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The Birth of a Salesman: What makes a great salesperson in China?


If you are a lawyer, you studied law. If you are an accountant, you studied accountancy, and if you are an engineer, you studied engineering. However, there is no Bachelor of Applied Sales. No Degree of Haggling. So how does someone become skilled in the sales profession? What are the characteristics of a ‘qualified’ sales person? This is the question I have been asking my trainees at the beginning of my sales training. In small groups, they fill a flip chart with adjectives, often arguing amongst themselves in the process. The result is that everyone is right in identifying the qualities of any successful business person. However, they have not specifically identified the key qualities of a salesperson.

Quality Sales

There are five qualities that a great sales person must have in order to break away from the pack. Salespeople who do exceptionally well tend to excel in terms of their product knowledge; they are adept at uncovering needs; they possess charisma, helping to build goodwill; they persist in making the sales calls and entering the data into the CRM system; they also have a habit of following through with promises.

Product Knowledge

I am amazed at how little some salespeople know about their products and services. Mind you, because I am in sales, I tend to quiz service staff more than the usual customer, and generally I am unimpressed. That’s not to say that sales ability in China hasn’t improved over the ten years that I have lived here. It’s just nowhere near international standards – yet.

How can you improve your team’s product knowledge?

If you manage a sales team in China, conduct regular service and product knowledge tests with your team. Don’t assume that they know as much as you do –find out. You might even want to link career promotions to product knowledge, as I do in my firm. Try running a simple pop quiz with your salespeople this Monday and see how they fare.

Uncovering Needs

In my book, ‘Selling Big to China’, I highlight the importance of uncovering needs, and the ways in which these needs can be uncovered. This technique is called ‘funneling’, and unfortunately, again, few salespeople have been taught this invaluable skill. I was lucky to learn funneling early into my career (15 years ago). In a nutshell, it involves first asking open, non-leading questions, followed by open, leading questions and finally closed, leading questions. I n between the questioning you summarise what the client has said, and therefore clarify your understanding, while building goodwill through the use of positive language. This technique, known in some circles as the ‘rolling whys’, results in uncovering the client’s hidden needs, which you can then match with your company’s features, to demonstrate a benefit.

How can you improve your team’s ability to uncover needs?

Role play, role play and more role play is the best way for sales people to become comfortable with asking question after question in a sales call, without annoying the client or appearing too invasive. Break into pairs, let one colleague play the role of client with a hidden need, and have the other colleague funnel in order to find the hidden need. Each role play should take less than ten minutes, and feedback should be given by each partner.

Charisma and Goodwill

Goodwill is vital in sales; salespeople without charisma appear slimy, cold or untrustworthy. Unfortunately, charisma is not easily learnt – although, I d o believe that it can be. Ever heard of a shy salesperson? Unlikely, and yet any great salespeople started off in their lives as the shy ones. They grew out of it, and grew into their charisma, most likely by mirroring others around them.

How can you improve your team’s ability to build goodwill?

Start with a review of each salesperson’s current level of charisma. This can be achieved through a 360 degree analysis, or a smaller Johari Window exercise, a type of personality review conducted by peers to uncover the hidden qualities of an individual in order to help them grow. Regardless of the methodology, e a c h salesperson should be aware of how others perceive their personality, so they can take action to improve.

Persistance, not Guanxi

Some believe that guanxi alone is the deciding factor to be a great salesperson. I disagree. Guanxi will get your career started, but two years later, if you don’t have the quality of persistence to gain new business then you will have dried up all of your connections.

In my firm we measure this quality of persistence in the form of the ‘Quality Score’. This continuous 30 day score measures the amount of smart legwork that each of our salespeople are making and gives them a running total. It’s a requirement that all sales staff maintain a ‘Quality Score’ of 1,000 points or more, and they achieve this by e-mailing (one point), making phone calls (five points), attending networking events (15 points) and having face-to-face meetings (20 points). Maintaining 1,000 points shouldn’t be difficult to maintain, as it is only slightly less than 50 points a day, and it is easy to see which new salespeople will excel, and who will bomb-out, from this metric.

How can you improve your team’s persistence?

Embed activity measurements into your salespeople’s KPIs – not just results. While closing a deal is your ultimate goal, that action is completely under the control of the customer – that’s right, a customer closes the deal, not your sales team. Ensure that you are measuring what your salespeople have 100 per cent control over – their activity.

Keeping Promises

And finally, sales staff not only have to get their clients signature on the dotted line, they also need to follow through with their promises. Any gap between promise and delivery will damage the probability of repeat business, and we all know that it costs five to 20 times more to secure new business than simply maintaining a pool of delighted customers. Unfortunately, some sales people are ideal ‘hunters’, but poor ‘farmers’ who find it difficult to cultivate and nurture lasting relationships. As many companies require their salespeople to carry out both functions, it is important that processes are in place to help the forgetful amongst us to commit to promises.

How can you improve your team’s habit to follow through with promises?

Many of your sales people would rather be meeting clients, than adding content into calendars and diaries. Nevertheless, I’ve seen sales people who have excelled at the four other qualities, only to be let down by a lack of follow through on promises. Sometimes this was as ridiculous as forgetting to send contracts to their client. Therefore, ensure that your CRM system provides reminders and also allows line managers to have an overview of the days’, weeks ’ and months’ activities of their entire team.

Being ‘qualified’ is not a cut and dried distinction in sales; hitting targets and maintaining a pool of repeat business is far more desirable than any degree. But by focussing and measuring the above five qualities you will be able to assist each member of your sales team to be come truly qualified for sales, arguably the most important function of a company

This article is courtesy of the Shanghai Business Review.

About the author

Morry Morgan is the author of ‘Selling Big to China – Negotiating Principles for the World’s Largest Market’ and co-founder of Clark Morgan Corporate Training. He has been conducting consulting and training in the fields of sales, negotiations and presentations for Global 1000 companies operating in Greater China since 2001. In 2007 and 2008 his firm was awarded ‘Training Firm of the Year’ in the CCH China Staff Awards.