How to Replicate the Success of Top Performers

Note: The following article also appeared in Selling Power magazine here.

Mentorship is one of the most effective ways to help salespeople improve performance. However, when we think about putting salespeople into the role of mentoring other salespeople, we run into a few significant challenges:

  1. Great sales managers want salespeople to spend time selling.
  2. Few salespeople or sales managers are truly good at mentoring others. Why? They don’t put in the time or they’re “unconsciously competent” (i.e., they don’t actually know what makes them so good) about their expertise, and therefore aren’t clear on what they should be mentoring.
  3. Even the best mentors can only effectively mentor a few people at a time.

Since mentorship is rarely a realistic answer for these reasons, organizations instead put together off-site workshops full of slide decks and motivational speeches. Salespeople get energized for a few weeks until it all wears off and they slide back to familiar patterns. Without the constant reinforcement and check-ins from a mentor, very little changes.

How to Get a Great Sales Mentor
What’s needed to truly make long-term changes in sales performance is a way to simulate the mentorship experience – merging modern technology (including cloud-based software and mobile computing) with research into what makes mentors so effective. That is, in fact, what we have been developing for the past several years at Cerebyte, and have recently launched with a new platform we call Sofia.

Although there is considerable science behind Sofia, the way it works is easy to understand at a high level. There are three main elements:

  • Discovery – Build a model of top sales performance from top performers themselves
  • Launch – Create intense engagement among developing sales personnel
  • Application – Guided, real-world practice and support that builds sustained improvement

Uncovering How Great Salespeople Sell
To discover the secret sauce of how great salespeople sell, Sofia walks top performers through a series of questions designed to quickly discover how they think, what they do well, and how they do it. For example, we recently worked with one top-performing salesperson to build a model of how she successfully integrates and sells four disparate product lines. Using Sofia, we captured all her selling expertise in just two-and-a-half hours – and she enjoyed the process.

With the right questions, based on neuroscience, salespeople enjoy the discovery process. After all, who doesn’t enjoy talking about something they are really good at? We can typically get what we need in just a few hours of your top performer’s time. Once they have completed the process, they are free to go back to closing the next big deal.

Building Excitement and Engagement
In the launch process, Sofia uses the same triggers and cues as a great mentor, enhanced from the field of neuroscience, to generate excitement and intense engagement. Because these are the actual insights and guidance from the best and most accomplished salespeople in the organization – people the other salespeople all admire and respect – the up-and-comers are far more open and engaged than they would be otherwise.

To bring this forward, Sofia is designed to give developing salespeople the feeling they are mentally interacting in real time with the top performer – causing the release of endorphins, dopamine, and other neural responses. These neural changes, which occur within several minutes and are deeply internalized in 1-2 hours, generate intense engagement, increase openness to new ideas, and dramatically accelerate learning.

Great Sales Mentors Yield Sustained Improvement in Sales Performance
Great sales mentors build long-term performance in others by insisting that their pupils apply to real-world situations, the new skills and techniques they’ve been shown. To accomplish this, Sofia uses neuroscience to translate the top performers’ expertise into 30 minutes per week of guided real-world, conscious application. This can continue for as long as needed, but usually 2-3 months is sufficient.

Since Sofia is accessible at any time in any place, it provides real-time support for use of the expertise. For example, imagine that, right before a new salesperson goes into a challenging meeting with a customer, she pulls out her iPhone and reviews how the expert handled a similar situation in the past. Effectively, the mentor is sitting next to her in real time, anywhere, providing timely guidance. Since, in this skill-building practice, they are selling while they are improving how they sell, they see immediate results, don’t realize they are transforming, and therefore don’t resist the time requirements.

Yes, You Can Scale Sales Mentorship
The Sofia experience is inherently scalable. Both the launch and application capabilities can be provided to just a few people or thousands simultaneously. No single mentor could ever hope to match that scale or timeliness.

Measured impacts are substantial. For example, at the end of a three-month program at a high-technology company with hundreds of salespeople around the world, the lesser performers demonstrated 90 percent of the attitudes and behaviors of the top performers. All the lesser performers were almost as good as the best – and many were as good as the best. Similarly, at the end of a two-month program, salespeople selling digital advertising doubled their sales without any increase in base costs.

Mentoring salespeople is effective, but hard to achieve for most sales organizations. By capturing what truly drives top performers and using modern technology to instill that expertise into your organization – just as a great mentor would do – you can achieve remarkable performance improvements.

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