Which skills are needed for success in sales? 3 experts weigh in

by John Siegel
January 30, 2018

A career in sales can be among the most financially fruitful professions, but it can also prove to be among the most challenging. Successful sales professionals have to learn how to take the big wins with the bitter defeats, all while honing a pitch that takes into account the unique pain points of each customer and drives home the value proposition of the product or service they're selling. We spoke with three local sales leaders about what traits salespeople need to possess if they want to succeed in tech.


momentfeed customer relationship management marketing startup los angeles

Ray Rike
Senior Vice President

Ray Rike is a true tech veteran, with a resume showcasing experience at prestigious companies like GE, Netscape, Accruent, and — now — MomentFeed, where he serves as senior vice president of sales for the customer experience management platform. With experience dating back to the 1980s, Rike has a pretty good idea of what it takes to succeed in sales, but when it comes down to it, there are a number of traits an individual should possess in order to become a successful sales representative.

 

What are a few intangibles that every salesperson requires in order to be successful?

Curiosity — it's what we actively seek during the hiring process. What has the applicant done to show curiosity?

Drive — how does the applicant demonstrate the drive to succeed? They might recount a time when they were involved in a competitive sport and were constantly trying to better themselves. Or it could simply be discussing their passion for sales and mentioning how they’re eager to see their name at the top of the list in quota performance.

Business intelligence — they should be someone who loves to understand business and considers themselves to be a student of business. For example, when they first begin interacting with a new potential customer, they should learn so much about their business when they walk in and talk to a C-level person, that they could be confused for someone who works there.

 

What’s one quality that you wish everyone on your team could possess?

Self-awareness — one of the most important characteristics of a sales professional is their reactions when they lose a deal or win a deal. Can they look into the mirror and say, “What could I have done differently or what did I learn from this opportunity?”

Instead of looking at all external factors, such as, “the product wasn’t what they were looking for” or “the buyer didn’t understand what they wanted/needed” or “the price was too high,” it’s more about “how could I have aligned our solution to articulate the business value for an executive buyer earlier?”

 

How do you work with the individual members of your team to help them be more successful?

Clear objective setting. A lot of sales leaders will just say “this is your quota,” but there are activities and steps to achieving a quota. Once you have the objectives clearly set, it’s through collaboration with deal strategy. Sitting down and strategizing on how to create the next step of the deal structure is how good sales managers help their sales reps and account executives to be very successful.

 

What are your expectations for a sales team member’s ramp-up period?

It really is dependent on the complexity of the solution you have.

Here at MomentFeed, we sell a mobile customer experience platform, and it’s helping large multi-location retailers optimize their engagement with their consumers through every step of the buyer journey, from awareness to consideration to preference to purchase and then loyalty and advocacy.

Because it’s such a complex sale, it’s going to take us six months until a new account executive is able to produce a 100 percent quota expectation. In the first three months, they’re focused on understanding the solution, sales process and buyers. We have zero expectation for closing in the first three months. And then for months four through six — or the second quarter — we’re looking at 50 percent of total quota capacity performance. Starting in month seven, 100 percent.

 

What’s one piece of advice you would give to an entry-level salesperson?

Identify a mentor. If your organization doesn’t have a mentorship program in place, seek out another sales rep who has been successful in the company. Not only does this help build relationships, but you have someone outside of your direct line of reporting to help you.

Set monthly goals. 30-60-90 day goals. For example, a 30-day goal could be assessing whether you are effectively communicating the elevator pitch. For a 60-day goal, focus on generating at least X number of new sales meetings with your targeted buyer personas. As for the 90-day goal, reflect on your sales conversations — how many of those conversations converted into an opportunity?

 

procore carpinteria software startup

Peter Huston
Global VP of Sales Development

Like Rike, Procore’s Peter Huston possesses an enviable resume garnering experience at Dell SecureWorks and Marin Software over his professional career. As someone who has worked his way up the chain to the role of vice president of global sales development, Huston admitted that the drive to succeed is only one piece of the sales puzzle.

 

What are a few intangibles that every salesperson needs in order to be successful?

