What is an A-Player Salesperson?

When it comes to running a sales organization, every manager knows that there are different kinds of players you can have on your team, and they usually come in 3 categories: you have the A-Players, the B-Players and the C-Players. For the most part, people seem to agree on what defines a C-player and a B-player.

Let’s start with the C-players. The C-players are the people that are usually a little lower in the ranks because, as we’d expect, they do the bare minimum to get by. They’re the ones who seem to get their work done just barely one time. They also tend to need more attention and coaching during 1 on 1’s and quarterly reviews than others to get their performance to up to a satisfactory level. As a manager, these are the players you want to avoid because they’ll be the ones that can turn into time sinks and even negatively impact your team’s culture and productivity. As an individual contributor, this is the category you obviously want to avoid falling into as it will destroy your chances at upward mobility and even more so if things happen to take a turn for the worst, you’ll likely be among the first on the chopping block.

The B-players, in contrast, are consistent and reliable performers. When something needs to get done you can rely on them to get the job done correctly and in a timely fashion. They have a solid understanding of what is expected of them and do what it takes to deliver on that expectation. B-players are those who need little to no coaching but are still able to keep their productivity at the level it needs to be at. However, when something comes up that requires them to go above and beyond their job description or put in more hours than is necessary, there may be a little of push-back. Regardless, these are still people you want to keep on your team as they are very important for keeping a well run and organized business.

Now, when it comes to A-players, it’s well accepted that these are the individuals who go above and beyond the call of duty. These are the “5 star recruits” that you want to attract and hold onto as long as you possibly can because they are the ones that can truly help move your business forward. The qualities of an A-player however are more widely debated because different characteristics are more important depending on the manager and industry that individual is working. That said, here’s a short list of qualities that would apply universally to an A player regardless of someone’s industry.

1. They reach for stretch goals and hold themselves to a higher standard.

Stretch goals are those objectives that are just beyond our reach and so many of us choose not to set them. Instead, we may opt for something more achievable so we can feel good about ourselves when we do meet our goals. A-players, however, do not share this same restraint. Instead, they put aside all fears and purposefully push themselves beyond their limits understanding that it’s only when they are forced out of their comfort zone that they are able to grow the most.

Another reason A players are so valuable is because of the higher standard that they hold for themselves. Unlike a B-player who may be influenced by the lack of motivation they see in a C-player colleague and ultimately have their productivity drop, the A player will just keep on chugging at their normal pace. They are completely undeterred by others and are motivated entirely by their own desire to succeed. Best of all, they have the complete opposite effect on the team’s culture and productivity that a C-player has. Where a C-player may negatively impact a B-player’s productiveness, an A-player can bring up the motivational energy in both the B-players and C-players.

2. They understand the importance of teamwork and communication.

It’s probably not uncommon for an A-player to prefer getting work done on their own as they usually see themselves as the most capable people for the job, but at the same time they’ll recognize when something is beyond their bandwidth and will effectively employ the help of their colleagues to get the job done. For example, in an organization that has a role for a Solutions Consultant (SC) or Solutions Engineer (SE), an A-player Sales Rep will recognize that they don’t need to invest all their time and effort to preparing for an upcoming demo. Instead, they’ll make more effective use of their time by focusing their efforts on managing the relationship with their prospect and effectively communicating the wants, needs and pains to their SC/SE so that they can be topics of focus during the presentation.

They’re also the ones that often take that extra effort to make sure everyone is on the same page. When dealing with prospects, they ask questions like “Am I understanding that correctly?” or “So you’re telling me x, y and z. Did I hear that right?”. They understand that sometimes you need to slow things down to speed things up and so they put in the extra effort to make sure that they are as clear as possible in their communication as to avoid any confusion and issues down the line. Jon Miller, Co-founder to both Marketo and Engagio, once said, “The most successful reps are often the most paranoid. They are always on the lookout for what could go wrong and take proactive measures to prevent them.”

A-players are also the ones who understand that recognition for good work does not have to be a zero-sum game. When the team works towards a successful endeavor, they readily give credit where credit is due understanding that this builds trust and more effective collaboration amongst the team in the future. They truly embody what the definition of a “team player” is.

3. They are in tune with the company’s vision and take initiative.

A-players don’t need to be told what to do. At any given point they understand what the company’s goals and objectives are and take action towards these goals on their own accord. They don’t worry about the minimum metrics required of them by the company and instead keep their focus on results and the bigger picture. They understand that reaching their hundred dials or two hundred emails will ultimately amount to almost nothing if they’re not being sent to the right people with the right message and towards the right objectives.

