the ceo magazine, sales,
Rick Wong, Author, Winning Lifelong Customers with The Five Abilities

Whether you’re the CEO or a sales representative, you’re a seller. You know that in order for your company to be competitive, you’ve got to continually make new sales.

Still, it isn’t enough to just make sales. In this business environment, you’ve got to do such a stellar job for your customers that they return to you again and again – and become lifelong customers.

There’s just one problem: Such sellers are a minority.

After more than 30 years of selling for small businesses, entrepreneurs and large corporations such as Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, I’ve seen sales fall short time and again. Of course, there are a few people who rely on the sales habits they’ve formed over the years and so they manage to be successful in moving sales forward. But the rest? They don’t have such habits and simply hope that something they try will work.

Irene Bjorklund, former northwest area general manager for HP, once told me that the best sales people stand out. She coached me to watch them, and I soon learned that they a) are always on the move and move with purpose; b) understand why they take each action; and c) openly share their best practices.

Luckily, Irene thought I had the right stuff to be a top salesperson and that led to me being hired as an MBA intern at HP, a hot place to be at the time. That decision by Irene, and her staff, was fortunate for me because it allowed me to tag along on sales calls with our best sellers, and executives who were known to be great with customers.

From that experience, I noticed the five abilities that these top performers used:

  • Visability *. The best salespeople know how to create such a curiosity about their product or service that decision-makers and influencers are compelled to know more. This is something I call “suspicion-of-value” because the customer asks to know more from you. These salespeople also know how to find ways to be seen at the right time by the right people in the right way.
  • Credability *. The best sellers can demonstrate how things really work, or can link customers with subject matter experts (SME).  They keep themselves very well-informed so they can educate customers on industry trends. It’s key that these sellers are connected and can effectively advocate for their customers internally. The best sellers will demonstrate, educate and advocate.
  • Viability. You are not a good fit for all customers and all customers aren’t a good fit for you. Top sellers find customers who are so clear on their needs that they urgently seek a way to get their needs met. They find customers who know what success looks like, which makes them great coaches and internal sellers. Rockstar salespeople find coaches who have clout and are willing to sell for you when you leave the building.
  • Capability.  Perhaps the most amazing thing to me is how quickly top performers identify the customer’s personal motivations for buying. They know that people make business decisions for personal reasons and the bigger the purchase, the more this is true. They recognize all different styles of decision-makers from the risk-averse to the risk-taker. From those who want a simpler life to those who crave change. Each must see that your offering addresses the personal reasons they make business decisions.
  • Reliability. Despite your best planning to have everything go right for your customer, often there are unexpected events. The power goes out during a software deployment. Products are damaged or lost in transit. Do you point fingers or jump right in to help your customer get it right? You know the answer. Reliable sellers show up when the unexpected happens, even when the fault lies elsewhere. Unreliable sellers blame others. The best sellers are unreasonably accountable even when they’re not responsible for what goes wrong.

After earning my MBA I was assigned a territory of my own where I could practice these five things and confirm that they were indeed repeatable by a newbie. Not only were they repeatable but I also was able to use those best practices to go from trainee to top performer in just over a year, eventually winning the President’s Club Award, which is the highest honor given to salespeople at HP. When I moved to Microsoft, I was able apply the same habits with teams that I managed. That led to us earning Team of the Year honors, which is the highest award given a sales team at Microsoft.

It works and it’s repeatable.

*intentional misspelling

About the Author:

Rick Wong has over 35 years working in sales and marketing with Fortune 100 companies including Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft. His company, The Five Abilities, LLC, is a management consulting firm in Seattle, Washington, where he helps salespeople learn habits that improve customer acquisition and retention results. His clients range from entrepreneurial ventures to global enterprises. He also serves on the board of directors of Vision House, a Christian non-profit firm serving homeless families with children. He is the author of a new book called Winning Lifelong Customers with The Five Abilities. You can learn more at


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