Software Sales – It’s Not for Everyone

Over the years, I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count.  I collaborate with my sellers daily.  We poke holes in strategy, identify and agree on next steps, and mutually assemble operating plans.  Then…for whatever reason…things go wrong.  “Wrong” can be defined as, outcomes do not meet expectations.  Symptoms of poor outcomes look like the following:

-Client doesn’t return calls

-Can’t convince buyer to take a certain action, like have her team review our legal terms

-Failure to get prospect to prioritize our initiative

-Inability to get north, south, east, or west in an account

-Etc, etc, etc

Now, I wouldn’t be so haughty as to say this has never happened to me.  If you’re honest with yourself, you would confess this sometimes happens to you as well.  However, do you find yourself in a situation where this type of behavior happens more than it doesn’t?  If so, maybe you’re not cut out for this line of work.

I was talking to a well-respected peer of mine the other day about this topic.  I told him this phenomenon happens every day in sports.  Just because you’re fast, have a great jump shot, and can dribble…doesn’t mean you can play basketball in the NBA.  Tom Brady was selected in the 6th round of the NFL…199th pick.  As perhaps the greatest football player in this generation, why were 198 players selected before him?  There’s an intangible element to success – it’s in the details of execution.  Some people have it, most don’t.

Software sales is similar.  Our industry if full of sellers who are smart, driven, have charisma and work ethic to boot.  But…they just can’t sell.  I’ve been around the block a few times, and while I haven’t mastered hiring, I’ve found a few leading indicators that tell me whether they can put the football in the end zone.

  1. Have they done it before? As a young seller, I hated the interview question – what was your last 3 years w-2?  I hated the question because I didn’t have a track record.  Tom Brady was a winner all throughout his career.  He knew how to execute.  Once a shark has tasted blood, marine biologists say they can smell it a mile away.
  2. I ask about a seller’s rolodex. Executive buyers are smart.  They generally have a keen sense of human differentiation.  And…in my experience, when they find a great seller, they like to build relationships with them.  If you find you don’t have many relationships with executives, that could be a bad sign.
  3. I speak with their previous sales leaders. I was on the phone the other day with a former sales leader of a rep candidate and I heard the infamous words: “smart guy, really experienced, loved him, but he couldn’t seem to put it together while working for me.”  Tell-tale sign and my signal to run the other way.

Don’t settle for mediocrity either for your team or for yourself.  If you don’t have the intangible attributes around execution, then find another gig.

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