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What are the fundamentals of sales?

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 2/24/16 1:30 PM

There was a recent conversation happening among sales leaders, managers, and representatives around the question “Does mastering the fundamentals lead to improved sales performance?”

No surprise that the answer was yes, of course it does. What did surprise me, no, irked me, is that the majority of the answers were about skills, methods, tactics, process and methodology. Some answered that great listening skills are fundamental. Others talked about prospecting and qualifying, others even talked about CRM tools. Because I was irked, I did some more digging and Googled “fundamentals of sales”. Same result. Lots of posts about customer focus, optimism, prospecting, qualifying, etc…

Not the fundamentals at all. No wonder 52% of salespeople can’t make their quota when the sales community itself can’t even agree on what the fundamentals actually are!

If you look up the full definition of fundamental, as I did, the Webster dictionary says :

serving as an original or generating source”

“of or relating to essential structure, function, or facts, of or dealing with general principles rather than practical application”

“of, relating to, or produced by the lowest component of a complex vibration”

“belonging to one's innate or ingrained characteristics”

Or as stated “a basic principle, rule, law, or the like, that serves as the groundwork of a system; essential part”

So if we go by these definitions fundamentals is the foundation and origin of a skill or system, not the skill or system itself. Here is the problem- when the discussion was brought up, the majority of the answers from sales leaders and manager talked about skills and competencies, the end result, not the foundation of what creates those skills and competencies.

Don’t mistake me, all these things are important. But they are not the fundamentals, they are not the unchanging foundation of what makes a great salesperson.

What the fundamentals of sales really are.


Sales fundamentals are about mastering the mindset that allows a salesperson to learn any skill, methodology, tool and buying process so that they are relevant, transparent, and more helpful to the buyer than their website is. Fundamentals comes down to:

  1. Supportive Beliefs : We all grow up with a set of personal beliefs. How we were raised to behave and what we were taught to think influences and shapes our belief system. What your internal voice tells you will influence your sales behaviors and will either support or hinder your success. Some beliefs will limit or encourage a strong self-image and relationship with prospects. Others will influence buying decisions, size of deals, and for managers and executives, how they manage people and processes.
  2. Lack of need for approval : Do you believe that people need to like you to buy from you? If so, you are setting yourself up for failure. Your fear of being disliked inhibits all of the necessary sales skills to engage in meaningful conversations that win deals. Without a need for approval, you have the freedom to do or say anything.
  3. Ability to control emotions : Being emotionally involved in a sale takes you out of the present. You think about the future, or next step. You are not in the present moment and hearing what your prospect is actually saying, including the tone and inflection of their voice. You are losing your objectivity, ability to offer insight, and developing happy ears that tell you what you want to hear. (They’re ready to buy!) This will inhibit your ability to listen and ask questions with ease. You will also likely get frustrated and try to "move things along" only to push away prospects with your tactics.
  4. Supportive buy cycle : If you are the type of person who has to compare features, price shop, or delays decisions to think a purchase over, then you can certainly understand it when a prospect wants to do the same thing, right? How you behave as a buyer will impact your ability to sell, and if you are a leader, the way you buy will influence how your team sells.
  5. Be comfortable discussing money : When your prospect pushes back that you are too expensive, you are likely to agree with them. Instead of helping a prospect focus on the value of solving the problem, you are focused on price. When that happens, you aren’t able to find the real budget for a solution. When you focus on price, you are not asking the right questions to make sure you understand the problem. To you, the problem is the price. You can understand that, it seems like a pretty high price to you too.
  6. Handling rejection : The ability to handle rejection stems from your own self-image. When you are comfortable with who you are and the value that you bring, you understand that it’s not you they reject, just your offer to help. When rejection no longer inhibits you, you will be able to ask the appropriate thought provoking questions and become a thought leader and trusted adviser in your prospects' and clients' mind.

Are the fundamentals only for new salespeople to learn?

Unfortunately, no. We have worked with veteran sales people and new sales people alike, and they struggle with these same fundamentals. Just because you have been selling for 20 years, doesn’t mean you have mastered these fundamentals.

In fact, research from the Objective Management Group of over a million sales people, across the globe and all industries shows that only 6% have mastered these fundamentals and resulting skills and competencies, whereas 20% do ok but could improve. Of the remaining 74%, 25% shouldn’t be in sales at all because not only do they not have the fundamentals and skills, they aren’t coachable or trainable either. That leaves 49% that could improve with work because they are trainable and coachable.

Now consider how much sales has changed (not changing, not on the verge of, but CHANGED) as a result of the informed and empowered buyer. We are all new salespeople in the age of the buyer.

If you want to improve sales, improve the salespeople. Starting with the fundamentals. Shiny new technology and fashionably designed processes and methodologies won’t (aren’t) going to do it alone.

Which percentage do you fall into? Are you part of the 25% who would be better of doing something else, or the 49% that could improve? Could the next 30 days be the start of something extraordinary?

Topics: sales development, sales coach, sales mindsets