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What Drives Your Top Performers?

During these tough times, focus on keeping your top performers engaged and replacing salespeople who don’t have what it takes to step up to the challenge.

Do you know what separates your top performers from those who give it their all, but never quite make the grade? During these tough times, nothing matters more than the mental attitude of your top performers. What is it about them that enables them to rise to the top?

It is more important now than ever before that you know the answer to that question, as you compete in a game where the rules are changing at lightning speed. The last year is one that none of us will ever forget. If yours is like most companies today, you had to shrink to squeeze through the eye of the storm. And you had to learn how to compete on a completely new playing field.

Your competitors are no longer in your neighborhood or on the other side of town. They are on the other side of the world. And they are awake as you try to sleep. Meanwhile, many of the partners you counted on, your banks and your suppliers, have forgotten their promises.

The sand has shifted beneath your feet. But you are still standing. This is a tribute to your competitiveness, self-discipline, optimism and resilience. You’ve made it through. Still you have changed. Your company is smaller. You’ve become substantially faster. And, you’re a little smarter. But you haven’t had much time to assess what you’ve been through. How your world has been turned upside down. How you’ve recovered. How you will be different this year.

Your competitors are no longer in your neighborhood or on the other side of town. They are on the other side of the world. And they are awake as you try to sleep.

How do you prepare for a future that is so uncertain? When everything you have learned in the past has little to do with what we’re going through now?

Every time you hear a trend that indicates that things are starting to head in one direction, a major event occurs right afterward that is contradictory. Situations are literally changing from day-to-day. So is the glass half-empty? Or half-full?

Three Must-Haves
At the end of the day, our top talent is ultimately what distinguishes us. Everything else can be copied by any of our competitors. And one thing we’ve learned for certain about top performers is that they want to be connected with other top performers. They do not want to work side-by-side with someone who will not carry their weight.

One of your primary goals this year is to understand what really drives your top performers—and to connect with them, like you never have before. Because they are your company’s future. And they want to be engaged, know that they are valued, make a real difference and be part of a winning team.

So, what have we learned about the psychology of top performers that might help you win in these uncertain times? There are three characteristics—above and beyond all others—that distinguish the best salespeople. And they become even more important now, during these tough times.

These three characteristics are:

  • An inherent ability to connect with others
  • An inner need to persuade
  • The ability to bounce back from rejection.

Top-performing salespeople all possess these qualities. During tough times, it is essential that your salespeople all possess ample quantities of these three qualities. Because each of those three qualities is being challenged like never before.

They are empathy, a need to persuade and resilience. Your top salespeople need these three qualities. And so do you.

Resilience is what enables us to brush ourselves off after getting knocked down and carry on with even more determination. Even your best salespeople are being rejected more than they’ve ever experienced. The concern is that they are used to learning from mistakes.

Did they ask for the order too early? Not know enough about their competition? Or, perhaps, not know enough about their prospect?

When the going gets tough and the rejections come time after time after time, it becomes a lot more difficult to learn from them and change the next time. So your best salespeople are really tested. They are looking to you to help, to help them dig deeper inside to get through all the rejection they are encountering. Then shake it off and carry on.

As a leader, you are there to empathize and listen, but you’ve got to replace that fear with hope and confidence. You’re needed to talk about and focus on the right messages—and, perhaps, change those messages because the old messages don’t work anymore.
That’s where your empathy kicks in. It is your empathy that enables you to connect with your top performers, to let them know that you truly care about them and to help them re-connect with themselves—and with their prospects and clients, all of whom are going through the same thing.

Remind Them What Makes Them Good
Dan Sheridan, vice president of sales at Extensis, a comprehensive outsourced human resources department, has been able to motivate his sales team to increase sales by 40 percent in the past year. He says, “Only the best can make it during these tough times. Basically, they need to be willing to do things that 90 percent of salespeople aren’t willing to do. A lot of that has to do with activity, sticking to a structured sales process, putting in the extra hours before 9:00 and 5:00. To that point, Sheridan says, “If anyone on our sales team leaves at 5:00, the other members will sing out the Yabba Dabba Doo song. They’ll rib each other if anyone steps out of the office early.

