In my 20+ years of sales experience, I’ve observed all types of B2B salespeople in a wide variety of industries. As is true in any profession, not all salespeople are equal in their performance. Every team has top performers and average performers. I’ve been fortunate to sit next to amazing B2B sales professionals who control a boardroom and close seven-figure deals on the spot.
Most salespeople have the requisite core competencies, consisting of listening skills, lots of energy, results orientation, assertiveness, and coachability. The top 1% have a distinct set of traits that they use more consistently. I’ve observed these professionals for many years and believe these to be the habits of the top 1% of B2B sales performers.
Habit #1: Top performers prospect DAILY.
It’s unfortunate, but many account executives feel they are “above” prospecting. Perhaps they were promoted because of their excellent prospecting skills earlier in their careers, and they have a false idea that their new role doesn’t require prospecting. They kick back and rely on marketing or a Sales Development Rep (SDR) to generate leads for them.
Top performers have built a vast professional network. They collect contact information from everyone they meet. They constantly stay in touch with their entire network. They call everyone—former co-workers, bosses, peers, former customers, current customers, former prospects, friends, college classmates, channel partners, and even competitors. They spend time every day calling a handful of people across their network. Usually, the conversations are just catching up. But through those conversations, opportunities occasionally arise.
I see the top 1% constantly on the phone throughout the day, every day. Yes, they are talking to current buyers and moving deals along. They also regularly carve out time each day to check in with people in their network, and from those conversations, opportunities present themselves that the average salesperson misses.
Habit #2: Top performers stick with their ideal customer profile (ICP) and quickly move on from deals that have a low chance of closing.
They also quickly let go of opportunities that don’t fit the ideal customer profile (ICP). By moving on from low-chance sale possibilities, top performers use their time more wisely to focus on the right deals.
We all have the same number of hours in a day. Top performers do not waste their time pursuing low-end deals or talking to prospects that aren’t moving forward. They maximize their time talking to prospects that have a need for their product. If they aren’t talking to prospects with the right fit, then they are on the phone having conversations with their network to find customers that DO have the right fit. The lesson here is don’t waste your time on unlikely deals or prospects that don’t fit in your ICP.
Habit #3: Top performers have better overall business acumen than their peers.
They know how the macro economy is impacting their clients. They are up to date on their customer’s competition. They understand business financials. They read financial reports and know how money flows through income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. They know what to research and can link the conversation of their product to the customer’s financial goals. That turns the conversation from a standard “features and benefits” focus (that average salespeople use) into a discussion of the potential financial impact of their product or service on the customer. After all, money talks.
Habit #4: Top performers are amazing story tellers.
Average sellers stick to scripts, talking points, and ordinary features and benefits. Top performers use storytelling to capture the buyer’s attention. They more effectively tie use cases of current customers to the buyer. They follow a storytelling framework of setting the scene by commanding the room with an agenda and recapping previous conversations. Next, they create conflict by pointing out what isn’t working for their customer, using data and facts. They point out what competitors are doing. They point out how the customer’s failures are negatively impacting their financials. Next, they produce the “big idea” that transforms their customer’s business. They present the solution and how the future of the business will look with a happy ending. Using a storytelling framework and examples paints a picture in the buyer’s mind, leaving an indelible impression that is positive and memorable.
Habit #5: Top sales professionals aren’t afraid to challenge their buyers.
Whereas average salespeople are afraid to point out anything negative about the buyer, top performers freely point out where status quo is hurting the buyer’s business. They emphasize the pain a business is going through—in a respectful way, of course. They know that customers are more likely to buy for the purpose of preventing pain than to take advantage of a new opportunity.
Habit #6: Top performers do what they say they will do.
They take detailed notes during every conversation. When there is a follow-up promised, they deliver on time. Most average salespeople do not take detailed notes, and never follow up on things they promised because they forgot to document the deliverable. This forgetfulness gives a very negative impression to the buyer and is difficult to overcome. The average salesperson doesn’t realize how bad the impact is when they don’t do what they say they will do.
Habit #7: Top performers have fire and focus.
There is an extra motivation from top performers to win and to be the best. They are highly competitive, although they don’t always show it because they are not boastful. Theirs is an internal fire to be the best that is greater than their peers.
Top performers are also more focused than average sales professionals. Whatever they are doing at any given moment gets 100% attention. Whether it’s a prospecting conversation, research, preparing a presentation, or sitting in a meeting—they give sharp focus to the task at hand.
I was fortunate early in my career to work for Jack Nicklaus and met him several times. Mr. Nicklaus is one of the greatest professional golfers of all time and holds the record for winning the most major tournaments. In every one of our interactions, a key takeaway for me was his ability to intensely focus on what he is doing at that moment. Whether working with a charity, meeting with a client, conducting a business meeting, going fishing, playing golf, spending time with his family, or watching a football game on TV—he gave 100% focus to that event or conversation. He did not get distracted and could be dissuaded to another topic. I believe that narrow focus is one of the traits that made him the greatest major winner of all time, and is the same trait that the top 1% of B2B salespeople display in their day-to-day activities.
Top performers have a strong belief in their capabilities. They exude a high degree of self-confidence that distinguishes them from other salespeople. By mastering these seven habits, others can join the ranks of the top B2B sales professionals.