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.

  • Mark Brace

    I can see why you like Mark Roberge. This was a great article and I like the constant comparison between old school versus new school.

    • Thanks Mark B. I thought this was a great article as well.

  • Guest

    Great summary of what it means to embrace the new age of selling. The biggest challenge many of us face is building credibility and trust as experts in our field, and more importantly, ensure that we make our value known to the right people. You’ve got to be cool, authentic, and play the long game.

  • aharrell2000

    Nice article Craig! I would also add the new generation top sales performer pushes you to help them develop additional skills. Your top sales performers today also want to learn about “Marketing”, “Training”, “Sales Operations” etc etc….they understand without additional skills you become less of value to the company and customers if sales falls. The new top sales performer is more career strategic thinking. Thanks for the article!



  • Great story about the power of inbound. How do we find more salespeople like those Mark hires?

  • Good article! Sophisticated buyers force top performers to be on their A-game, tuned in to their prospects’ most urgent, red hot pain. Today’s best sales organizations rewrite their sales processes to include digital touch points and meaningful metrics, linked to dynamic scorecards. Connecting in a meaningful way to provide value at every interaction develops trust, peer to peer positioning and strategic advisory status so longed for by modern buyers. Top performers are driven – voracious readers and learners to constantly polish their approach and retain their edge – but also demand top notch resources from management.

  • Mark, I have a ton of respect for your work and find, absorb, and share it whenever I can. Solid thoughts here, as always. I’d like to offer some in return.

    Nuance and context matter, and I think this post describes your world really well. I also agree what you’ve written here is true in certain other contexts, outside the exciting world of marketing automation and content management. I disagree that it’s ubiquitous or the state of top producers everywhere.

    Some thoughts for your consideration…

    I’ve been studying top-producing sales professionals for well over 15 years. Most have been the “data jocks” *of their time.* They didn’t have easy access to CRM data, automated reporting, sales enablement systems, carefully produced collateral by buyer persona and pipeline stage, predictive analytics, and more, but these guys and gals knew their pipeline, their activity, their conversion rates, and whatever data they had or could track on their own.

    They were often also early adopters of technology, always looking for some creative edge, before others fully figured it out. Both of these things (data and technology) have advanced in ways we couldn’t have imagined years ago, but now, it’s certainly more evident that top producers are mastering them today. Now, I think we’re seeing these behaviors trickle down past the top 4% into the top 20% and maybe lower into the top tier of “above average” reps. Good to see, and I’m glad your posts calls this out (with some great details, by the way). Thanks for that. I just don’t it’s new for top producers. It’s a new level of data and technology, and going deeper into the rank of the sales organization.

    In terms of ABC, I’d say that the legacy of “transactional and *poor* sales pros, was ABC.” The top producers I’ve studied (at least the B2B ones) have almost always been more of the Mack Hanan-like, Linda Richardson-emulating, Ron Willingham-inspired consultative selling crew, built from Xerox Learning Systems and IBM cloth, even in the earlier days.

    At the same time, I worry about the “always be helping” manta, unless we associate that “helping” and “professional selling” are the same. I worry that advice gives weak reps an excuse to not approach clients, gain commitment, or even try to influence. While I’m a strong believer in customer focus, serving, discovery and diagnosis, and only selling solutions that truly will help your customer succeed (big fan of Franklin Covey’s “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play” and Richardson’s work) – I’m cautious about the “helping” message, or at least as I’m seeing it tossed around by others.

    For example, selling is helping and serving, and that paradigm is paramount. It’s part of the paradox of selling (you need to focus on others to gain your success). At the same time, quotas aren’t going away and the goal of sales is to find enough people who need what we provide. That’s far more than “helping.” I can’t sell properly without helping, but I sure can help without selling. That’s why that line bugs me. If we continue to promote that track (especially those go go as far as to say “stop selling and start helping”), sometime after reps miss quota for the third month, while just helping, they’ll have an opportunity to help people in a customer service role, at some other company.

