As a senior sales executive, you live by two principles: Focus and Follow-up. You use the 80/20 rule to identify the largest sales opportunities with the highest probabilities of closing — the “whales.” You focus attention on the whales and relentlessly follow-up doing whatever it takes to close enough of them to make your sales targets for the month, the quarter, the year.
In his bestselling book, Sell It Like Serhant, celebrity sales guru, Ryan Serhant says you’re wrong. At least in part.
Yes, he does everything possible to close the whales, but he admonishes us to spend time every day finding the next whales. He doesn’t discriminate. He just makes as many new relationships as he can everyday. He observes that it is impossible to tell the difference between the “tuna” and the “baby whales.” So, he invests in all new relationships until he brings them to fruition.
Balance short term focus with a longer-term vision
In addition to balancing long term and immediate opportunity follow-up, Serhant provides other specific ways to include long term opportunity identification with the follow up on the immediate. He says:
- Sales is a numbers game. You need to work as many potential deals as you can, because some won’t work out. Having five other deals you are working on takes the sting out of hearing “no” from a prospect you have invested time in.
- Follow up—forever. Several of Serhant’s stories involve sales that took years of persistent follow up.
- Balance three types of activity every day: Finding new opportunities; Keeping what you’ve accomplished; Doing the work of sales
One company we know of has a “classics” award they give each year to celebrate major sales that took months or even years to close. Another company saves time at the end of their weekly call to generate selling ideas for following up on long term sales efforts.
And you need to have sales managers report on the work they are doing with their salespeople on long term prospects as well as the progress they are making with the immediate work on whales.
Invest in your salespeople’s expertise
Another error Serhant says sales functions make is training.
Friday lunch-and-learn sessions where product managers stuff features and benefits into salespeople along with the pastrami sandwiches or vegetarian option is a time-honored tradition. Just-in-time product training to get the salesperson through an introductory meeting.
Serhant says, “Wrong, again.” Invest in your salespeople’s expertise.
Serhant says every salesperson needs a story. Every salesperson needs a “hook.” And none better than genuine expertise. Specifically, he recommends salespeople become known as the expert on solving a particular customer problem.
And while genuine expertise is essential, Serhant warns, “Don’t wait for perfection to be amazing.”
“Initiative” is Serhant’s favorite word: He puts 10% of every commission check back into a creative marketing idea: an article to demonstrate expertise; an event to honor his best clients and befriend new ones; social media; activities to meet three new potential clients each day, et al.
As an executive, you can provide budget to support these investments in your salespeople’s expertise: You can fund salespeople’s attendance at conferences. And you can lead by example, speaking at conferences and writing articles.
Serhant’s stories and checklists make his principles accessible to Millennials and Gen-Zers.
As compelling as Serhant’s stories and lessons are, however, it will be difficult for your salespeople to practice them unless you create a sales culture that supports his recommended, non-conventional behaviors.
Establish your company’s work ethic—by example
Not surprisingly, Serhant admonishes salespeople to work hard: Wake up early: two hours before normal start time. Up at 6 or 7 if 9 is start time. Then eat breakfast, go to the gym, get to the office and do your hardest thing first, spend an hour finding new contacts—all before your first appointment at 9. (He actually gets up at 4:30 am).
Serhant says to plan your day the night before and clear your email at 11 pm, so you are ready to roll right away in the morning.
Unlike most time management philosophies that preach prioritization and saying “no” to the least important items, Serhant says just the opposite: “Say, Yes. Take on more.” This advice is completely consistent with his “sales is a numbers game” philosophy.
One way to establish a work ethic in your company is by example. We know a senior executive in the movie industry based in New York City whose job is to bring in investment money from wealthy individuals to fund movies. Normal start time in the movie business in New York is noon—9 am L.A. time. He’s in the office by 10 am eastern. So is his team, even though they all worked until 10 pm the night before.
Pharmaceutical salespeople have a routine they follow every day. Most physicians get to work from 6 am to 7 am. The Pharma salesperson is there with them. They walk with them and deliver their pitch as the physicians do their early rounds. Often the physician is in education mode, working with interns. They often are in bed-side-friendly mode. So, they are more receptive to being educated about the latest drugs. Sales Managers are in the field riding with their people on their early calls. And executives continue the early morning start time routine back at home office.
Electric Utilities have union workers who start their shifts at 7 am. The executives have already been in their offices half an hour by 7.
You need to monitor your behavior. Coming in late, having long lunches, leaving early on Friday to hit the links…even if these are only occasional lapses, send mixed signals.
Balance work and personal life
Traditional sales cultures often honor work-life-balance in the breach. Salespeople brag about the number vacations days and PTO days not taken.
Serhant says, “Wrong, again.” He advocates balance.
He wakes up at 4:30 am schedules activities until 7 pm when he goes home for dinner with the family and spends family time until 11 pm, when he plans the following day.
It is your choice whether to create a culture that genuinely supports work/life balance. If you want to make work/life balance legitimate in your culture you need to honor vacation time and PTO. And you need to make sure there is no career penalty for taking maternity and paternity leave.
Take Selling Like Serhant seriously
Serhant is written for the self-improvement of salespeople. But it raises important questions. It challenges you to consider:
- Are you balancing long term with short term sales efforts?
- Have you established a rigorous work ethic?
- Should you invest in your salespeople’s expertise?
- Is it a priority to balance work and personal life?
For Sales Managers and Executives who want to take their sales cultures to the next level of effectiveness, Sell it like Serhant provides an excellent strategic discussion agenda.