Additionally, these are the people who aren’t afraid to act on their own and don’t feel the need to always ask for permission. The reason these individuals have the confidence to do so is because they have the capability to put themselves in management’s shoes and understand what the best courses of action are moving forward. This is particularly what makes them attractive to their managers in the future as candidates for promotions, and usually the reason why they’re even considered in the first place.

4. They’re able to put the good of the company before their own.

This doesn’t mean that A-players are people you can easily take advantage of. In fact, that’s a sure-fire way to ensure you lose these A-players. Since A-players are so capable, they’re usually very smart people with a strong level of intuition. Therefore, once they get a sense that they’re being treated or paid unfairly they’ll be quick to find another opportunity that better suits their standards. A-players may choose to focus on their careers over their personal lives but they won’t stand to have it imposed on them.

Rather, what this means is that A players are those who are able to take a look at a situation and play through in their heads what the repercussions of their decisions will be. For example, they may understand they could make a false promise to a potential customer to quickly make the sale and a quick buck. However, they’re able to foresee that in doing so they are setting the company and customer success team up for failure and therefore opt for the high road of doing right by the customer, even if it means offering a discount or foregoing the deal altogether if there truly isn’t a good fit.

They’re also the ones that aren’t afraid to lend a helping hand to those in need. If a teammate is struggling to fill their pipeline and actively voices a request for help, these are the guys that are willing to take a moment to provide some advice for how to get their colleagues back on the right track. I’ve seen many A-players take the time to help their colleagues practice their pitches and demos, even offering to join them on their next calls as a means of support, often times without expecting anything in return.

-Dean Park

Dean Park is a seasoned tech sales professional that’s been involved with a wide range of organizations from startups to enterprise businesses. Dean is also a sales mentor at GrowthX Academy in San Francisco.

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Top 5 Skills for Tech Salespeople

When it comes to sales professionals, there are the good ones, the bad ones and the ones that are simply great at what they do. The bad ones are easy to spot. They’re the ones giving the profession a bad name and tend to fit in with the negative stereotypes we see and hear about in the media. Bad salespeople tend to focus only on themselves and what they stand to gain in making a deal happen. They give little thought, if any, to how the deal will impact their customer. They’re also usually very disorganized and sometimes even outright dishonest about the terms of the deal. What all this amounts to is a horrible customer experience and one that will not keep them around for very long. This commercial about a badger personified as a used car salesman, though fictional and exaggerated, provides a perfect example of what a bad salesman is likely to act like:

Good salespeople are a little different in that they don’t work with customers in a way that leaves a bad taste in their mouth. They’re usually pretty friendly and diligent in getting their work done. They deliver on what’s promised and do their best to live up to expectations but where they fall short is in failing to go above and beyond. Most average salespeople, are just that. Average. These are the guys that, as most would say, simply go through the motions. They approach their work as something that just needs to be done rather than taking pride in the fact that they’re able to provide value to their customers.

That’s where great salespeople set themselves apart. Great salespeople take pride in what they do and live for the mission of continuing to provide that value. So how do you go from being a good salesman to a great salesman? There are a lot of factors that affect what makes a great salesperson and those factors will likely vary depending on who  you ask. However, here’s a targeted list of the top 5 skills that will unequivocally up your sales game if you focus on developing them.

1. Grit

According to Angela Lee Duckworth, the greatest predictor of success, and even more important than IQ, is grit. Grit is the ability to continue pushing yourself to working hard even in the face of what are seemingly insurmountable odds. The people with high levels of grit are those that are able to keep themselves going even when others have lost hope and given up.

This is directly relevant in the world of sales because let’s face it, sales is definitely a numbers game. There may be lucky streaks where you manage to find a series of wins in a short amount of time, but more often than not you’ll have to comb through a hundred “no’s” before you make it to that elusive “yes”. Those hundred “no’s” can definitely start to feel like an eternity.

What often happens is that after hearing no for the first 30 or so times, many salespeople start to lose their fire. Each failed attempt seems to chip away at their hopes of success and leads them to lose their vigor. Even more so, some salespeople also seem to give up from simply not being able to get a hold of someone and assume that a lack of response means that there’s a lack of interest.

