Eight Steps to Becoming a Better Salesperson by Mark Hurd
In Oracle’s early days, Larry Ellison would walk the halls and ask people what they do at the company: develop software, or sell it? Larry’s expectation was that every employee excelled at one or the other.
That corporate ethos carries forward to this day. Oracle’s engineering and product development organization is viewed widely as among the very best in the world. Fewer people, however, know about the considerable time, effort, and money we devote to building a world-class sales organization. I made the decision years ago to develop Oracle’s sales organization organically rather than to compete in a zero-sum poaching contest with our major competitors. Since then, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the training, facilities, and tools our salespeople need to succeed.
For example, since the inception of our “Class Of” sales training program in 2013, we have brought close to 10,000 recent college grads to our company. One of my favorite parts of this rigorous, four-week program is when our young hires are just about ready to start their sales careers and some of our experienced executives and I offer a few last words of advice.
Eight Steps to Becoming a Better Salesperson
Here are some of the ideas we impart:
1. Listen. Most people pursue a sales career because they’re go-getters, but the most successful sales pros stop to listen to their customers’ challenges before offering solutions. It’s the foundation on which trust and long-term relationships are built. It’s the difference between providing professional, strategic advice and just selling products and features.
2. Stay patient. Especially for those entering the profession out of college, don’t overestimate your knowledge and abilities. You need to take the time to learn the ropes, partly by developing relationships with more-seasoned pros.
I advise our salespeople to show the same patience with their clients. To my earlier point, you need to build trust and credibility. The revenue will follow.
Likewise, employers need to show patience with their salespeople. At Oracle, we invest in our recent grads, giving them ample time to learn, develop, and find their way. Why? Because the data tells us that over time, their increased productivity will reward our patience.
3. Pick a fight. In case you’re inferring from the above advice that sales is a passive, non-contact sport, think again. The best salespeople are always looking to land new customers, figure out ways to expand business with their current accounts, and exceed their quotas.
Along those lines, it helps to pick a fight with a top competitor. Gather customer testimonials, do the market research, and compile the numbers on why your company and its products/services provide superior value and returns. Educate your customers.
4. Grind it out. Sales isn’t for the faint of heart. There will always be obstacles and setbacks, especially when you’re up against top-notch competitors.
Those who work harder when things get tough will be the most successful. At Oracle, all the salespeople we hire are smart. That’s a given. What separates the closers from the poseurs is their resilience—their ability to overcome adversity.
Motivation, with all of its emotional ups and downs, is overrated. I put a greater emphasis on work ethic, focus, and sense of purpose—and on people who don’t make excuses.
5. Move outside your comfort zone. I value people who aren’t afraid to face new challenges and acquire new skills, who understand that “comfort is the enemy of progress,” as P.T. Barnum once said.
Volunteer to take on an underperforming territory. Put in some time overseas. Expand your product domain knowledge. Assess your own weaknesses and get some training to turn them into strengths.
6. Pick your bosses carefully. Early in my career I was fortunate to work for managers who taught me what it takes to succeed in sales. But it wasn’t all luck. I turned down more than a few jobs, internally and externally, when I didn’t get a good feel for the manager who was interviewing me.
Look for bosses who will train, mentor, develop, and care about you. Ones who will have your back. Those words are easier said than done.
7. Make the most of your free time. When I attended Baylor University on a tennis scholarship in the late ‘70s, most of my time was spoken for—classes till 1:00 p.m., some form of practice till around 7:00, the rest of the evening for studying. But when I landed my first sales job out of college, suddenly I had extra time on my hands.
Always be reading—about your industry, about your company’s competitors, about the art and science of selling and managing your time. Keep up on current events; you can’t build deep relationships with customers without having well-rounded conversations with them.
Volunteer in your community not only to give back, but also to experience different kinds of organizational structures and dynamics. Along the way, you’ll network with people of varying backgrounds, and you’ll learn new processes and tools.
8. Set clear goals. At Oracle, we advise our young salespeople to follow the SMART methodology: Make your goals specific, measurable, achievable (but not too easy), relevant (to your job/role), and time-bound (with milestones for long-term goals). Not: “I will improve my ability to close deals.” But more like: “I will improve my close rate by 10% within six months.”
Clearly, you can’t rely just on innate charm and an easy smile to succeed in sales. It takes a lot of hard work. While following the advice I’ve outlined above isn’t a guarantee of success, it’ll put you on the right path.
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