November 15, 2014
I’m often asked, “Who’s the best sales person you’ve ever known.” Recently, a colleague asked me this once again, he has some idea of compiling a list of these people.
I’ve thought long and hard about that. I’ve reflected on the thousands of sales people I’ve worked with over my career. I’ve reflected on stunning performances, outrageous wins, stellar quota attainment. I’ve finally come up with the answer.
The envelope please……….
Drum roll please……..
Pregnant pause, while I open the envelope (I’m sure many of you are wondering, “Do I know who he’ll name? Is it me?”)
The answer is…….
When my colleague compiling this list posed the question, I responded as I usually do, with lots of questions:
Living or Dead—some of the best I’ve seen, some who have mentored me have passed away.
Then I continued asking:
Field direct, inside sales, telesales, channel, SMB, Large Account, Global Account, Commoditized Product, Complex Systems, Services, Ideas, B2B, B2C, Retail, B2B2C, early stage start up, big brand/Fortune 500.
I continue asking:
Best quota performance, best sustained quota performance, best profitability, highest growth, biggest single deal, biggest year.
Or I might consider:
Individual contributor, team sales, account management, sales person, sales leader, sales manager, sales executive, business development, pre-sales, renewal sales.
I can go on. Personally, I’ve never met anyone is even good at all the things that I’ve outlined above, let alone the best. I’ve seen fantastic product sales people, who can’t transition into complex services. I’ve seen great B2B sales people who are clueless on B2C. I’ve seldom seen a successful large company sales person transition successfully to an early stage entrepreneurial company sales role and get it right—at least the first couple of times.
A friend and I joke, he’s one of the best One Call Close sales people I’ve ever met, I could never do what he has built a very successful career of doing. Yet, he looks at what I’ve done and couldn’t imagine success in the type of selling I think I’m good at.
I approach it from a different point of view.
At least 3 of the people I think of as the best sales people I’ve ever met, I’ve also fired for non performance in a sales job. They were truly outstanding sales people, but the wrong people for the jobs they were in. They went onto other sales roles with different companies and had stunning success.
Many of the people I would identify as the best sales people have never had a title of sales person and have never had a quota. They’ve been passionate, creative entrepreneurs–two have restructured much of what we think of as design and manufacturing, along the way building a multi-billion dollar business, Neither has ever held a sales position or had a quota. Some have been powerful development, operations, manufacturing, finance executives with huge ideas and abilities to convince their people, their suppliers, their shareholders, and their customers to be part of their vision.
Possibly, I would think of my parents, my wife, family, and a few friends who have seen more in me than I see in myself and were able to inspire/sell me on doing things I never would have had the courage to do otherwise. They are, to me, the very best sales people in the world, for what they encouraged me to do.
I distrust “Best lists.” Some are developed by a “vote for me approach,” perhaps they are the best at getting votes, but they may not be the Best for what they are being listed for. In some areas, Best can be measured by popularity, by follower, by likes. In sales, I think Best is measured by sustained performance.
I’ve been named to a number of Best list, while I am deeply flattered and appreciative of those who feel I am the best, privately I’m a little embarrassed and ashamed because I know my failings and failures. Somehow “best” and “failure” don’t seem compatible in the same sentence–yet, as I’ve discussed above, some of the best I know have had great failures–but it hasn’t stopped them from achieving.
Best is always transient. Best this month, this quarter, this year, biggest deal this year…… Right now, the best Major League Baseball Team is the San Francisco Giants. Next spring they are at the bottom with everyone else–0 Wins 0 Losses, 0 Ties. Right now the Germans have the Best World Cup Soccer team, but there is another World Cup in some years and they will be one of the teams starting at the bottom with everyone else.
The more I think about it, Best isn’t terribly interesting. What I’m really interested in is those people constantly committed to getting better. Those who, despite whatever success they’ve had, don’t think in terms of “best” but are always driven by getting better. People who know sustained performance is based on what you did, but what you are going to do, and how you continuously improve–keeping ahead of everyone else.