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What Makes a Sales Superstar? 'Telling Is Not Selling'

May 08, 2015
By Tracey E. Schelmetic - Telemarketing Software Contributor

Every sales organization has a few of them over the years: sales superstars who seem to have a golden touch. While other sales personnel may do reasonably well, they have to work very hard for it. The superstars just seem to have the instinct to do what’s right. Most sales managers wish they could clone these people, or understand precisely what it is that makes them so good.

There have been scientific studies undertaken to discover what traits sales superstars have over other sales personnel. One of the largest was a study sponsored by IBM (News - Alert) and Xerox and conducted by Huthwaite Inc. which set out to analyze over 35,000 sales calls to determine the most important elements of sales success. The researchers tried to determine if there were any special skills possessed by superstars that others could emulate. Despite theories – the appearance of the sales person, the oration skills, or other characteristics – it was determined that listening was one of the most valuable traits of a sales superstar.

Vel Casler, a professor of professional sales at Weber State University, recently addressed the study in an article for Utah’s Standard Examiner.

“Researchers were quite surprised to discover that the secret to successful sales calls was that the buyer did most of the talking,” he wrote. “The way they got the buyer to talk was, of course, by asking questions — not just any questions but specific meaningful questions that in most cases, were predetermined before they ever met with the prospect. These were not random questions but questions asked in a well thought out, carefully planned sequence.”

Often, sales personnel are so focused on their pitch that they seem to forget that prospects have specific interests, needs and questions that must be addressed, and the only way to determine what these are is to close the mouth and open the ears. The IBM/Xerox study supports this conventional wisdom.

“By contrast, they [the researchers] discovered that in the unsuccessful calls, the salesperson spent most, if not all of their time, telling the prospect about their product’s features, advantages, and benefits rather than asking questions to uncover the prospect’s real needs,” wrote Casler. “They learned a valuable axiom: Telling is Not Selling.”

IBM and Xerox, companies that rely heavily on the skills of sales professionals, were able to parlay this knowledge into sales training and reap some valuable rewards from it. A pilot program to train 1,000 sales professionals with the new methods of formulating questions, asking them and listening carefully yielded an average 17 percent increase in sales volume compared to an untrained control group.

If you’re looking for an extra “edge” in your sales, help your sales professionals – whether they work via telephone or in-person – to stop pitching and start asking questions. What they learn from prospects may make a great deal of difference in how the transaction ultimately turns out.