It goes without saying that every good salesperson needs to embody a strong work ethic, but that should not simply be considered the ticket for entry into what is a highly competitive role.  A good salesperson can really differentiate themselves and experience success through their tenacity, creativity and insatiable thirst for learning. Find a way to motivate yourself through the initial prospect pushback. Have daily/weekly goals for achieving success, and don’t stop until you get there. Use creativity to turn the "no" you might have received into a new conversation focused on a value driver, insight or pain point.  Finally, spend time learning from training courses, sales books, peers and managers. This will help you deliver value to your prospect and, in turn, increase sales and career progression.

 

What’s one quality everyone on your team possesses?

If I had to choose one characteristic I find that has the most impact in sales, it would be optimism. Sales is a difficult yet rewarding career, full of big wins and tough losses with no shortage of change. Choose to find the positive every day despite losing a deal, being told "no,” or working through business changes. Great books like "The Happiness Advantage" explain that it's not success that drives happiness, but the inverse. Happiness and optimism drive success.

 

How do you work with the individual members of your team to help them be more successful?

Learning and development is a critical part of the success of our team's growth. Procore has always believed that if we hire optimistic, hard-working team members and heavily invest in their professional development, we’ll build a world-class business development team with unlimited potential. I firmly believe that focusing on developing core competencies on a consistent basis not only helps drive toward a higher level of mastery in the current role, it also sets up our team members for success in their career.

 

What are your expectations for a sales team member’s ramp-up period?

Our goal is to help new team members ramp-up quickly to meet both quantifiable and qualitative metrics. Procore has years of historical success metrics to set attainable targets. We have found that, in tandem with training, the sooner our sales representatives start talking to prospects, the faster they build their confidence. New members are paired with “buddies” who are asked to support and shadow new hires as they learn the ropes and our tenured members of the team make sure they reach their full potential.

 

What’s one piece of advice you would give to an entry-level salesperson?

I've found that much of what I've learned during my sales career was taught to me on the sales floor, in the field or at home reading. One of the best ways to start as a new sales rep is to take every chance you get to better understand your company's industry and the product and sales methodologies, then apply those learnings to your conversations with prospects. 

 

wpromote el segundo marketing advertising startup

Justin McLennan
Senior Director, Sales Operations at Wpromote

Having originally joined the company as a sales associate back in 2010, Wpromote’s Justin McLennan has seen just about every type of sale a professional can, rising from senior sales executive, shifting to focus on outbound sales, new business, sales operations and finally, to senior director, sales operations. Given his obvious knack for the art of selling, McLennan looks for a very specific collection of tools in his sales team.

 

What are a few intangibles that every salesperson needs in order to be successful?

We believe every salesperson needs to possess perseverance, composure, a set of core beliefs and values, competitiveness, integrity and organizational skills. While these are not the only intangibles one must possess in order to be successful, these qualities help build the foundation of a successful salesperson.

 

What’s one quality that you wish everyone on your team could possess?

One quality that we wish everyone on our team possessed would be leadership. In order to be a leader, one must possess important qualities such as vision, courage, integrity, humility, teamwork and grit, among others. If everyone on our team possessed the qualities that make a great leader, every day we would be striving as a team to be better than we were the day before.

 

How do you work with the individual members of your team to help them be more successful?

Finding out their preferred communication style, what motivates them and what causes them to become unmotivated are important. Once those conversations have occurred, we work with them to ensure that goals and tasks are created and presented in a manner that will help them succeed. When one does run into challenges, we maintain a mindset focusing on what we can do to overcome those challenges, versus knocking them down for lower performance numbers.

 

What are your expectations for a sales team member’s ramp-up period?

Nine months to a year. We operate in an extremely fast-paced industry that is constantly changing, and in order to keep up with the industry shifts, we are constantly evolving our services and offerings. As a result, it takes a minimum of three-to-six months to catch up. On top of those months, we add another three-to-six months for learning our sales strategy and processes. All in all, we believe it takes between nine months and a year in order to put everything together confidently.

 

What’s one piece of advice you would give to an entry-level salesperson?

Make sure you love the company, it's offerings and the people around you. Sales is a constant game of ups and downs. The high times are great but the low times can be tough. Believe in your offering and having the support of those around you within a great culture is key for helping yourself through the tough times.

 

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