Shari Levitin definitely gets around. Since forming Shari Levitin Group in 1997, she has shared her sales secrets with timeshare industry leaders including, RCI, Hilton, Hyatt, and Wyndham Worldwide, as well as brand names in other industries, such as Adobe, Comcast, and Jaguar. She’s now a guest lecturer at Harvard, was named LinkedIn’s Top Ten voices in Sales in 2018, and even appeared as one of twenty sales experts in the Salesforce Documentary film, The Story of Sales.
But no matter how many presentations and consultations she gave, Levitin couldn’t reach everyone. Not every company can afford to bring in a high-level sales expert for multiple days. The Shari Levitin Group developed a web-based, interactive virtual training system, but again not everyone had access to that. “It had been on my bucket list for years to write a book so that I could make the knowledge accessible to all sales reps, and I finally made time to do it,” she says.
That book, Heart and Sell: 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Need to Know, (https://www.sharilevitin.com/resources/ ) has received rave reviews from best-selling authors Jill Konrath and Patricia Fripp, and companies such as Salesforce, Oracle, Wyndham, and Hilton. But reading through it, you might be surprised that it’s less about tactics and skills for salespeople and more about success principles and human behavior. Shari discusses serving clients from the right place in your heart and taking personal responsibility for your own success.
According to Levitin, there are five essential traits that a successful salesperson needs to cultivate. (See the sidebar to find out what they are). First, though, she points out that in today’s world of “fake news” and distrust, who a salesperson is in their heart matters. “According to Gallup, salespeople are the least trusted of all professionals, second only to politicians and members of Congress,” she says.
Columnist, David Brooks discusses the difference between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” Resume virtues, Brooks reminds us, are those skills you bring to the marketplace—qualities like drive, competition, and gregariousness. The Eulogy virtues, on the other hand, are the ones people will talk about at your funeral. Were you kind? Honest? Empathetic? Loyal? What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered? Do your actions line up with your values? These are the virtues you need today to stand out above your competitors. The combination of character and skills are what you need to radiate inner confidence and outward success. “This was my impetus to write Heart and Sell”, says Levitin. For the 20 years I trained salespeople, I told them what do, how to it, and even why we do it, but after becoming a parent, I had an “AHA” moment and realized that “what you do matters, but who you are matters more.”
Products are ubiquitous. Today’s customer has many more options whether it’s Airbnb, Expedia, etc. What makes the difference for a salesperson is, do they have those eulogy virtues? Can they be trusted? Do they follow up? Does the company create a guest experience where consumers want to come back?
As for technology? Technology is not a substitute for human connection, she says. “AI and interactive sales platforms are changing the sales landscape, but they’re not a panacea. Technology is only as good as the underlying sales process. It doesn’t replace good salesmanship. Successful companies need to balance technology with human connection. If we automate too much, the sales experience will become robotic and customers will be lost. If we automate too little, the sales process will stagnate and, in turn, breed disengaged and dissatisfied employees and customers”.
Levitin says her company is often called in after companies adopt presentation technology because salespeople became too reliant on them. ”They forget to dig deep, build relationships and find the problem,” she says. “What I tell people is that we need to do everything Alexa (or Siri or Google) can’t. You can have leading technology, but if you are not building trust through empathy and reliability, it won’t matter”.
What advice would Levitin give to a salesperson who is struggling? “Ask yourself, ‘what can I do better?’ Don’t blame external circumstances for your lack of success. While fear can be your friend, excuses are almost always your enemy. Then practice, drill rehearse. As Eric Greitans writes in his book on Resilience, ‘Training aims to change who you are, practicing practice will enable you to, in the words of the old Army commercial, be all that you can be.’”
5 Habits of Successful Sales People
- A Growth Mindset. People with Growth Mindsets believe that their basic qualities are things you can cultivate through toil and persistence. They’re energized by learning new products, breakthrough technologies and are invigorated by overcoming failure. To them, life is a journey of gathering new information, making new connections, asking for constructive feedback and learning from painful lessons. It’s no longer simply about building rapport, today you have to earn respect.
- Curiosity. The gap ‘between what we know and what we want to know’. This gap has emotional consequences: it feels like a mental itch, a mosquito bite on the brain. We seek out new knowledge because that’s how we scratch the itch. I’ve watched thousands of salespeople go through the motions of asking the right questions—only to completely annoy their customers along the way. Why? Because they display a lack of genuine curiosity. It’s not enough to ask questions; you actually have to listen for and care about the answers!
- Drive. The difference between good performers and exceptional performers is not between those who know a lot and those who know a little, but rather between those who give some of themselves to their practice and those that give all of themselves. Drive is the discipline to practice and do the work.
- Resilience. When customers don’t purchase, what does a great sales rep do? They lose the deal but don’t lose the lesson. In this business, one moment we’re victorious, the next minute we were victorious. Sales mastery requires moving through pain and rejection. That takes resilience, and the ability to fail fast and move on.
- Constructive Delusion. You’ve heard the expression, “do you see the glass as half empty or half full?” Top performers don’t see the glass as half full, they see it as overflowing. They look for reasons customers will buy, and they are shocked when they don’t. When you begin a tour believing that engineers don’t buy or that the in-laws are going to muck up the deal, you wind up looking for signs that confirm your beliefs. In short, you will see what you expect to see.
For more sales training insights, including the Five Deadly Coaching Mistakes Sales Leaders Make and How to Fix Them, visit https://www.sharilevitin.com/blog/
Judy Kenninger of Kenninger Communications has been writing about the vacation real estate industry for nearly two decades.