4 Habits of a New Generation of Top Sales Performers

The New Sales PersonEditor’s note: Today’s post is from Mark Roberge, CRO of the HubSpot Sales Division. One of my all-time heroes in modern sales. Please enjoy.

What does a top performing sales person look like? Seriously. Picture him or her in your mind. How do they dress? Are they attractive? Are they eloquent speakers? What do they do in their free time?

Well, in my experience, the profile of the top performing salespeople is changing. And fast! As I built the HubSpot sales team over the last 6 years, I probably hired close to 200 salespeople. It amazes me, even in that short period, how the profile of the industry’s top performers has shifted. Here are four habits that today’s top performers exhibit that yesterday’s top performers did not.

#1: They are Data Jocks

Historically sales managers have taken extraordinary strides to measure the performance of their salespeople… and salespeople have avoided these tactics like the plague. “What I do cannot be measured. It is an art form.”Today’s top sales performers love the data. To them, data represents the blue print to excellence. They want to know:

  • Which sales email templates are performing best?
  • What day of the week or time of day do prospect’s most often open email or pick up the phone?
  • How many calls per day do I need to make to hit my commission check goals? Am I on track?
  • How does my call activity, connect rate, opportunity conversion, forecast accuracy, and close rate compare to my peers? Where can I improve? Who is the best so I can learn from them?

Now these top performing salespeople love the data for their own use. But do they want their manager to see the data too?

It depends.

If the manager uses the data to micro-manage them, forget it.

“Nobody leaves this office until they make 100 dials today!”

Ha. You’ll end up with a bunch of fake outbound calls and disgruntled salespeople.

Today’s top performers do not mind their managers having the numbers as long as the manager uses the metrics to make them better, to coach them.

#2: They are Technology Geeks

How did legacy salespeople get an edge? They owned front row season tickets for the hot pro sports team. They were members at the exclusive country club. They had access to vintage wine.

But, sorry. Customers just do not buy this way anymore. They probably wonder how much of this lavish lifestyle is baked into the ultimate sales price being pitched to them.

Today’s top sales performers look for an edge from technology, not exclusivity. They use technology to create a better buying experience for their customers and to streamline their own sales process.

Top performing salespeople no longer buy lists of cold prospects who are supposedly a good fit for them. They use technology to monitor the millions of buying signals happening online every day and engage with those companies that are actually entering into a buying process.

Top performing salespeople do not prospect into their territory of companies listed in alphabetical order. They use technology to understand which prospects are actually engaging with their sales efforts, opening their emails,visiting their website, and are prioritizing their sales efforts accordingly.

Today’s top performing salespeople don’t lead with the generic elevator pitch. They use technology to understand what information the prospect has already consumed and lead with the next piece of information appropriate for prospect’s stage in the buyer’s journey. Today’s top performing salespeople do not tolerate the burdensome tasks of updating their CRM. They use technology to automatically update their CRM records as they interact with prospects on email, on the phone, and on webinars.

#3: They think “Always Be Helping”, not “Always Be Closing”

Remember Alec Baldwin in GlennGarry Glenn Ross.


“Always Be Closing”

Legacy salespeople are closers. The pitch starts the minute they open their mouth.

However, today’s top sales performers put the customer’s needs before their own. Here are the three steps today’s top performers follow:

  1. Develop trust with the prospect
  2. Leverage the trust to understand the prospect’s top priorities/goals/problems.
  3. If the sales person’s solution are aligned with the prospect’s priorities, the sales person presents the solution within the buyer’s context, using their terminology. If the solution is not aligned, the sales person thanks the prospect for their time and refers the prospect to someone who may be able to help. In a social-media-driven world, jamming the wrong solution down a prospect’s throat is the kiss of death for a sales person.

The one caveat to the process above is in the second step, if the sales person believes the prospect has the wrong goals, they challenge the prospect. They show the prospect industry trends on why they feel the priorities are off. They educate the prospect on more effective best practices. If the sales person truly has the prospect’s trust, they will help the prospect avoid a potential pothole.

#4: They are Digital Thought Leaders in their Industry

In a post Internet age, the power in the sales process has shifted significantly to the buyer. Buyers can be at home on a Saturday night and research the top vendors in a space online. They can find out how each solution is different, how much each solution costs. Sometimes they can try the product for free and often times they can buy it, right there on the website.

So why do we need salespeople?

In this new buyer-driven context, salespeople need to step up their game. They need to be perceived as trusted advisors by their prospects.

Top performing salespeople make the investment to attain this status. Instead of 80 hours a month of cold calling, top salespeople carve out a few hours a week to build up their online authority. They read the blogs their target prospects read and they add smart comments. They follow the Twitter users their prospects follow and they retweet the best messages. They join the same LinkedIn groups their prospects are members in and they post smart answers. They take the time to guest post on their own company blog around the top questions they receive from prospects early in the buying journey. They become digital thought leaders. Ultimately, they are sought out by their prospects for help.

True story. Last year, the VP of Sales at a Fortune 500 company called me up.

“Mark. I need to have lunch with you and my VP of Marketing. We need your help on our sales and marketing funnel.”

“Great!”, I said. “I’ll be at your office tomorrow at noon.” “

That’s OK Mark. We’ll come to you.”

They showed up with the best pitch deck I have ever seen for HubSpot. They had outlined their entire funnel with all of the conversion rates. They had theories on where they were under-performing and how to fix it. We spent 90 minutes over lunch working on the document. I shared the industry benchmarks. I coached them on the strategies they should use to address deficiencies. When the check came, I reached for it but they pushed my hand away.

“Our pleasure Mark. This was a great lunch.”

Shortly thereafter, I had the order form.

That is selling today. It no longer feels like a sales person / prospect relationship. It feels more like a doctor / patient relationship.

When the doctor asks, do you smoke? Do you have heart disease in your family? You do not lie. You see the diploma on the wall. You trust the doctor. You answer her questions.

When she gives you the diagnosis and prescribes the proper medication, you do not say “let me think about it” or ask for 20% off. You take the medication.

Today’s salespeople invest their time to reach this level of authority with their prospects.

Picture this new top performing sales person. How do they compare to the image of yesterday’s top performer? Who would you rather work with?

Today’s top performing salespeople are making the profession more honorable. They yearn for excellence. They love efficiency. Most importantly their industry knowledge and desire to help make for an enjoyable experience for all of us buyers.

Hubspot, sales, sales managementMark is Chief Revenue Officer of the HubSpot Sales Division. At HubSpot, he increased revenue over 6,000% and expanded the worldwide sales team from 1 to 450 employees. These results placed HubSpot #33 on the 2011 INC 500 Fastest Growing Companies list. Mark was ranked #19 in Forbes’ Top 30 Social Sellers in the World. He was also awarded the 2010 Salesperson of the Year at the MIT Sales Conference.

Mark holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management where he wasawarded the Patrick McGovern award for his contributions to entrepreneurship at MIT. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Lehigh University. Mark has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, Inc Magazine, BostonGlobe, TechCrunch, Harvard Business Review, and other major publications for his entrepreneurial ventures.