Sales Superstar

Hiring a Enterprise Sales Superstar . . . I recently got an email about the need for a sales “superstar” at a hot Silicon Valley technology startup.  It got me thinking. 
  1. If a young company really needs a superstar, why?
  2. What criteria are most important?  For example, how much is a rolodex really worth?
  3. What are the real talents of a superstar?
  4.  Are there all kinds of different profiles of superstar depending on the company’s product, market, timing, etc?
  5. Is “sells high” – to senior executives – really dictated by the rep or the company or the product? 

We’ve all seen it a million times, “we require the very best,” or “only A+ sales candidates,” or “in need of sales superstar.”  But what are they really after?  I always watch how an organization or person acts vs what they say.  Much more telling.  A company that says it wants superstars but pays for Bs and Cs doesn’t really want a superstar.  A company that says it wants only the best but manages via activity doesn’t really value those talents.  Bottom line, most of the time companies say they want sales superstars what they mean is they want more sales with the current culture, model, or process. Guess what, that rarely caters to superstars.

But wait a second, let’s back up.  I thought there wasn’t a need for sales superstars anymore?  They’re expensive, hard to manage prima donnas, cowboys and dinosaurs.  And besides, “Sales 2.0” took care of this problem, right?

Not so much.

First, if you sell something relatively expensive and complex to the enterprise, and the total value isn’t obvious or easily understood, a superstar will make a big difference.  As much today as yesterday.

Second sales superstars never did much of the stuff that Sales 2.0 is purporting to automate or make much more efficient.  That includes things like generating more leads, setting up more meetings, focusing on products & features, doing tons of demos, etc.  Almost all current Sales 2.0 tools focus on efficiency vs effectiveness anyway.

Great salespeople are distinguished by their effectiveness, not efficiency.  They basically do three things better than everyone else: 1 They improve your opportunity to deal conversion rate.  2 They improve your ASP.  3 They improve your sales cycle time.   This is WHY you hire a superstar.  Everything else is noise.

Think of two basketball players.  One hoists 20 shots a game and makes 25% of them, doesn’t play any defense, rebound, or pass.  The other judiciously only takes 10 shots a game, but makes half.  And he takes the right shots, and when necessary the hard shots.  He rebounds passes and plays D and is otherwise a FAR more effective player.  Too many sales managers confuse these two guys because they both score the same number of points.

Here are the three talents I would select for in a sales superstar first if I was selling a new, expensive, complex solution to the enterprise: 
  • Insatiable Curiosity: An absolute key to great complex selling is “finding the problem” or pain or opportunity.  Digging.  Like being a doctor diagnosing.  It’s Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit: Seek First to Understand.
  • Master Rapport building ability: I think people too often confuse this with “being likable.”  Being likable is obviously not a bad thing, but being credible, having a sense of humor, and striving to immediately add value to a conversation is not something easily taught.
  • Need and ability to DRIVE:  Don’t confuse with internal Drive.  Again, that’s not a bad thing, but having drive and being able to drive are different (even if connected).  Great sales people feel compelled to drive and know how to drive.  How to drive a conversation.  How to drive a team.  How to drive a customer.  How to drive a process.  There are lots of jobs and roles and responsibilities where this isn’t super necessary.  Being a great Enterprise Sales Rep isn’t one of them.
Clearly these all touch one another.  Asking great questions can help build credibility and rapport.   Do industry experience and a Rolodex and great work ethic and upbeat personality and teamwork count for nothing?  Of course not, but I’d check that stuff after selecting for the core talents.

One final thought: when you have two very good sales people you’re trying to distinguish, I believe at my core the number one fundamental skill that rises above all others is the superstar will be a better qualifier.  When you see someone who knows how to qualify well it may not strike you as “selling.”  But trust me, it is.