The great salespeople go to great lengths to ensure they get an answer from their prospect, whatever that answer might be. They’ve developed thick skin and are able to persevere in the face of all these difficulties, knowing that it’s only a matter of time until all their hard work pays off and they land that one huge success that makes it all worth it. They don’t let the small losses affect them because they understand that these are minor roadblocks in their inevitable path to success. They’re professionally persistent and optimistic that an opportunity always exists until there’s definitive proof that demonstrates otherwise.

2. Emotional Intelligence

Great salespeople are also very effective at understanding their customer’s needs. The reason they’re so great a this is because of something that’s widely known as emotional intelligence. They’re able to put themselves in their customer’s shoes to really understand what’s important to them. What are the needs versus the wants? What are the biggest pain points and challenges the customer is facing? What are the risks involved with going forward or not going forward with the deal from the perspective of your buyer? These are all questions that a great sales professional should easily be able to answer when evaluating a deal.

They understand that the customer is not concerned with how large the commission check will turn out to be and are instead more focused on the value they will recognize from buying the product or service that is being offered. The greats are able to recognize that if they properly identify this value, they can use that knowledge to quickly close business with agreeable terms.

Another reason that great sales professionals develop their emotional intelligence is that they understand that there’s a premium associated with trust. Trust will beat price any day, which the reason why brands that people know and love are so valuable. Unless price is the most important factor in your prospect’s criteria, building trust and value is the best way you can increase your odds of winning that deal. If the price difference is marginal the customer will almost always go with the vendor they’ve developed the most trust with during the buying cycle.3.

3. Time and Task Management

Being busy does not always mean that you’re being productive. So you’ve made a hundred dials today and had 15 or so conversations? So what? If those 15 conversations were with the wrong people or at companies that don’t fit in with your ideal customer profile, you may find out in a few weeks that those opportunities may never amount to anything.

In sales there truly is a benefit to working smarter and not harder. Therefore the great salespeople know how to effectively manage their time and recalibrate their focus on the most important priorities. They identify the target companies and prospects that have the highest likelihood of bringing in business and they focus extensively on those.

Those highest on the leaderboards are also very cognizant of the health of their pipeline. They recognize that even if they have a ton of deals currently in the works, if there’s nothing filling up the top of the sales funnel, they’ll eventually find themselves with a dead pipeline somewhere down the road. Therefore these guys are ALWAYS prospecting, no matter what. If they work at an organization that doesn’t provide business development support, they find the time to put in even just a few hours each week to make sure they are finding ways to continue feeding their pipeline. In doing this, they’re able to keep their results consistent unlike the average sales professional who may fall victim to more streaky sales as a result of improper pipeline management.

4. Navigating an Organization

This may seem fairly straight-forward but there’s a slight finesse that’s required in effectively navigating an organization. Most people probably think that you just need to get a hold of the right titles with the right message and everything will be golden but that’s not always the case.

There are situations where you may just catch someone on an off day and therefore won’t be open to any messaging no matter how it’s positioned. Additionally, there’s always the chance of something getting miscommunicated or misunderstood. Therefore it’s important to understand how your prospective company is organized so you can use that knowledge to your advantage when trying to figure out who the best alternative people are to reach.

For example, let’s say you pitched to a Director at Company A but for some reason he or she just didn’t buy into your value proposition as strongly as you would have liked. The deal cycle starts to stagnate and not much activity is happening within the account. You’ve sent 15 emails and dialed them over 10 times. Instead of pestering that same person and potentially souring the relationship it may be better to find someone else who can champion your company internally. However, there would be no point in reaching out to anyone else in the same team as it would roll back up to the same Director and he or she will ultimately come to the same conclusion that your company’s value is questionable.

You should instead understand how the company is mapped out and find another relevant Director, or even someone at the VP level, to re-pitch your product or service to. Explain things to your new prospect in a way that makes sense to them and let them convince your old prospect to change their mind. The same message can sometimes be received very differently depending on the source.

5. Storytelling

Of all the skills on this list, the ability to effectively tell a captivating story is probably the most important. There’s something about the human mind that makes it easier for us to remember stories better than lists of facts. Great sales professional use this to their advantage by weaving their value propositions and previous achievements in throughout the course of a story.

Where the average sales person may come to a meeting to simply ‘show up and throw up’, the seasoned professional will take a minute to bring some calm and comfort into the situation. They’ll spend a few minutes building up rapport and then find ways to lead the conversation towards the ways in which their company is working with or has worked with other clients for their benefit.

Compare the following two examples.