    I mean this kindly with a pleasant tone of voice, but I wonder if you forget sometimes that you’re Mark Roberge, thought leader from Hubspot, one of the companies that forged inbound marketing and shaped content marketing and lead gen, as we know it today. You work in a cutting-edge, emerging industry that can produce results for companies that are openly struggling with the very things you can help with.

    Mark, do you really think prospects are calling the VP of Sales for a machine tools company, and saying, “hang tight, we’ll come to you?” That may often be “selling” for you, and kudos for creating that situation, but that is not selling today, for everyone. I believe we have a responsibility to highlight those nuances and transitions for our audience, monitor the evolving state of the industry, and help guide the profession through the changes appropriately.

    Some day, if we can truly differentiate ourselves online and handle ourselves appropriately in the content, nurturing and social spheres, perhaps we can all “magnetize” clients toward us. I’ve been fortunate to do that to a degree (although not selling today, I do it in other ways). I see others doing it or starting. We’re not there yet, as a whole. Plenty of selling (done professionally with helping) is still required, for much of the sales world.

    BTW, just in case it seems like I’m throwing darts – I do a social selling webinar where I recommend most of the things you mention in #3 and 4. I’m also very cautious to be clear that this applies variably, based on how much of the rep’s client base (and their circle of influence) are playing in the social sphere. It’s a slow, massive migration, but good luck with any of that if you’re a Pharma rep or in the exciting field of thermodynamics (search return of 39K on LinkedIn). 😉

    Meant kindly, with a hat tip and much respect. Would love to hear your thoughts in return, online or offline.


    • Mark Roberge

      Wow Mike! This is a fantastic comment. Thanks for taking the time to read my article in such detail and detail out a thoughtful response. In some of the best blog articles I have written, the article simply sparked the conversation but the comment thread provided the most learnings for the readership.

      I do not interpret your comments as dart throwing at all. Very fair and, I believe, accurate criticisms on the points in the article. I completely agree with your high level point on context. I have helped many CEOs hire a new VP of Sales over the years and this concept of context has been an eye opening experience for me as I watched some of them succeed and some fail. Many sales leaders “grow up” in a certain buyer/seller context, selling a specific value proposition to a specific buyer persona running a specific sales methodology. Often times, the sales executive brings that playbook to their new role, hiring the same type of sales people and managing them to the same playbook. The problem is that sales playbook is not “right” for the new buyer context they are now in. The best leaders appreciate the variances in the new context and implement the right sales methodology for the situation.

      So, absolutely I agree, some of these points apply to my specific context at HubSpot.

      I also agree with your first three points that top sales reps over even the past decades have exhibited the behaviors of data jocks, tech adopters, and great consultative sellers. To be honest, I would defer to you as having more insight on the behaviors of these top performers over time, as my lens is limited. However, from what I hear, over the past few decades sales people could attain great levels of success without leveraging these behaviors. However, due to recent changes in buyer empowerment and technology advancements, today’s sales people are at an even greater handicap by not leaning into these three behaviors more heavily.

      Your worry about the “always be helping” mantra is an important asterisk that I agree with. Unfortunately, there are folks in the sales profession that have “need for approval” issues and often avoid the tough questions or comments in order to not hurt a prospect’s feelings. They may lean into helpful tips in lieu of actually advancing the opportunity. I agree. However, I do believe that most sales people fall on the other end of the spectrum, asking questions that add no value to the prospect but simply instruct the sales person whether they should spend time with the prospect or to suffice their manager’s requests to find out certain information. A better balance needs to be struck in this buyer empowered world.

      And finally, very fair asterisk on point #4. I typically add a comment (but failed to do so in this article) that not all sales unfold in the way I outline in section #4, even at HubSpot. In fact, that degree of a magnetized sale is a minority case. And, yes, the degree to which this type of selling can be accomplished is very buyer context specific, usually correlated to the time and sophistication your buyer uses the Internet to learn and research.

