Secrets of the Top 10% - Part V: Get to Work!

By Colleen Francis

Over the past two months, we've been taking an in-depth look at what I call the Secrets of highly successful sales people - those who consistently perform in the Top 10% of their profession. Today, we're going to wrap up this special Five-Part Series on the Engage Selling Innovation Model by showing you how you can put everything you've learned into action, and Get to Work!

It never ceases to amaze me how many sales people identify the activities they know they need to do to make a sale, grow their business or increase their revenues - but then lack the basic discipline needed to carry out those activities on a daily basis!

Yes, preparation is important. But top performers don't spend their valuable calling time doing hours of Web surfing or reading annual reports. The Top 10% understand that the key to avoiding "paralysis by analysis" is to strike a balance between having enough knowledge to engage the customer in an intelligent and informed manner, but not so much that they come off sounding like a know-it-all.

Last year, one of my clients decided to encourage her staff to shut off the Internet and Get to Work between 9:00-11:00 and 1:30-3:30 every day. After taking just this one simple action, her business grew by more than 60%, or almost $25 million.

The 80 / 20 rule
How can you apply this principle to your business?

Start using the "80 / 20 rule" for sales success. For most sales people, the last 20% of the preparation they do eats up the most time, and costs them the most business. So when you feel you're 80% ready, don't wait any longer - go, and get to work!

The Top 10% are constantly taking action towards hitting their goals. This can mean taking some calculated risks. But the potential rewards that come with those risks can far outweigh those few times when they don't pay off.

Was it the right time to get married? (Maybe not the first time.)

Was it the right time to buy a house? (It sure was if you did it in the last 4 or 5 years!)

Was it the right time to have children?

There's never any surefire way of knowing whether or not it's the right time to do any of these things. Yet, when it comes to our personal lives, most of us are willing to take the chance that we'll fall flat on our face, in order to have a real shot at getting what we want.

In our professional lives, however, most sales people - like most people, period - almost never take any risks, or try anything new. Most of us are too comfortable, too balanced and too unwilling to stretch ourselves or get into our "un-comfort zones," to take the risks we know we need to in order to get ahead.

Think about the cream of the crop of Olympic athletes - the top 3 in the world. Did they get to the medal podium because they were comfortable with last year's performance levels? NO. In order to get better at what they did, they refused to get comfortable or satisfied with their results, and instead pushed themselves each and every day, year after year, to keep doing better than they ever had before.

Often times, the difference between standing on the podium and watching the ceremony from the locker room is simply the refusal to allow yourself to reach a comfortable plateau, and say "that's good enough." Just ask Tiger Woods. Despite being (arguably) the best golfer ever to play the sport, the first thing he does the day after he wins a major tournament is go back to his coach, and work to see how he can do better the next time.

The benefits of taking risks
Let's say you were the coach of the Olympic track and field team, and your goal was to get your best runner to improve her time for the 100 meters from last year. Would you set the same training plan you used for the past 12 months? Of course not, because doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity.

What you would do is create a different training plan - one that was harder, more challenging and more disciplined. One that would, I suspect, hurt, though not so much as to risk a potentially career-ending injury.

Like high performance athletes, high performance sales people are constantly challenging themselves to do better. They are also constantly taking smart risks that can lead to maximum profits from their pipeline.

Let me be clear about this: 100% of risk is positive. After all, the only real risk is to not take a risk at all - a course of action that is almost guaranteed to lead to stagnation, loss of business or loss of a job.

Every time you take a risk, on the other hand, you win. Either you win the business, or you win the knowledge of what not to do the next time. Either way, you come out ahead.

One of the most profitable "risks" you can take is learning when to walk away from business you know or suspect will not be profitable.

When I was a sales manager for a high tech company, I had a sales rep named "Lori" who was always in the Top 10%. One time, Lori had a difficult prospect, "Mark," whose favorite habit was seeing just how many hoops he could make us jump through to get his business. Finally, he pushed Lori too far, and presented a hoop that we simply weren't willing to jump through.

Lori made the decision to walk away, and I joined her on the call. With just enough paraphrasing to protect the not-so-innocent, the conversation went something like this:

Lori: "Mark, thanks for the opportunity to present our solution. We feel honored that we are being considered. At this point, however, we don't think that there is a good enough fit for what you want and what we can do, so we're pulling our proposal."

Mark: "But Lori, I don't understand. How will we get our information to choose the winner?"

Lori: "No, Mark, you don't understand. I'm breaking up with you!"

Gutsy? Yes. Risky? Yes.

Profitable? YES!

The truth is, Mark's company was going to waste more time than we could afford to spend, eat up more resources than we could ever hope to recoup from the sale, and likely never make a firm decision anyways. Even if they did finally make the call, given how demanding they'd been before they were customers, I didn't even want to imagine what they'd be like to deal with after they'd actually given us money…

In short, bad prospects are not like fine wine. They do not grow old gracefully.

Stay focused - again!
In order to know what level of risk is appropriate to take in sales, we have to go back to last month's article, Secrets of the Top 10% - Part IV: Stay Focused!, and remember the 2nd principle of the Engage Selling Innovation Model: Stay focused!

Simply put, if you aren't focusing enough time on prospecting, then you can't afford to take enough risks to move your career to the next level. Take Lori's case as an example. If Mark was Lori's only prospect for a commission check that month, and if I as her manager was breathing down her neck for results, would she have had the guts to pull the plug on this losing proposition and move on?

It was only because Lori knew that she had 4 more prospects teetering on the edge of becoming customers that she was able to walk decisively away from a time waster, and get to work on sales with real potential.

Whether you want to make more money, take more time off next year, or simply increase your business - if you want different results, then you have to do things differently. Tomorrow. Next week. And for the rest of your career.

The next time you're faced with a choice where your gut is telling you one thing, and your head another, try taking the risk. Then see if you don't reap the rewards.

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions ( Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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