Example 1: “Hello Mr. Client, thank you for your time today. I’d love to talk to you today about the new amazing features our product is capable of and how it will benefit  you moving forward. With Feature X, your employees will be able to accomplish their daily tasks with 15% greater efficiency. Additionally in switching to our product, our other clients are also seeing cost savings as high as 5 to 10%, resulting in an average ROI of 135%. Most importantly, we keep our customers happy and can even prove it with our 95% retention rate.”

It might get a few people’s attention so not bad. But…

Example 2: “Hello Mr. Client, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. I understand that you’re currently looking for a new solution that can help you save some money while also helping increase the productivity of your employees. Is that correct? Great. Let me introduce you to Acme Corp, one of our current clients. Their business isn’t exactly the same but it’s fairly similar to yours and they actually approached us because they were facing issues that mirror much of what you’ve been telling us about so far. They’re workforce was not as productive as they would have liked and they thought they were overpaying with their previous vendor. After switching to our product, they were able to increase their company’s productivity by 15% and save 8% on their yearly contract. After only 2 years of using our product, they realized an ROI of 135%. To this day, John, their CEO, says that he couldn’t be happier with his decision, which is actually not uncommon for us to hear given that we have a retention rate of 95%.”

Perhaps not the most eloquent of examples but I hope it makes my point. Given that it will likely be a few hours or even a few days before your prospect will have to share his or her thoughts with the rest of the team on what you’ve presented, it will be the second example that will be the easiest to remember. Unlike the first example, it juxtaposes the situation before and after the decision to do business with your company and does so in a logical manner that’s easy to follow.

There are of course many other skills a true sales professional will likely want to develop beyond those on this list but focusing on these 5 should be a good start for those looking to get themselves to the next level. If you’re lacking in any of these areas right now, spend the next few weeks really working on developing these skills. You may be surprised at how quickly they will start to have an impact on the success you’re seeing with your own deals.

-Dean Park

Dean Park is a seasoned tech sales professional that’s been involved with a wide range of organizations from startups to enterprise businesses. Dean is also a sales mentor at GrowthX Academy in San Francisco.

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What AI Means For The Future of Sales

It’s no secret that we’re currently on the brink of an unprecedented AI revolution. Over the past few decades, technology has quickly taken over the way we live. Many of us today use our computers to make a living and it’s now simply the cultural norm to rely on technology as your primary source of entertainment among many other things.  

With the vast efficiencies and capabilities that technology brings, it’s easy to understand why technology has become so omnipresent in our lives. What would have taken our ancestors weeks to write on a manuscript can now be drafted in a matter of days on any word processor. In the past the speed at which this process could be completed was limited by the speed at which you could type but now we can draft as quickly as we speak thanks to modern voice to text technology, granted edits will be necessary. However, in the near future there will come a time when our computers can not only transcribe our words but also revise it to a final draft for us. In fact, it will actually be capable of accomplishing a great deal more than that.

The driving force that will deliver us these amazing new capabilities is called natural language understanding which is a subtopic in the broader field of artificial intelligence. We’re not there yet but it’s only a matter of time before a computer is built that will have the ability to code changes into itself. Soon thereafter we’ll be dealing with what is called artificial-superintelligence which is AI that achieves a level of intelligence greater than all of humankind. It would be too lengthy to discuss this idea in its entirety as well as its ramifications for society but if you’re curious to learn more about it, this is actually a really good article that does an amazing job of providing a comprehensive overview of the current state of AI and where its headed.

Instead this article will focus on the impact that AI will have on the professional world of sales. Like many other sectors, salespeople will see their jobs being impacted in some way or another by artificial intelligence with many of them possibly even losing their jobs to it. NPR put out an interesting interactive that provides predictions of how likely your job is to be taken over by a machine if you’re curious to check that out. AI will indeed have an impact on blue-collar jobs but interestingly enough data shows that in fact there are many more use cases that threaten the security of white-collar jobs than blue-collar ones. We’ll touch more on what this means for the modern sales professional a little later in this article.

For the most part though we can expect that in most instances AI will augment rather than replace the work that we perform. We’re seeing the the start of this already with a myriad of AI business solutions like Einstein from Salesforce. Einstein currently offers things like predictive lead scoring,  lead insights, as well as predictions and alerts for high priority opportunities with a strong likelihood to close. That’s not to say though that Salesforce is the only player or the best vendor in the space.

