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Beating inertia: Nine tips to build your team’s sales IQ 

At MaRS, we’re fortunate to work with many sales leaders at high-growth technology startups to help them build their teams, align and build processes, and ensure their teams are enabled through content and tools. 

These sales leaders are faced with stressful challenges, such as: 

It is no wonder PayScale rated the account manager role as the second most stressful job, next to financial aid counsellor. In a 2011 survey, PayScale reported that 73% of respondents rated the role as “highly stressful.” 

We know great sales pipelines are filled with pre-qualified prospects ready to buy. Unfortunately, this is often not the case in a high-growth technology startup, especially at the early stage when they are trying to get to product–market fit. At this stage, sales leaders often feel like they are selling “magic” or “hope.” This can contribute to the amount of anxiety a sales leader faces, especially during renewal periods. 

This leaves us with a couple of questions we must answer in order to be successful: 

  1. How do you get in the correct frame of mind each day?
  2. What steps can you take to overcome these challenges?

To answer these questions, I’ve developed nine tips to overcome inertia, regain your confidence and build your sales IQ.

1. Know your product and customer

A sales leader once told me, “Know more than the engineer who built it.” Every little detail matters when you’re selling technology. No pressure, right? Unfortunately, it is the reality. Today’s customers are far more prepared and armed with information. 

In some cases, they know more than the sales rep pitching them. 

To get a head start, understand your ideal customer profile (ICP), including customer use cases. Identify their pain points and the problem you are solving at each step of the buyer journey. 

I also find it handy to have a strategic messaging framework nearby so you can clearly differentiate your value proposition versus your competitors’. This type of document is always changing, so be sure to put client feedback in the CRM or send it directly to the marketing team.

2. Master your industry

Know the industry lingo. Speak the industry language. If you are new to sales, it is useful to attend the same events your customers do, read industry publications and participate in networking communities where your customer resides. I also recommend getting two mentors in the space—typically someone more senior and someone more junior if possible. 

Look for opportunities to be mentored. In many cases, you’ll have to give before you take in terms of time with your mentor. It’s really important to understand this. To do so, I recommend reading Give and Take by Adam Grant (check out this overview of his book).

Gone are the days of the three-martini lunch and signing SOWs on the golf course with a handshake and a pat on the back. Today’s technology sales rep has to be forward-thinking, curious, humble and ready to adjust to customer behaviour based on their industry knowledge. 

3. Audit your competitors

This sounds cliché and super difficult, considering there are ove 7,000 martech technologies competing for our customers’ time, but again, it’s the reality. You must clearly understand how you’re different and be up to speed on your competition. I recommend doing a brand audit if you really want to go deep on competitors, or simply use the strategic messaging framework mentioned earlier. Savvy reps will also contact competitors under the guise of a customer to learn how they deal with the same sales objections. This sounds a bit creepy, but it garners a lot of information the rep can later use to differentiate.  

4. Understand your customer’s day-to-day life

What does a day in the life of your customer look like? 

Often, we forget our customers are people too. You can get a sense of how they are feeling by using very strong discovery questions or attending events they’re at and simply eavesdropping on the conversations being had outside the event programming. 

I’ve learned so much about my customers by listening to the conversations they have at events. It’s helped me learn a lot about how they manage internal politics and the pressures they face in their personal lives. This kind of insight is invaluable as you begin the relationship-building process with your customers. (See “Have empathy,” below.) 

5. Map the sales process

The best sales reps know this inside and out. 

While your counterparts complain about data entry or accounting or procurement, you’re busy learning the sales process and speeding the time to close. It is what it is. The best reps are learning it and navigating it with ease. Eventually, your colleagues will ask, “How are you closing so much?”

To do this, start with a simple sales process map and clearly define each stage: 

Be sure to document all internal red tape you’ll need to manage at each stage in order to move the sale along. 

6. Have empathy

Slow down, breathe and align yourself with your customers and colleagues. Meet them where they are. After all, your customers are people too. Make sure you’re focusing on the welfare, interests and needs of your customers. Key into their values and shared interests, sense your shared human values, suspend your own judgment, and connect with and listen to them. This does not mean getting caught up in their melodrama, but it does mean being at a certain periphery that enables you to be empathetic.  

7. Develop emotional awareness

In addition to identifying your own emotions, try to identify the emotions of those around you. 

No one likes to deal with someone who listens to respond or is clearly letting their emotions get the better of them. 

The key is to understand your own internal triggers, which could be a person, a thought, a thing, a food and so on. I recommend tracking your emotions and triggers for a few weeks to recognize them and see what antidotes help you overcome them.  

Look for these same triggers in your customers. Some of the best reps I’ve seen have been able to read the room, sense emotions and move the conversation forward. 

8. Be assertive

No, this doesn’t mean you become a jerk. It means you can be confident without being arrogant or egotistical. Make sure you keep yourself in check on this. I recommend reading Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday to understand how important it is to be assertive, but to not come across as an egotistical person.

9. Enjoy delayed gratification

It’s so easy to want to “ring that bell.” The reality is the most successful reps are the ones who are intrinsically motivated. They’re strategic, methodical and not as extroverted as one would think. They support their colleagues and are humble, curious and driven. They get their motivation from others.

Believe it or not, they are rarely motivated by money! It is about the fulfillment of building a world-class book of business and a killer pipeline, and the satisfaction of closing large deals for the company. 

It takes time and practice

Overall, it takes time and practice to beat inertia. To do this, I recommend working on and tracking these skill sets over the next 60 to 90 days. Look for ways you’ve improved weekly, and reward yourself when you actively practice them.   

Wishing you great success on your sales and mental health journey.

#emotionalintelligence #salesleadership #b2bsales #salesIQ