won by using some underhanded action or by undercutting our price. Usually, the salesperson who beat you for a deal had a great deal of salesmanship or saleswoman-ship. Put another way: When you beat your competitor for a deal, is it because you were underhanded and undercut their price? Or did you beat them fair and square because you had a higher sales IQ and created greater value for your client?
If you believe you are responsible for winning the deals you win, you must also recognize your competitor is responsible for their wins, even the ones where they beat you.
The Sales Manager
Let's imagine you have a sales manager who is more interested in looking good to the people in the corner offices than working with their sales force. This sales manager is trying to find their way upstairs, where the view is better. This manager does little to help you, outside of trying to motivate you by reminding you that "sales is a numbers game," something someone says when they can't help you improve your sales effectiveness. This person doesn’t know what a sales manager does.
I agree that the sales manager is no help to you. Yet, some of your peers are doing fine without help from the awful sales manager. How does one salesperson succeed in this situation while others struggle? It would be better if you had a leader who could help you improve your salesmanship or saleswoman-ship. However, the best salespeople develop themselves by reading books, getting training, or taking online courses to speed their growth. That is how you improve your sales skills.
Some salespeople do fine without a useful manager and others don’t. When a brute of a manager treats everyone on the team the same way, that person isn't the variable to success, even if he is a liability to his company.
Two Salespeople Enter; One Salesperson Leaves with a Contract
In every deal, the contest is between two or more salespeople. Only one competitor will win. My argument about the individual nature of sales success is that the client buys from salesperson who they believe provided them the greatest help through the sales conversation. This salesperson has a value creation model that is better than her rivals’.
If the client believed the salesperson's company and product were right for them, the salesperson created that outcome. If they believed this salesperson, their company, and their offering were better than the competitors’, the salesperson also created that outcome. Only one salesperson walks out with ink on paper. The others go home empty-handed.
The word salesmanship is a bit outdated, so instead I typically refer to it as sales effectiveness. The easiest way to measure your sales effectiveness if to look at your win rate. The higher your win-rate percentage, the greater your sales effectiveness. The lower your win rate, the more you need to work on improving your salesmanship or saleswoman-ship. You need to be increasing your average close rate in sales, and effectiveness will help you do that.
The person who studies their craft and works to improve over time will create the greatest advantage in a contest with their competition. The person who looks for external causes for their poor results will find many reasons, none of which will be true. Instead of looking for reasons for poor results, look for answers to the question, "How do I improve my sales effectiveness?"