What Separates Great From Average Salespeople?

Many things make the difference, including curbing the urge to talk

May 10, 2018
great salesperson

Think someone’s a great salesperson because he closes a lot of business? Maybe because every four out of ten appointments results in a signed contract?

Experts on the sales profession will say that’s the proverbial tip of the iceberg. A lot goes into sales excellence, and when you’re talking about home improvement—business-to-consumer sales with an average ticket much higher than most products—this is especially true.

What’s it take? It’s probably someone who’s not only a closer, but a moral force with unstoppable drive, who’s rarely (if ever) discouraged, and who builds a relationship with the customer that translates to additional business—reducing your marketing cost and the stress of managing mediocre people.

There are a lot of opinions about what exactly makes up such a person, but much has to do with commitment: You become what you make up your mind to be. “Most people would say something along the lines of: great salespeople are charismatic, slick, outgoing alphas,” says blogger Steli Efti. “The reality is much more boring. The biggest difference between great salespeople and good salespeople is consistency.”

First Step

But consistent what? Start with results. Internationally celebrated sales guru Brian Tracy says if you’re looking to become a great salesperson, the way to start is by figuring out how much money you want to make. Set “clear income and sales goals,” he writes. “The act of sitting down and deciding, in writing, how much you want to earn, and how you are going to go about earning it, makes it far more likely that you will achieve those goals than if you didn’t set them at all.”

Say you’re a window rep, at a company where the average sale is $10,000 and the commission pay is 10 percent. You want to earn $200,000? Simple enough: You need to sell at least 200 jobs. At least, because some percentage of those jobs—let’s say about 15 percent (the industry average), depending on product and company—will fail to become revenue, due to cancellations or financing problems.

So, you know you need to sell 225 jobs in order for 200 to clear and for you to make the $200,000 you aspire to earn. Now you’ve got a goal. But many mediocre salespeople also have sales goals. What do you do with it? “Great salespeople set goals,” says The Sales Hunter, Mark Hunter. “But unlike average salespeople who also set goals, great salespeople are continually measuring their performance and looking for ways to achieve their goals.”

Time, Time, Time

However they achieve them, they are bound by the same time constraints that limit the rest of us. “Success in sales involves juggling many different tasks—some tedious and time consuming, but simply cannot be avoided,” notes blogger Will Brooks of the Brooks Group, “That’s where solid time management comes into play. It’s a discipline that the most successful salespeople have mastered and incorporate into their daily routines.”

As with anything, this discipline consists of various techniques. Eliminating nonessential tasks is one of them, according to Brooks, and focusing on a single task at a time is another. But learning to recognize where such decisions are appropriate and getting into the habit of making them rote is not easy. And technology, always aiming for efficiency, makes time management a fluid exercise. Adapting and mastering technology, however, provides a crucial edge.

“Time management is one of the most challenging disciplines for salespeople to master,” says Andrew Quinn. He advises salespeople to “automate as much of your non-selling activities as possible,” and to “streamline repeatable tasks.”

Example? Create email templates, so you’re not writing a brand-new email every time you contact a prospect. That alone might save 15 or 20 minutes a shot. Another Quinn offers is that “instead of formulating a brand new list of questions each time you talk to a prospect, develop a core set you can work from and customize.” In other words, work from a presentation you know inside out. Then use proposal-writing software to reduce to mere minutes the hours it can take to format and write a siding or combo job proposal.

Is It My Turn To Talk?

So you know what you want, and you’re fast on your feet. Great, but home improvement selling is a highly personal activity where nuances such as eye contact, vocal tone, and body language are at least as significant as numbers written on paper. All these figure into generating the rapport that builds a relationship with the prospect. How do you get your arms around all that?

Zorian Rotenberg offers 14 sales skills every rep must master, and number five is “active listening.” Listening is a skill, not a temperamental trait someone may or may not be disposed to engage in. For salespeople, it’s an essential skill. The average person hears between 20,000 and 30,000 words in the course of a day, so they may not be all that inclined to pay attention to what you’re saying.

Communications experts describe various levels and styles of listening (“empathetic listening,” “comprehensive listening,” and “critical listening”) but to simplify, listening is either passive or active. Active listening involves slowing the conversation down, not interrupting, clarifying, and paraphrasing so that not only do you understand, but the prospect knows you understand and care enough to make the effort.

One pointer Lindsay Kolowich offers is that the active listener should remember anecdotes. “When you take notes during your conversation, include those personal anecdotes so you can use them when you follow up," she writes. "Acknowledging these friendly reference will help you build rapport with your prospects.”

Developing listening skills and mastering the art of rapport are more important to sales success than ever today. Peter Caputa, a blogger for HubSpot, makes the crucial point that with all the information out there online, salespeople “don’t hold all of the cards anymore.”

That’s as true in home improvement as it is in selling anything. A decade ago homeowners had little choice but to take more or less on faith what a roofing, siding, or window salesperson said about the house, the product, or the company. Today, consumers research. “As a result, it’s harder for salespeople to demonstrate their expertise," he writes. "And if they can’t demonstrate expertise, it becomes all the more difficult to establish credibility and eventually build trust. Without credibility and trust, a salesperson will likely lose the interest of their prospect ... or worse, never really gain their interest.”

Which gets back to listening. The problem, Caputa says, is that “too often, salespeople are waiting for their turn to talk or thinking about what to say next, instead of truly listening to the prospect.” Active listening is the antidote to this bad sales habit. Some say the difference between pretending to listen and learning to actively listen is the top sales skill. “Curbing the urge to talk,” says business coach Liz Wendling, “is a sales behavior worth spending time on to master.”

Need To Win

There are lots of things that go into making a great salesperson. And a great salesperson, author Grant Cardone argues in Sell or Be Sold: How to Get Your Way in Business and Life, is the only kind that really matters. “If you’re not going to be great in sales, go get another career,” he writes, “because it’s too hard to do if you’re not going to succeed.”

One way great salespeople get to greatness is by investing “in their education, development, and personal motivation, knowing that these are the tools of a sales professional.” The great salesperson is the one at a meeting, conference, or training session furiously scribbling away.

Finally there’s the commitment to success, described on various lists of Great Salesperson attributes as “ego drive.” That’s about a kind of motivation that extends beyond the bounds of money, metrics, or sales-meeting glory. “The great salespeople need to make the sale not just for the money, but for themselves,” according to lead delivery system Precise Leads. “They need to win.”

About the Author


About the Author


Philadelphia-based writer Jim Cory is a senior contributing editor to Professional Remodeler who specializes in covering the remodeling and home improvement industry. Reach him at coryjim@earthlink.net.

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