Be Brilliant in the Basics

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General James Mattis’ leadership philosophy is simple: Be brilliant in the basics. Although his philosophy is meant for the battlefield, it applies equally to salespeople competing on the battlefield of business.

We live in an increasingly automated world where there is an obsession to find the next hack or shortcut. This automated mindset has spilled over to the sales arena as salespeople continuously look for the next hack, trick, or app. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of technology that helps sellers become more productive, but relying too heavily on shortcuts impedes your progress as a salesperson. Selling doesn’t have to be as complex as we make it. Top-achieving salespeople know the secret to selling success – focus on the basics. If you execute these seven basic selling skills, you will be more successful.

Number 1Select the Right Targets

Our research shows that fewer than 20 percent of salespeople have an established profile for their ideal target. Consider this for a moment, roughly 80 percent of salespeople are not sure which targets to pursue. Pursuing the wrong business leads to wasted effort. For salespeople, time is the currency they invest. Ensure that you are investing wisely. Ask yourself, “What is fundamentally good business?” Then create a profile based on your response.

Number 2Pursue Your Targets the Right Way

Too often, salespeople call on the wrong types of decision makers. Our research shows that salespeople spend more time selling to procurement-type buyers than any other decision maker. Salespeople are attempting to sell value to the one decision maker who is the least likely to buy value. When pursuing your targets, ask yourself two questions: (1) Which decision makers have ultimate buying authority? And (2) Which decision makers have the expertise to influence the decision? These two questions clarify who you should pursue.

Number 3Uncover the Buyer’s Needs

Discovery is the process of gaining an in-depth understanding of your customer’s needs. Discovery involves engaging your customer in conversation, asking the right questions, and listening. You are more persuasive through listening than you are speaking. Customers have a knack for telling you what they need; just listen.

Here are a few great questions to generate dialogue:

  • What’s important to you when making this decision?
  • How do you define value?
  • What are your thoughts on solving this problem?
  • In your opinion, what’s the ideal solution?
  • What do you expect from us throughout this project?

Number 4Persuade the Buyer

Persuasion is not a dirty word. Persuasion is convincing the buyer that your solution is the best alternative. Your goal is to create a solution that aligns perfectly with your customer’s needs. In the discovery phase, you ask questions to understand what the buyer needs and wants. In the persuasion phase, you detail how your solution aligns with their needs. The more overlap between your solution and the customer’s needs, the more likely they are to buy.

Effective salespeople explain how their solution will impact the buyer positively. It’s not enough to supply a product or provide a service; articulate how your service or product will impact the buyer. For example, you may provide the customer with a new high-quality adhesive. But how does this adhesive really impact the customer? Does it help the customer save time, create a safer work environment, improve productivity? The impact of your solution is what compels the buyer to act.

Number 5Partner with the Customer

Once you convince a customer to work with you, develop a partnership. A true partnership can exist only after the sale is made. Partnering is about working together with your customer to help them achieve their goals. Partnering with a customer means you look for opportunities to create value for the customer, asking yourself, “What else can I do for the customer?” This means challenging yourself to enhance the customer experience. Partnering means prioritizing your customers and their needs.

Number 6Leverage Your Customer Relationships

Once you partner with customers and create more value, look for ways to grow your business. Leveraging is the set of activities you’ll engage in to expand your business with existing customers. It’s easier and more profitable to sell to existing customers. Look for additional opportunities to grow with your customers. But rather than simply looking for projects to quote, identify problems to solve. Our research shows that solving problems is the number one way to grow your business with existing customers. Every problem you solve creates more profit – for you and the customer.

Number 7Plan Every Sales Call

Ninety-five percent of top-achieving salespeople plan every sales call. Pre-call planning is the closest thing to a silver bullet in sales. Pre-call planning is simple, yet powerful. Pre-call planning is the one thing you can do that will have the most dramatic impact on your success. It may not be the most exciting aspect of selling, but it is the most critical. Visit to download a complimentary pre-call planning guide. By answering the 10 questions on this guide, you will execute more effective sales calls. Planning requires zero talent; it only requires a little time.

Selling is not overly complex. Identify your targets, understand their needs, and then create a solution that satisfies their needs. Once you make the sale, look for ways to create more value, and then leverage your relationship into additional opportunities. Finally, plan every call and you will be more successful. Your success hinges on your ability to execute these seven fundamentals. Be brilliant at these basics. Make it a habit to do those things that others deem a hassle, and you will perform at levels they cannot match.

Paul Reilly is a speaker, sales trainer, author of Selling Through Tough Times (McGraw-Hill, October 2021), coauthor of Value-Added Selling, fourth edition (McGraw-Hill, 2018), and host of The Q and A Sales Podcast. For additional information on Paul’s keynote presentations and seminars, call 636.778.0175 or email Visit and complete the 30-Day Tough-Timer Challenge.

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