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The Best Sales Person I’ve Ever Known

by David Brock on November 10th, 2014

I’m often asked, “Who’s the best sales person you’ve ever known.”  Recently, a colleague asked me this once again, he has some idea of compiling a list of these people.

I’ve thought long and hard about that.  I’ve reflected on the thousands of sales people I’ve worked with over my career.  I’ve reflected on stunning performances, outrageous wins, stellar quota attainment.  I’ve finally come up with the answer.

The envelope please……….

Drum roll please……..

Pregnant pause, while I open the envelope (I’m sure many of you are wondering, “Do I know who he’ll name?  Is it me?”)

The answer is…….

Another drumroll………

It depends!  (For regular readers, you are surely not surprised.)

When my colleague compiling this list posed the question, I responded as I usually do, with lots of questions:

Living or Dead—some of the best I’ve seen, some who have mentored me have passed away.

Then I continued asking:

Field direct, inside sales, telesales, channel, SMB, Large Account, Global Account, Commoditized Product, Complex Systems, Services, Ideas, B2B, B2C, Retail, B2B2C, early stage start up, big brand/Fortune 500.

I continue asking:

Best quota performance, best sustained quota performance, best profitability, highest growth, biggest single deal, biggest year.

Or I might consider:

Individual contributor, team sales, account management, sales person, sales leader, sales manager, sales executive, business development, pre-sales, renewal sales.

I can go on.  Personally, I’ve never met anyone is even good at all the things that I’ve outlined above, let alone the best.  I’ve seen fantastic product sales people, who can’t transition into complex services.  I’ve seen great B2B sales people who are clueless on B2C.  I’ve seldom seen a successful large company sales person transition successfully to an early stage entrepreneurial company sales role and get it right—at least the first couple of times.

A friend and I joke, he’s one of the best One Call Close sales people I’ve ever met, I could never do what he has built a very successful career of doing.  Yet, he looks at what I’ve done and couldn’t imagine success in the type of selling I think I’m good at.

I approach it from a different point of view.

At least 3 of the people I think of as the best sales people I’ve ever met, I’ve also fired for non performance in a sales job.  They were truly outstanding sales people, but the wrong people for the jobs they were in.  They went onto other sales roles with different companies and had stunning success.

Many of the people I would identify as the best sales people have never had a title of sales person and have never had a quota.  They’ve been passionate, creative entrepreneurs–two have restructured much of what we think of as design and manufacturing, along the way building a multi-billion dollar business,  Neither has ever held a sales position or had a quota.  Some have been powerful development, operations, manufacturing, finance executives with huge ideas and abilities to convince their people, their suppliers, their shareholders, and their customers to be part of their vision.

Possibly, I would think of my parents, my wife, family, and a few friends who have seen more in me than I see in myself and were able to inspire/sell me on doing things I never would have had the courage to do otherwise.  They are, to me, the very best sales people in the world, for what they encouraged me to do.

I distrust “Best lists.”  Some are developed by a “vote for me approach,”  perhaps they are the best at getting votes, but they may not be the Best for what they are being listed for.   In some areas, Best can be measured by popularity, by follower, by likes.  In sales, I think Best is measured by sustained performance.

I’ve been named to a number of Best list, while I am deeply flattered and appreciative of those who feel I am the best, privately I’m a little embarrassed and ashamed because I know my failings and failures.  Somehow “best” and “failure” don’t seem compatible in the same sentence–yet, as I’ve discussed above, some of the best I know have had great failures–but it hasn’t stopped them from achieving.

Best is always transient.  Best this month, this quarter, this year, biggest deal this year……  Right now, the best Major League Baseball Team is the San Francisco Giants.  Next spring they are at the bottom with everyone else–0 Wins 0 Losses, 0 Ties.  Right now the Germans have the Best World Cup Soccer team, but there is another World Cup in some years and they will be one of the teams starting at the bottom with everyone else.

The more I think about it, Best isn’t terribly interesting.  What I’m really interested in is those people constantly committed to getting better.  Those who, despite whatever success they’ve had, don’t think in terms of “best” but are always driven by getting better.  People who know sustained performance is based on what you did, but what you are going to do, and how you continuously improve–keeping ahead of everyone else.

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  1. Well, Dave, I was convinced this was a post about me but when I got here, you blew the chance. Oh well. 😉

    Against my better judgment, lol, I ended up agreeing with you. There is so much nuance to professional selling and most people doling out advice never consider that, or whether half of what they are saying is applicable.

    In the end, I especially appreciate the perspective about continuous improvement. I guess the “quest for best” is better replaced by the “yearning for learning.” So much so, that I predict the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn is going to be a major predictor of future sales success. Have a post brewing on that topic now.

    Keep ’em coming. You never know… I might learn sumpthin’.

  2. Great insight. That’s exactly the thing, great sales people are on to the next goal or challenge- they keep moving. Maybe we should give ourselves some credit before we move on. Great sales people never think they are great either. That’s what our customers love about us. We can always do better.
    Thanks Dave!

    • Great comment Jeff. It is interesting, the really great performers always look at the holes in their performance, thinking they have to get better.

  3. This is sort of fun.

    My PhD thesis dealt with the problem when could judgments about ‘x is better than y” give rise to a claim that “z is the best”?

    You have identified one problem.

    “Selling” is a transitive verb. It needs an object.

    You have to be selling something.

    So, it is obvious that someone who is best at selling widgets might be terrible as selling something else.

    What isn’t obvious is why we have this fascination with rankings, the best sales person, when it is clear that no such ranking could exist.

  4. What a great article David – you have hit the nail on the head, exemplifying the saying

    “There is no wrong way to close the sale – provided you close the sale” !

    • Kerry, it’s great to see you here at the blog! I hope you become a regular commenter, we have a great contingent of folks from “Down-under,” though I think you are the westernmost outpost 😉

      You are absolutely right, greatness is manifested in a number of different ways, but ultimately measured by our abilities to achieve our goals.

      Thanks for the comment! Enjoyed our breakfast the other day. Regards, Dave

  5. Dave, these are such important points you make. First, these “top” lists often are based on popularity or a campaign effort – which has nothing to do with “best”.

    I loved all the questions one would need to ask in order to even know who to consider. Best at what? It’s like asking you to describe marketing – sales is a similarly vague and broad topic with many different points of view.

    It reminds me why a previously successful seller can be a dismal failure in another position at another company.

    Thanks for always sharing your viewpoint – it is appreciated.

    • Lori: Thanks for taking the time to comment (and visit). Popularity contests have their place, but we need to be clear about what they are.

      What is the “best” is really is dependent on so many things and is different for each person and organization. Even the age old concept of best practices becomes relatively meaningless without a context.

      We always have to be cautious in looking at “best” in sales (or any other kind of job) performance. I’ve seen too many people who are outstanding in one situation, but terrible failures in another.

      Thanks for commenting!

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