What Makes Someone Good At Sales?

Guest post time! I met today’s guest blogger via my work at Weber State University. My new friend, Matthew Lampros, has devoted much of his life to the development of a sales-success theory. I was super impressed with what he’s learned and how he explained it to me. So I asked him to write about it! Like anyone who is involved in a search he has found several dead-ends but also like anyone who has kept at it he’s found some fantastic pearls of wisdom amidst all of the noise in this sector called “sales”.

He was gracious enough to agree to share some of those with us here at Startup Flavor. So here is Matts theory…or, rather, what he’s learned about what makes someone good at selling.

I’ve spent an entire career testing and implementing new sales systems into all types of organizations. There are a few things I’ve found during this time Simple is best. Complex sales systems are exciting but they rarely work. Like the weather, the marketplace is too unpredictable to easily model. So are your sales reps – getting them to all act the same isn’t reasonable even if the model is that guru in your industry who sold $1M a month for 15 months. It is better to focus on (simple) principles than on detailed processes.

For success in any area there is almost always only one thing that matters the most…occasionally two. In golf, for example, the clear difference between the pro’s and the rest of us is club head speed. No one makes the pros without massive club head speed. Putting, nerve and onsistency matter – but nothing like how fast you can get that club moving.

The “Gartner Magic Quadrant” is another great example of summing success up into only two data points that matter more than anything else: completeness of vision and ability to execute.

Sales success falls into the “two things” bucket. There are two things that matter more than any other; all the rest is gravy.

Who are the best salespeople?

The best salespeople are simultaneously exceptional at two things: their ability to collect data on the prospect, and the ability to craft that data into a pitch that convinces the prospect to buy. Nothing else seems to be nearly as important. A lot of behaviors roll up into these two categories, of course, but at the end of the day a sales rep only has to be brilliant at getting data and synthesizing it. In our study, the best of the best always, always, always exhibit superior skills in both areas. Many have impressive skills in a lot of other areas – but those skills don’t matter.

To explain these behaviors simply we use a visual. We measure a rep using a survey. We take the results and score everything and calculate their collect and craft skill levels. We then plot it on a simple two by two “Gartner Magic Quadrant” style graph. The x axis is craft, y is collect. Reps that score high on both are in the coveted top right quadrant. These are the best sales reps in the country.

What makes them that way?

Consistent behaviors, maybe you’d call them habits, make them that way. They all understand simple principles and that understanding drives their effective behaviors. A behavior driven by a true principle quickly becomes a habit.

Is there anything I can do to get my team to act more like them?

Yes, very much so. Those reps who don’t score top-right can become top-right by mimicking the habits of their exceptional peers. They learn to mimic the behavior by coming to understand the simple principles at play driving successful sales behavior. Once understood, reps self-regulate and always do the right thing.

Example: prospecting for new business.

Because you are likely a startup let me share some of the more important behaviors for filling your pipeline. There are craft behaviors that are important in this area too but these happen to be collect behaviors I’m sharing with you today:

Cold calling is extremely important and very effective. The telephone is one of the oldest and still most effective business tools for the best of the best. No matter your role, use the phone to fill your pipeline. Never cold call on Wednesday or Thursday. The very best times to cold call are Monday morning before 10am, Tuesday morning before 10am and Friday afternoon after 3pm. Your hit rates will be much higher during those times. PS – the best reps never do anything but cold call during those hours; neither should your team.

Don’t use the cold call to pitch your product – use it to set a meeting. Understand that cold calling is the act of interrupting the prospect. Act like you get that. “Hi John, I realize I’m interrupting. I’m calling to see if you can take a meeting with me when I’m not interrupting. Are you around next Wednesday or Thursday … or maybe the following Monday afternoon?” Acknowledge the interruption, move right to asking for another time, and set the meeting.

Call the same list every time you call until someone drops out (“yes I’ll meet with you”, bad number, “no thanks”, etc.) Replenish the list weekly. Keep the list at 52 prospects; that’s the number you can call through in two hours every Monday, Tuesday and Friday.

Leave only one voice mail a week. It’s not allowed to be longer than eight seconds. Want the best template for an excellent voice mail that gets returned? Watch this video.

If you look closely, you’ll see the simple principle is this: don’t ignore the phone, it’s incredibly powerful, but use it correctly. The phone is a tool for setting meetings – not for giving sales pitches (same with voice mail). People are very busy when you call them, treat them that way and they’ll give you time to give your pitch when they aren’t in the middle of something.

What are the results of utilizing this principle? 15-20% of the people you call should pick up. 80% of those people should agree to a set a future meeting. A two hour cold calling blitz to 52 people should net you five to eight meetings. These may seem like high marks but every sales person we work with who gets the principle and adopts the six behaviors above hit these numbers easily. They mimic the cold-calling success of their “best in class” peers and thereby become one. So can your team.

There are a few dozen other principles that guide the behaviors of the best salespeople. In the mean time though, put this one to practice and I’m certain you’ll see bigger pipelines almost immediately.

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About matthewlampros

  • Well put. I’ve been a professional sales rep for over a decade and an unprofessional one for a decade before that (mostly trying to convince myself that I wasn’t in sales). I remember vividly the day I realized that sales wan’t primarily about product or pitch, it was about showing up consistently and serving the customer. I landed a major order from a dealer I’d been calling on regularly for nearly a year. I thanked him and asked him why now, after 12 months? “Because you show up and I know that if there’s an issue you’ll get it resolved”.