      However, I do think people write off this inbound tactic too easily for their buyer context. I have been amazed to see these tactics work exceptionally well in non-tech-savvy spaces such as landscaping, bookkeeping, non-profit, and even galvanized steel manufacturing. My challenge to the audience in point #4 is, if you are cold calling 20 hours per week, instead try cold calling 18 hours per week and invest 2 hours per week in some of the tactics I recommend. Try it for a few months. I believe you will be pleased with the results and invest even more time.

      I also believe if you are in a space where the “social migration”, as Mike references the shift, is in the early stages, great. You have an opportunity to shape it. Start and own the most popular LinkedIn Group. Start and own the industry meme and correlating Twitter handle. Become the go-to blog for best practice advancement. Take advantage of the early stage of the migration to the digital world.

      I hope some of these follow on comments help Mike. Thanks for taking the time to provide context where needed and challenge some of these points. At the end of the day, we are all here to advance the field. You provoked some interesting thoughts for me as I read your response.

      • In return, this is the best reply I’ve read in a while, Mark, thanks. I appreciate you accepting my comments in the spirit intended. Not to whitewash, but in general, completely agree with your added points.

        Nuance and context – massively important and too often overlooked by the “tips and tricks” crowd.

        Agree, today’s sales person will be obsolete, if they can’t evolve with the marketplace. In some cases, the future is here now, and in others, coming soon to a CRM near you. I do agree with being a proactive part of that shift, rather than trying to play catch up or die later. Just needs to be a balance.

        Yes, many reps play the prequal game for themselves, rather than focusing on real dialogue or diagnosis (love the medical metaphor). Other than how we’re wired for survival, I blame a lot of this on compensation. That’s a whole ‘nuther topic for another time, but I don’t believe we’re compensating appropriately for the current reality, and certainly not for the future, and that may be a painful shift for many. [Stacking sand bags around my house, now, and adding a drawbridge and oil moat.]

        Thanks again for a great reply, Mark. And for magnetizing over to my LinkedIn profile. Glad we’re now connected. Funny how well that works. 😉

        Stay the course,



    Mark, top class proliferation, just love it. Mike, I so revere your nonchalant manifestation, cant beat that.

    Akin to many, I believe that there is no such thing as ‘retrospective wisdom’. The current/new-age sales force makes the best of what is available here and now; be it product, people, process, technology, software etc. The earlier sales force made best use of what was available then. Then again, the fundamentals remain the same!

    Like all other functions, sales has evolved and we will continue to witness more of it – faster than we thought we would. Yes, the technology/data availability may have shrunk the travel-time through the sales funnel, even made the journey through the funnel less anticipatory. Yes, there is progression. But again, fundamentals remain the same!

  • Patrick

    I see nice Dave Kurlan/Sandler Training compliments here ;). Some very relevant points. Good job.

  • I love “always be helping”!

  • Fantastic article! We were actually having this discussion the other day, about how sales people have traditionally had a bad rap and this new generation of sales reps are trying to change the perception of what we are actually trying to accomplish…and that is to help the prospect make the best buying decisions for their business. And yes, metrics are important, but it’s the way you decide to execute those KPIs that really matters. When I was on the sales side of things, I had two types of managers; the kind that told me to hit 150 dials a day and the kind that said, “It’s ok if you made 40 calls today, you put 7 new opps for half a million in the pipeline!” Guess where I was more successful? Watching your industry trends, following prospects and partners on social media, and even researching information down to what positions they are hiring for can be extremely beneficial…and SMART! I will be sharing this with my sales team. Thanks Mark!

  • Shingshang Fung

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  • I wish I saw such a clear pattern amongst the top sales performers with our clients but we don’t. There really isn’t a 1-2-3 formula or profile. Some of these reps aren’t even on Linkedin or worse, they are but their profile is atrocious. And yet they consistently earn > $500k/yr.

  • Amazing read. I knew I found something good when I started reading your article. Thanks man! As an entrepreneur this info is a big help.