“Sellers are made, not born.” There’s no doubt this is a phrase you’ve heard at least a time or two. It’s based on an outdated way of thinking that selling is an art – perfected only by a select few.
Revenue leaders who accept this notion often cross their fingers during the hiring process, hoping they’re lucky enough to find the rare “unicorn seller” with those innate, unteachable skills that translate to quota attainment.
But the “unicorn seller” is a myth – and one that’s led to a pervasive, chronic problem for sales organizations, characterized by high rep turnover and consistently missed quotas.
The reality is, selling isn’t an unteachable art. Rather, it’s a science. So while hiring for the right fit is certainly an important start, it’s very much possible to create an entire team full of unicorn salespeople. Doing so requires organizations to first identify the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that make sellers great – and then work to replicate those things across the entire sales organization.
Easier said than done, right? It doesn’t have to be.
Recently, we analyzed activity from more than 350 companies in our 2022 State of Sales Readiness Report to find out what the best sales organizations are doing differently to ensure every seller has what it takes to succeed. Here are five lessons we can learn from sales organizations that are busting the unicorn seller legend to create a team of high-performing, quota-crushing reps.
1. Enablement must go beyond onboarding
Onboarding is an important way to get sellers oriented with the company, its goals, and their role. But it’s only the first part of the sales enablement journey.
For sales organizations, change is inevitable. Products change, new competitors enter the marketplace, buyers’ expectations grow, and so forth. Even the most seasoned sales reps require ongoing training (what we at Mindtickle refer to as “sales everboarding”) to keep pace with these changes – and ensure they always have the latest and greatest knowledge and skills they need to sell.
The best sales organizations go beyond onboarding to deliver ongoing learning that ensures learning sticks – and that it’s applied in the field. They deliver short exercises to give sellers a sense of accomplishment. And they incorporate features that are proven to boost seller engagement. For example, sellers revisit a training module more than twice when it includes a quiz. And, there’s a 2X engagement in instructor-led training when gamified challenges are used.
Add-on: Check out 8 Sales Role Play Exercises to Prepare Your Team for the Win.
2. Teach managers to provide coaching year-round
Coaching, when done well, is proven to have a large, positive impact on sales outcomes. According to CSO Insights, organizations with dynamic sales coaching experience double-digit improvements in both quota attainment and win rates.
But all too often, sales coaching is primarily focused on deals. While 85% of reps report being coached on open deals, less than a quarter say they’ve received skills coaching.
Deal coaching will always be an important way to move deals through the funnel and improve outcomes. But on its own, it’s simply not enough to improve an individual rep’s knowledge, skills, and behaviors long-term.
Sales organizations that are busting the unicorn seller myth (and consistently exceeding quota) equip their managers to deliver a blend of coaching types. Sure, managers still deliver opportunity coaching. However, they also have tools to identify the skill gaps of each rep – and they make it a priority to deliver monthly, personalized skills coaching to close those gaps.
Of course, skills coaching isn’t a case of “one and done.” The best managers understand that the right follow-up ensures coaching actually sticks. In fact, these managers are three times more likely to assign content, training, or practice opportunities to a rep post-coaching. And it makes a big difference. There’s an average improvement of 13 percentage points in Mindtickle Sales Readiness Index scores among reps who are assigned follow-up after a coaching session.
Related: Check out our Coaching Maturity Model: How to Take Your Coaching Culture from Good to Great.
3. Focus on (only) top-quality content
By now, it’s well understood that content – both internal and external – plays a big role in a rep’s ability to close deals. As such, most enablement and marketing teams invest time and resources into creating more of it. Per research from Content Marketing Institute, 65% of sellers indicate they have easy access to sales content.
But according to SiriusDecisions, up to 70% of B2B content sits unused.
Even the content that does get used doesn’t all have the same level of rep engagement. Rather, our analysis found that 50% of engagement is generated by just 10% of content.
Rather than aiming to produce a large quantity of content, focus instead on producing high-quality content that reps will use – and that’s proven to move deals through the funnel. This starts by gathering data on how reps are actually using each piece of content – and then using that data to inform your strategy.
Stop developing the types of content that rarely get used. And leverage data (as well as input from reps) to identify content that isn’t frequently used – but provides a good ROI when it is. In these cases, it makes sense to reallocate content development resources toward enablement around how to use the content. Finally, ensure all content is organized in a sales library that leverages filterable tags and attributes so sellers can always find exactly what they’re looking for.
4. Train sellers to address objections
Selling is a game of both quantity and quality. If a seller isn’t making enough calls, they’re not going to close enough business. That’s why the best sellers spend a large portion of the day on the phone.
Ideally, all of these calls would go well – with prospects feeling confident and ready to sign on the dotted line. But oftentimes, that’s not reality. Our analysis of tens of thousands of sales calls and meetings found that 37% of calls contain more positive sentiment than negative. The remaining 63% are more negative than positive.
Is negative sentiment a sure sign of a lost deal? Not for winning sales organizations full of unicorn sellers.
While training reps on messaging and how to deliver an effective demo is important, the best sales organizations know that’s not enough to empower them to overcome objections from prospects. Instead, they equip sellers with enablement that’s specifically focused on building confidence overcoming objections – such as objection handling and competitive knowledge.
By putting this training into practice, sellers can turn negative calls around – and close more business.
5. Develop your IRP: Ideal Rep Profile
The goal of any sales organization is to develop a team of great sellers. But many organizations skip the foundational step of defining what “great” actually looks like.
Sure, nearly all companies have documented their ideal customer profile. But less than 1% have developed a corresponding ideal rep profile (IRP), which is essentially a list of skills and competencies a seller needs to be successful.
Unicorn sales organizations understand that the IRP should serve as the north star of any sales readiness initiative. As such, they take the time to define what excellence looks like. With the IRP in place, these organizations can regularly measure reps against this gold standard, identify gaps, and deliver the learning and coaching needed to close those gaps – and develop more unicorn sellers.
Start creating a team of great sellers
Sales leaders no longer have to accept the notion that a handful of “unicorn” sellers will always drive the bulk of revenue. With the right sales readiness strategy, organizations can identify what makes sellers great – and then deliver the training, coaching, and content necessary to create an entire team of sellers that are always ready to close deals.