    • Matthew Lampros

      Awesome! I think you could safely relate all of the best practices back to shifts in perspectives. Once you get the right perspective (understand the principle) then you know how to act in every circumstance. It’s pretty powerful and I’m glad to hear this incredibly powerful phenomenon has shown you to success! Thanks for your kind words.

  • brettdansie

    Would you recommend this same cold call approach even when calling leads that have not been qualified? The reason I ask is most the leads I call have to be qualified first to see if they are in the market and a fit for the product. Seems that setting up a meeting prior to knowing if the prospect is qualified might be inefficient. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks for the post very well thought out and full of real solutions.

    • Matthew Lampros

      Hello. Thank you for the nice complement. So there is a bit of a complicated answer to that question but let me try to give you the simplest answer first. If I’m missing the mark shoot a reply back and I’ll get more detail or feedback to you.

      The first call should be to set an appointment. That first appointment should be short and focused on qualifying the lead. The best of the best get so good at cold calling that they don’t take the time to pre-qualify someone before calling because: 1) their list is generally pretty close anyway 2) it’s way faster to get 20 meetings and qualify out 10 of them (leaving 10 hot leads you’ve already spoken to twice) than it is to do the research and 3) a lot of these non-qualified people will be willing to give a recommendation or referral.

      I always say, “use 30 seconds to sell 10 minutes, 10 minutes to sell and hour, and an hour to start closing the deal”.

      The 30 second call is to get the appointment
      The 10 minute appointment (phone is great for this) is to do a quick qualify and talk them into an hour meeting.
      The hour meeting is to talk about their problems and your solutions.

      So having said all of that I realize that not every sales process is the same. I would establish a ground rule though – if it takes you more than a few minutes to qualify someone before you call them DON’T … just make the call and figure it out through the process.

      If you shoot me some more specifics about your product or sales process I can give you more accurate advice for your sales circumstance.

      • brettdansie

        Thanks for the explanation that is exactly what I was looking for.

  • Jeff Kettle

    Really enjoyed the article. Great insight into what it takes to become a great salesman. I am a believer in the cold call and it has worked for me throughout the things that I have done. Quick questions for you on setting the meeting. I own a small landscape and lawn maintenance business and the biggest challenge I find that I have is people view our service as a commodity so they don’t really want to spend a lot of time discussing their needs or sometimes even setting a meeting. Common response I get is just send me a bid, but I hate to just be another number that they are looking at. Just wondered if you had any thoughts on how to set the meeting so that they spend a little time discussing their needs.

    • Matthew Lampros

      Jeff, hello. Good question … big question really. A couple of takes on that. 1) When you’re calling someone cold – even if they have a bid out – “send me a quote” really just means “you’re interrupting me right now, I don’t have time or energy to think about this, go away”. You’re making their life difficult by asking them to think deeply about something they just don’t want to think about right then. If you can get a meeting with them their perspective is different – they come to the meeting ready to talk, discuss, inform, decide.

      So goal #1 would be to make the conversation about getting a short meeting with them rather than using that cold call to ask them questions. Keep the conversation limited to “I realize I’m interrupting you now. The purpose of my call is to see if we can meet for 10 min to discuss your project sometime WHEN I’M NOT INTERRUPTING you. I don’t know if you have time tomorrow afternoon or Thursday morning for a short phone call, or perhaps Friday” Focus the call on getting a meeting, not getting answers, not giving your pitch and you’re more likely to get an open minded prospective customer.

      Okay, second point. HOW TO MAKE A DECISION? One of the most important points business owners forget is that their prospective customers have almost NO idea about how to make a decision to use your product. They literally have no sense of what factors they would weigh to make that decision. Because of that it always comes down to price … because that’s something they can understand. You need to take it upon yourself to help your prospect’s understand how to make a quality decision when picking a landscaping company. Spend a lot of time thinking about that. Start with thinking about who should NOT pick you then work your way backwards. Maybe it’s something like, “look, if you have a level lot, no fence, your neighbors don’t have yards in yet, and no sprinklers are down … and you have plenty of top soil then you can chose anyone. If you’ve got picky neighbors and some old sprinkler pipes you need to be careful that your guys doesn’t ruin your neighbors lawn or cause a flood trying to put in some new bushes.” I’m no expert here but there have to be some scenarios where they’d be crazy not to give you a hard look vs. your competitors.

      So goal #2 … if people won’t meet with you and give you the “send me a bid” pitch have a solid question you can ask before you say okay. Something like, “Will do, one question first … do you have picky neighbors or are they all fantastic?” [they answer] “Reason I ask is that a lot of ill will can happen if your landscaping company messes up your neighbors lawn trying to get to your backyard. Something to think about when you pick a contractor.” [hmmmmm] “anyway, I’ll send you a bid but I also have about four other tips for you to think about when you make this decision, if you have a second I’ll run you through those now or I could call back tomorrow after I email you the bid and run you through them?”

      Again, I’m inventing a scenario and have no idea if it’s true but doing it to illustrate an example of how you’d think about this.

      As was my offer with everyone, please call or email if you’d like to discuss in more detail or over a bagel. [email protected]

      GOOD LUCK!!

  • Chanco


    I appreciate the timeliness and insight in this post as I am currently working to develop a selling system. Do you have any other available resources on “craft”?

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