My sales mantra: choose your battles — play to your strengths

Always be authentic. Don’t adopt a persona that is not truly you.

Selling is complex, sales management even more so. But given that sales figures will ultimately spell success or failure for an organisation, it should be on everyone’s radar, including people in non-sales roles.

For those of us who are in sales, it’s worth taking a few moments to analyse what it is we do, and what we should be doing, to win sales — and perhaps reflect on what works really well, for each of us as individuals, and for the organisations we work for.

It is critical that we analyse what we do well, what are our key strengths and based on that, our sales focus — be it segments, customers or solutions. However, while many of us do this, we need to also list what we won’t do. This is critical for us to stay on course.

Relationships count for everything, and they go much deeper into the organisation than just sales.

Every organisation will have its own model, incentive scheme, market and customer dynamics, product sets and services, brand awareness and market reputation. Yet there are traits I think we all share, and we are all subject to similar challenges and opportunities. As Andris A. Zoltners, P.K. Sinha and Sally E. Lorimer reminded us in an article in the Harvard Business Review back in September, sales — especially free ones — cost us money.

They also recommend that we focus on the difficult targets, for this reason. I have a slightly different view: focus on the deals to be won. Defocus, or reassign, those that are at more risk.

How does “play to your strengths” play out in practice? Here are eight steps to land a sale and keep your customer coming back for more:

  1. Stretch the bell curve, but understand it still exists. Not everyone in your sales organisation will be at the top end of the skills and success bell curve, and like everyone else, sales executives prefer to sit just on, or just behind, the bell curve. If you stretch it, so that targets are in reach but remain realistic, they will line up just behind it and still outperform . Be too conservative, and everyone falls short. At the same time, give the team challenges they can achieve and feel motivated to fulfil. Winning is a drug.
  2. Relationships are key. Relationships count for everything, and they go much deeper into the organisation than just sales. Organisations establish trust with customers based on credibility, delivering, fixing problems, and on understanding customers’ needs — at the point of sale, and into the deliver phase. “Selling and running” might close a quarter, but will likely not close a repeat sale — and we all know that repeat sales are faster, easier and cheaper than new ones. Relationships rule.
  3. Create your plan. Involve your sales teams, their support teams (both pre-sales and delivery), your executive team, your regional general managers, sales operations, product, and marketing. Whatever the quarter-end pressure, never “just sell” and always sell to the plan.
  4. Prioritise. Now that you’re clear about what you plan to do, be equally clear about what you plan not to do: even the largest organisations have finite resources, and if you are unclear about objectives and planning, you may well divert resources away from the sales to be won. For example, market share is not the same as market opportunity: one region may well be a market leader, but have few opportunities ahead, whilst the next region may have low brand awareness but a huge sales upside. Where will you go? Don’t try to do everything — you’ll end up doing nothing well. Also remember you weigh your addressable market based on your strength and not just by market size.
  5. Always sell to your strengths. This requires leadership candour and grit, perhaps where sales leaders have the most value to offer. Calling a sales quota against realistic strengths will carry you towards the sales to be won. Calling a number against weaker offerings can, at best, only make things harder. At worst, you miss your quota — still the best way to demotivate a sales organisation (and to get the attention of its senior leadership).
  6. Build momentum. Once it exists, document your plan, and get support across the organisation for it: use that organisational momentum to carry you faster towards those sales to be won. Make sure that the entire team has one goal. They may have different tasks — but there is one goal!
  7. Be authentic. Earlier in my career, at the suggestion of some feedback I had received, I adopted a more-aggressive stance in sales negotiations. I missed my personal touch that came from the heart, the relationship and understanding of my customers. I lost sales as a result — the customers somehow knew what they saw wasn’t me. I’m still aggressive and passionate about sales, but that aggression and passion are directed towards providing a solution to the customer, being a partner and ensuring all round success — not simply beating my quota (though beating the quota is critical). This is the difference between what I call “blind aggression” — aggression for its own sake, and “directed aggression” — aggression with purpose.
  8. Know your market, and know your customers. Strike that meaningful balance between sales resources, market share and market size, the roles of your third-party reseller partners (they can operate where you shouldn’t, or where you can’t), and be clear about the balance between pushing to sell, and allowing the customer to buy.

Being in a sales role demands nerve and focus, support and the freedom to sell, direction and the option to move quickly when all the signals say “go”. Whatever your level — beginner or director, harvester or hunter, — being focused, clear and authentic about who you are and what you seek to achieve, will improve your sales results.

Lastly, I want to leave you with a critical thought. Are you being innovative and allowing your teams to be innovative? Are you encouraging your teams to try things differently? To be contributors and creators, or are you expecting them to just toe the line?

Go sell and Keep Rockin’.

About the Author

Sumir Bhatia leads Lenovo’s Data Center Group (DCG) in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region. He and his team offer customer-focused solutions for a rapidly changing world. Start a conversation with him here, or on LinkedIn and Twitter.

President of Lenovo Data Center Group, Asia Pacific