research provides insight into what differentiates high
performers from the rest and how industry and individuals
can profit from this.
of us, I believe, would feel we can learn something
from high performers in the same role as ourselves.
We may dispute the opinion of our manager (whether privately
or publicly) about how we should improve our performance
if we feel their opinion is biased. We may doubt the
advice of a performance guru if their CV doesn’t
appear to live up to their claims.
somehow it is different with the high performer. When
someone consistently sits year after year at the top
of the sales ladder we tend to admire them for it. And
when the company changes the job or the rewards system
and they still come out on top again most of us would
really like to know how they do it.
when we were asked to look at improving selection and
development in Pharmaceutical companies it was natural
for us to include a lot of face to face interviewing
with high performers themselves. One role we investigated
is the role of the business developer whose job it is
to pave the way for representatives to sell and open
the door or keep it open for new products and services.
access to decision makers and influencers with the NHS
is a key issue here particularly for drug companies
where past behaviour has sometimes developed a climate
of hostility towards new business developers. What did
the high performing pharmaceutical business developers
access to the customer and developing relationships
said: “The job as I see it is to create a positive
environment for our sales force to operate in. I have
always seen it as selling the company as well as the
product. One thing I do a lot of is corporate presentations.
My colleagues were quite astonished at this at first.”
have to build relationships first, both with the organisation
and its people. The products will come into it but they
will come into it at the right time. It will never be
in their face. You have to build some trust. You mustn’t
go in there and slap them around the face with your
product. Because when you ring them up again they will
think, ‘not on your Nellie. I am not having you
back in here again’.”
sales people will just turn up and expect the customer
to see them. In the 8 years I have been doing this job
I have never gone somewhere without making an appointment.
If you don’t it devalues their time and yours.
And if someone says to me just call in and see if I
am here, I will say, I am sorry I haven’t got
time to do that.”
have to know your customer too. I would feel I was doing
a disservice to my customers if I didn’t make
an effort to find out as much as I could about their
environment. It is not their responsibility to train
me. One rep asked me who are the board members on the
PCG (Primary Care Group) and I just wrote back and said
this information is freely available on the internet.”
Solving their problems will help you with yours
high performer said: “Many of the people in the
NHS trusts and the prescribing units are too worried
about their jobs to think about placing orders with
me. So I facilitate training workshops on structure
change to help get the organisation settled and in a
position to talk with me on business.
do one a week for all the different sectors of the market.
I could have 30 people there down to 6 or 8 for a small
surgery and their staff. Subjects might include facilitation
skills, chairing meetings, time management and personal
development plans and appraisals. I also arrange for
guest speakers to talk about drugs and case studies.
company likes the credibility and it gives me access
to the customers. I never have a problem getting access
to key people. They ring me and ask if I can provide
a workshop or help them with some problem. If I do a
workshop I ask for a donation for charity.
people have to try and start walking in their customer’s
shoes. It’s when they can do this that they know
what the customer wants and able to give it to them”.
high performer developed some simple business planning
software and an accompanying book to be used by GP practices
for preparing and writing business plans for fund holding
Focus on your performance rather than action
performers represent a valuable source of learning and
our research shows the reason is simple enough. High
performers spend more time, about twice as much, thinking
about their performance and performance issues than
lower performers. They set themselves specific goals
in relation to performance such as the number of new
customers they want to sign up in a period and then
work out what actions they need to take to achieve those
also spend more time reviewing their performance. One
high performer would ring the sales office each Friday
to check his calculations of sales for the week. He
was rarely more than a pound or two adrift. “When
I start on Monday morning”, he said, “I
want to know exactly where I am and what I have to do
to achieve my next target.”
if they don’t write down their plan, which many
of them do, they have it in their head. First they work
out their objectives including how they will measure
them. Secondly they work out the actions necessary to
achieve their objectives including when they will take
them. Finally they will always be in touch with where
they are on the plan by reviewing it regularly. So they
will know what has been completed and what hasn’t.
what can you do to learn from high performers
all high performers will be happy to give away their
secrets but most will give you advice if you don’t
waste their time. Work out your questions in advance
and telephone them or invite them to lunch. Ask them
how they solve the problem that you have. For example,
how do you get new customers? How do you find out what
the customer wants? How to avoid the customer concentrating
you are a sales manager or director you could organise
a best practise workshop inviting the top performers
to discuss what works best in the most important steps
in the sales process such as getting leads, making contact,
influencing the sale and using the team.
summary, what can you learn from high performers?
Build relationships first, products come later.
• You have to demonstrate to the customer the
value of moving to your company.
• Always try to look at everything from the customer’s
viewpoint and not from the seller’s point of view.
Try to ‘sit on their side of the table’.
• Find out what the customer wants first. A benefit
is only a benefit if the customer wants it.
• When you offer a solution describe it in terms
of the value from the customer’s point of view.
James Thornhill is the MD of a selection and development
consultancy which has been researching the difference
between high and low performers in selling in partnership
with the Chartered Institute of Marketing for the last
3 years. The project launched the use of Biometric profiling
to identify sales potential by analysing subtle differences
in biology between humans from an hour long interview
video recording. The research has created performance
templates for different roles such as ‘hunters
and farmers’ and for specific industries such
as Pharmaceuticals. More than 75 major companies and
more than 200 sales people have been involved in the
research project to date.
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