There are a tremendous number of other businesses as well that are trying to leverage the benefits that AI offers for commercial success. These include companies like x.ai, Spiro, Clearbit Connect, LeadCrunch and Crystal, each of which provide some very interesting value propositions. X.ai is a virtual assistant who schedules meetings on your behalf by proposing free times and automatically sending calendar invites for agreed appointments. Spiro is another type of virtual assistant but one that’s focused on helping sales professionals stay focused on top prospects by sending reminders and notifications based on previous activity within a deal cycle. Clearbit Connect is a gmail plugin that’s leveraging AI to streamline the arduous process of prospecting by taking care of the search for emails and LinkedIn profiles for you. LeadCrunch is another notable business assisting in the prospecting realm and one that helps identify new potential customers based on your existing customer profiles. The final business on our list, Crystal is a service that’s looking to coach sales professionals on how best to reach out to their prospects by considering their personality and communication styles.

Understandably to some of you these products may seem gimmicky and to others it may simply be more money than you’re willing to pay for the benefits. However the underlying message here is not that these are all businesses or services we need to be taking advantage of right now. Rather, what should excite us is the fact that we’re seeing seedlings of what will soon be a technological revolution that will bring tremendous convenience to the everyday sales professional that has never been available before.

For the average salesperson this would mean they no longer have to deal with manual data entry and will instead have a future CRM that can automatically track and log all of their activities for them. Companies like Sudo are making the early inroads towards making this ethereal vision a reality through a virtual assistant chatbot. Though a chatbot isn’t the minimal user interface CRM that you may be imagining it’s again important to recognize that these are the initial steps towards a more convenient future.

Thanks to Moore’s law what is a chatbot today can quickly evolve into an intelligent personal assistant that’s possibly even more advanced than the ones we carry around in our smartphones today. Additionally, this same CRM could possibly even prospect and conduct outreach on our behalf while leveraging the benefits of increased insights better than any human ever could.

And as time continues, mergers and acquisitions as well as more efficient development cycles will lead to the merging of the many capabilities we’ve discussed so far which should be even more exciting news to the modern sales executive.

A future with artificial intelligence will likely mean a future where professional data is so abundant, connected and available that records can be updated in real time eliminating the whole notion of “dirty data” or outdated information.  Reports and summaries could be built in a matter of minutes upon verbal request to a computer and the costly process of finding and building target lists can be as easy as asking, “Computer, what is my addressable market?”.

What this means for the modern sales professional is that you’re life is going to get a lot easier over the next few decades but only if you have a sales job that isn’t likely to be automated by a machine. This technological revolution won’t take place tomorrow or next week but it’s important to understand that it is indeed a serious and imminent trend and one that needs to be taken into consideration when planning for your career. The best way to understand whether or not your job has a high likelihood of being automated is to look at your job description. The more your work is repetitive in nature and requires little to no cognitive judgement to complete the more likely your job is to be replaced by a machine because the financial and productivity incentives for businesses will be too strong to ignore. These would likely be roles in an administrative, business development or otherwise entry level function in a sales organization.

The next most likely group to feel pressure on their job security are those that are charged with maintaining a sales process or system. Reason being, at the moment these duties do require some level of human oversight but there will be a time when AI evolves from artificial narrow intelligence to artificial general intelligence and because a machine has no need for food, sleep, insurance or a raise, it’s inevitable for businesses to start replacing some of their workforce with these machines. This would probably apply to many folks working in a sales operation capacity.

The jobs least likely to be impacted and taken over the pending AI revolution are those that inherently requires some human element of thought or trust. Because humans are social creatures, no matter how efficient machines can become and how closely they can resemble our intelligence, there is a level of human trust that can’t be built up with a machine. As such there will always be some need for “human” reassurance in business. These roles will likely revolve around things like sales strategy, contract negotiations, training or coaching and the like.

If you want to learn more on how to slowly develop a career path towards these kinds of roles, check out the Rainmaker platform for sales professionals. There you can check out new opportunities are there for your in the next step of your sales career and also see how you stack up against your peers. It’s a great resource to get a better understanding of your professional competency and to make sure you’re not leaving any untapped opportunities on the table.

-Dean Park

Dean Park is a seasoned tech sales professional that’s been involved with a wide range of organizations from startups to enterprise businesses. Dean is also a sales mentor at GrowthX Academy in San Francisco.

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Welcome to the Rainmakers Sales Blog!

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We hope you enjoy this series of upcoming blog posts.

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