Here’s a statistic that will change the way you think about sales: 80% of sales are made by 20% of salespeople (Bill Corbin on LinkedIn).

Known as the Pareto Principle, this means that 80% of your sales quota is being fulfilled by only 20% of your sales reps. As a sales manager, that’s a pretty scary concept.

Does this mean the remaining 80% of your team is worthless? Of course not. But what it does show is the dramatic difference between an average performing rep and a superstar.

You know the reps I’m talking about. The ones who make President’s Club every year and have enough glass-etched trophies to fill an entire book shelf. The ones who get in early and get out early, because they always seem to be able to get home to their families by dinner time. The ones who never have to break a sweat over a deal. These are your top performers.

So, what sets these reps apart from the rest? It turns out there are several sales skills held by top performers that allow them to crush their quota every quarter. You’ll be shocked to learn that simple hard work is not one of them.

I spent seven years in sales and have been through countless sales trainings, from Sandler to Spin selling, and worked alongside some of the best sales reps in the country. In this article, I’ll go over the four distinct traits shared by top sales performers, so that you can implement these skills into your sales trainings to breed more superstars.

Sales skill #1. They know their numbers inside and out

Sales is a numbers game, plain and simple. In the early stages of your career it’s not unusual to hit the phones for hours on end and spend time planting seeds that will later pay off.

Series of numbers

But being a top performing sales professional takes more than making 200 dials a day. If it didn’t, we’d all be President’s Club members.

Top-performing sales reps look at their day in hours and minutes, and they know exactly how they will budget their time. Average reps make the mistake of thinking repetition equals success, but that is not entirely true. Top reps do things with conviction, without simply hoping something will work.

How do they get there? It doesn’t take long to have enough data to create a formula that will tell you exactly what you need in order to succeed. Running a couple of simple SalesForce reports can tell you everything you need to know.

For example:

It takes me 20 dials to get someone to answer the phone, and historically I book one meeting for every three conversations I have. If I want to book two meetings today then I need to make 120 dials.

My close ratio is 20%. I have a quota of $50K for this quarter and I have $350K in the pipe, spread between eight deals. If I want to hit (and exceed) my quota, I need to create at least three or four more opportunities.

Top performers can tell you at any moment in time exactly how close they are to hitting their quota, how many deals they have in the pipe, what’s on deck for next week, and how on pace they are for the year.

The Lesson? Know your numbers and know them well.

Sales skill #2. They ask for the “no”

What’s the scariest word a sales rep can hear? "No."

Average sales reps fear the No like the plague. They will skirt around the No using any technique they have available, even when the prospect is being very frank.

Don't fear the no, because it makes you stronger

Some prospects are polite and will tell you No indirectly – which is the most dangerous thing for an average sales rep, because they will think there’s a chance. There’s hope.

Perseverance is an incredibly valuable trait, but being overly enthusiastic will cost you more time and heartache than anything else in the sales world.

Top performing sales reps love the No. They look for it, they ask for, they coax it out of people who might be on the fence. Why? Because it means they get their answer sooner and can move on to more important things: the yeses.

This might sound counterintuitive to everything you thought you knew about sales, which is good – it means you’re learning something. The fact of the matter is, some people are going to buy and some people aren’t.

And there are a lot of time wasters out there who are happy to take your call, hear your pitch, and watch you jump through hoops to try and win their business.

Top performing reps learn how the sales technique of figuring out which prospects are going to buy and which are time wasters, and this is what allows them to close more deals than the rest of you.

The lesson? Ask for the No so you can move on to the Yes.

Sales skill #3. They uncover pain

Average sales reps all share the same problem: they love to hear themselves talk. Overcoming this early will get you far in your career.

Any sales rep can ask two or three surface level questions to confirm the prospect’s level of interest and then dive straight into their 20 minute slide deck. In fact, it’s what 80% of reps do.

Red onions that make you cry

But the 20% know better. They don’t accept “we’re evaluating new solutions for next year” as an answer. They don’t want to waste their time – their goal is want to find the No early on. And most importantly, they know that thoughtful analyses do not drive purchases. Pain does.

I once worked with a top performer who would ask prospects questions like “well it sounds like what you’re doing now is working great, why would you even consider switching your software to ours?” or “using our product would only save you about $5,000 a year, and when you consider the time for implementation, it sounds like it would be easier to keep doing what you’re doing – what is motivating you to shop around?”

Does this sound insane to you? It might, since it sounds like he’s talking himself out of the sale before he’s even opened his laptop. But you’d be surprised to know that this is a very effective form of probing.

No prospect is going to tell you their pain upfront. Often because they don’t even realize what their pain points are themselves, but also because they don’t want to show their hand.

No one likes being sold to, and many prospects go into sales calls with the mentality of “show me your best offer” – meaning they’re already on the defense.

Your job as a sales rep is to peel back the onion and dig deeper until you find the true pain. Because only true pain will motivate a sale, and only your ability to provide a solution will win you the deal.

Asking questions like the ones mentioned above will do two things.

  1. First, it will catch your prospect off guard, since most people are used to being force-fed features, benefits, and promises by sales reps.
  2. And second, it will force them to talk themselves into the deal.

Imagine a prospect selling himself on your product. Imagine a prospect uncovering his own pain for you, by simply asking questions. This is what top sales performers do. And they do it well.

The lesson? Uncover the pain by asking questions.

Sales skill #4. They know when to walk away

Top performers all share one similar sales skill: they know when to walk away. They don’t waste their time with maybes and they certainly don’t waste their time with Nos.

Sales person walking away, close up on legs

I worked with one of the top performing sales reps in the industry, and he knew the importance of knowing when to walk away. He had met with a prospect three times over the course of a few months but the man still wasn’t ready to buy.

One day the prospect called him and asked him to come by his business one more time before he made his decision. My colleague’s response blew my mind: he said “No, you are not allowed to buy my product. I will not sell to you. If you want to buy it, find another rep. It won’t be me.”

I walked right over to his desk and asked him how he could possibly do that. He said: “Amanda, there are a lot of time-wasters out there. You have to learn when to walk away from a deal.”

Hearing this at my first sales job has been monumental in the way I analyze opportunities. We all know that persistence pays off in sales, but being able to identify when something is a waste of your time is an art. If you are able to learn this sales skill early in your career, you will be successful.

The caveat to this skill, though, is to not put all your eggs into one basket. Your pipe should be filled with multiple opportunities, so that if one or two fall through, you are still on pace.

Average reps make the mistake of putting their efforts all into one or two deals and are devastated when they don’t close. This shows the importance of diversifying the deals that make up your quota.

The lesson? Value your time and diversify your pipeline.

Learn your sales skills from the top performers

Sales is a tough business, and the high-flyers are always worth watching to see their sales techniques in action.

Whether you’re learning how to stay on top of the numbers, lean into the “No”s, uncover pain points, or walk away at the right time, these four skills can really boost your performance.

I hope learning about these four skills shared by top performing sales reps was helpful for you. If you’re interested in building a great sales training programme, check out the collaborative learning platform 360Learning and enjoy a free two-week trial. It’s time to hit quotas!