“I believe the most important thing to do is to stay the course, remain focused and not to panic,” says Sheridan. “Salespeople at this point in time can be fearful, can start to create head trash for themselves, which is where they think that the economy is the reason they can’t make a sale. It’s the stock market. The credit crunch. All these things do play into the ability to make a sale, but I believe that if you stick to the basics, execution and focusing on strategy, then you will be successful. It’s when you let these other things creep into your daily routine that it has a negative impact upon you.”

How does he help his top performers overcome their doubt?

“Right now,” he said, “The natural instinct of all of our prospects is to not spend, not speak with vendors. Our prospects can shut down. The hardest thing about any sale is getting face time or opportunities to meet with decision-makers. I think one of the biggest reasons why salespeople fail is their inability to generate activity or opportunities. So we’ve also decided to spend a little extra money on our marketing to help support our salespeople through this time.”

Dan also realizes that his primary job is to help his top performers by replacing their fears with confidence. He is there, he says, to listen, and remind them of who they are and what makes them so good.

Replace Fear with Confidence
Tim Barr, vice president of sales for Telesource Systems, a world leader in the resale, remanufacture, repair and reengineering of circuit board-based technology, says, “We’ve hired a number of younger, less experienced salespeople. It’s been very interesting to watch our seasoned top performers congratulate the young pup who just got a big deal, and they say, ‘Now’s the time to get back on the phone. Are you ever going to be more excited than you are right now? And you know what, your customers are going to understand that. They’re going to hear that. Get on the phone. Go find another one. Now’s the time.’ And they share the lesson that when you close a big one, it’s time to go get another one.”

Tim shares that his biggest challenge as a leader during these tough times “is not to show the salespeople my own doubts. They need you to remain positive and to focus on what’s working. They are looking to you to listen to them. But not to agree when they tell you that things are too difficult. They are looking to you to get them through the tough times, not side with them. So it’s real important dealing with that. Keep them focused, keep the success stories up, and take their emphasis off the difficult times. Your biggest challenge is to stay positive and to keep them that way.

They are looking to you to replace their fear with confidence. And that’s where your persuasiveness needs to kick into high gear. For top-performing salespeople—and top leaders—it all starts with empathy, persuasiveness and resilience.

Step Up to the Challenge
We have yet to meet a top-performing salesperson—or a leader—who does not possess these three qualities in substantial degrees. I interviewed Roger Staubach for the book Succeed On Your Own Terms. This is the guy who personifies grace under pressure. This is the guy who led the Dallas Cowboys to four Super Bowls, winning two of them; and who 14 times led his team to victory when his team was behind in the last two minutes of the game. This is the guy who every Minnesota Vikings fan can tell you threw the first “Hail Mary” pass, then coined the phrase.

After going on to found The Staubach Company, an enormously successful commercial real estate enterprise, I asked him: Which sports analogy makes the most sense in the business world?

Without pausing, he said, “Competition is certainly important. Being clear about your goals is crucial. But for me, the key to developing successful organizations is the people you surround yourself with. Succeeding in business, in sports, in your life, is a matter of pulling together people you can trust, who have their priorities in line, who have the talent, ambition and desire to reach beyond themselves and make something really big happen, particularly when the pressure is on.”

And the pressure is on now, like never before.

As a leader during these tough times, your focus needs to be on setting a confident tone, keeping your top performers engaged and replacing any salespeople who don’t have what it takes to step up to the challenge.

You owe it to yourself and to your company to surround yourself with only those people who are—or have the potential to be—your next top performers. Connect with them. Build your strength around them. Engage them to exceed expectations. And make sure you let them know that they are your future.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Patrick Sweeney Meet the Author
Patrick Sweeney is president of Caliper, a management consulting firm located in Princeton, New Jersey, and on the Web at www.caliperonline.com.


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