This post by Dorie Clark first appeared at Forbes.
How do you become a top salesperson? Brian Tracy, co-author (with his son Michael Tracy) of the new Unlimited Sales Success, lectures around the world on the subject. Here are the top strategies he shared in a recent interview.
Specialize. “People prefer to deal with people who are the best in their field,” says Tracy. So it pays to focus on developing a particular niche you can own. “Becoming an expert requires a clear marketing decision,” he says. “How will you position yourself in the market, and which industry will you focus on?” He cites the example of an insurance salesman friend who, in his early days, “did what everybody was told to do” – specifically, call on high-income prospects. But these professionals quickly realized he didn’t know anything about their particular fields or experiences, so he was turned away because “he was like a kid trying to give them advice.” But when he decided to focus on the medical profession – and made a deep investment in learning about the field– he established a powerful reputation within two years. Through speaking at conferences, writing for physicians’ magazines, and sending out newsletters, “he became known as the go-to person in financial planning for medical professionals, and in five years, there was $1 million a year in business flowing to him,” recalls Tracy.
Don’t Ignore Your Weaknesses. Building on your strengths is great, says Tracy, but if that’s all you do, you’re in trouble. “In selling, a weakness in a key area can hold you back from using the skills you have in all other areas. If someone’s not good at prospecting, they can be good at every other part of sales, and they’ll [still] fail.” You don’t have to rocket from inept to expert overnight – even small improvements can pay off. “Once you do [make the improvement], you can use all your other skills at a higher level.”
Think Like an Entrepreneur. “You have to accept responsibility for yourself and your life,” says Tracy, “and the highest level is to see yourself as self-employed, no matter who you work for.” If you have a full-time job, viewing yourself as a consultant with one major client (in other words, your employer) can be a powerful shift in how your frame your life. It’s not about what your boss does or doesn’t do for you. Instead, he says, an entrepreneurial attitude “wipes away the attitude of blaming and complaining: ‘I’m responsible and in charge of my own life, and what I achieve or don’t is up to me.’” That confidence and can-do attitude, he says, will make you a better and more respected employee, and more likely to succeed.
Eliminate Distractions. Think you’re a great multitasker? Think again, says Tracy. “The three most important words in personal management are clarity, focus, and concentration.” If you’re clear about what you want to accomplish and focus on doing one thing at a time, “you can produce 2x, 3x, 5x as much as the average person.” To limit distractions, Tracy recommends shutting off your phone and email when you’re working on an important task, such as writing an article or client report. In his own life, he says, “I plan every day and set my priorities. I work on the most important tasks and focus, get them done, and go onto the next one. That alone will double people’s productivity within 24 hours if they have the discipline to do that.”
Embrace the 80-20 Principle. Not everything matters equally. Should you return that email right now? If it’s a client wanting to discuss a six-figure proposal, you probably should. If it’s your buddy asking about dinner plans next week, it can probably wait. “You have to ask: what are the consequences of doing or not doing this?” says Tracy. “Whatever you do becomes a habit. The top performing people focus on things that can make a difference. The bottom 80% fall into doing things all day long of little or no consequences – it’s irresistible for them to play with email, or talk with friends, or check Facebook, and eventually they’re incapable of producing anything without supervision. You need to think, ‘Of all the things I have to do today, which one has the greatest potential consequences for me or my business if I do it, or don’t do it?’ And then work on that task, and keep making that a habit.”
What has led to your greatest sales success?
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.