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3 tips for salesmen to succeed

By Keith McFarland, BusinessWeek
June 30, 2006 15:18 IST
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Salespeople can drive you to drink. Practically every executive I know has a horror story about a seller who went over the top in a big way.

My friend and serial CEO Luther Nussbaum thinks he knows why. "Salespeople are the second most insecure people on the planet," he says. "Only actors are more insecure. They spend their lives in search of their version of applause -- a closed deal."

His favorite story is about one of his salesmen who, determined to win a sales contest, rented a warehouse at his own expense to house goods that he had shipped there (invoiced with terms so he didn't have to pay for the goods, of course, just the warehouse) in order to win by racking up more sales than his colleagues.

A zoo-full of adaptations

Whether Nussbaum's insecurity theory is right or not, most great salespeople are a breed apart, exotic animals that require special care and feeding. And it's not difficult to figure out why. The sales world is a "survival of the fittest" game -- only the creatures with the most successful adaptations to the environment win.

To succeed, a salesperson must have:

  • The hide of a rhino, to withstand constant rejection;
  • The stamina of a cheetah, to keep chasing a deal after all the others have given up, and;
  • The persistence of a hyena, to never take "no" for an answer;

The problem is the same qualities which make salespeople so successful out in the marketplace can cause them to wreak havoc when they return to the office and interact with the rest of the staff.

That thick hide that helps them handle rejection in the marketplace will, at times, cause them to come up short on the warm and fuzzies back at the home office. And that stamina and persistence you so value in your top producers? Expect it to be turned on you and your staff at times -- often with undesired results. Almost by definition, a great salesperson is going to try your patience.

In fact, if your salespeople aren't driving you at least a little bit crazy, you probably have the wrong salespeople (and revenue problems to boot). Instead of complaining about it, why not become a student of this rare but valuable species -- and learn how to handle them effectively?

A slide show on the six common types of salespeople -- folks like Negotiate-to-Death Neil and Throw-It-Over-the-Wall Wanda -- with advice on how to manage them, follows.

McFarland, a two-time technology CEO, is the founder and principal of McFarland Strategy Partners in Sandy, Utah. His clients include House of Blues, Vans, and other entrepreneurial companies. He is working on the upcoming book Breakthrough: Secrets of America's Best Growth Companies, (Crown, 2007).

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Keith McFarland, BusinessWeek