July 10, 2019

There is a great article in Rough Notes, a trade magazine for the insurance industry, author Roger Sitkins talks about the “Sales Iceberg.” He describes this as:

“…an analogy between icebergs and success in sales. The sale itself is what people notice because it’s above the waterline…conversely, few people consider the behaviors and strategies that lead to a successful sale because they are below the waterline.”

His point is that salespeople focus on product and price (above the water) and fail to develop all the things beneath the surface which actually form the foundation for a sale (or which can sink a ship!)

It is these behaviors and strategies that can be targeted by sales coaching, and improve performance.

Sitkins shares a few good ones, all of which happen to line right up with our sales coaching and training at ASHER:

  • Focus on a few top prospects (Future Ideal Clients).
  • Research prospects thoroughly to understand their business.
  • Know all the decision makers and/or develop insiders who can grease the wheels.
  • Collect case studies to prove your capability.
  • Pre-brief to strategize how to win each account.
  • Debrief afterwards to learn from losses and replicate victories.
  • Practice all your techniques, from your phone calls to networking to handling common objections.
  • Spend more time actually selling rather than in the office.

As a final point, he emphasizes that the big differentiator between top producers and the rest is DISCIPLINE to do the work which forms the bottom of the iceberg!

This brings me to five more factors which we focus on to improve performance:

Natural talent

50% of success in sales comes down to the basic personality and natural talent of each salesperson. There are ways to modify the weaknesses in a basic personality to better match the characteristics of successful people, but there is only so much “stretching” you can do. There must be sufficient aptitude present before sales coaching and training can stick.

Testing and individualized coaching is the best way to determine aptitude and tweak any problem areas which would prevent, say, an A-type salesperson from relating to analytical buyers.

This work is below the waterline in our proverbial “sales iceberg” and not very glamorous, and it impacts every single aspect of a salesperson’s performance.

Product knowledge

Another unglamorous but necessary factor in sales greatness is deep product knowledge. Customers rely on salespeople to fill in their knowledge gaps regarding their products and services. More importantly, they expect salespeople to think like a team member and solve business pains almost as if they were an employee, rather than an outsider. This could go as far challenging the way a buyer’s business operates by showing different possibilities using the salesperson’s solutions.

To do this effectively, salespeople need to know their offerings inside and out – not only the features but also how each customer subgroup can use it creatively to make more money or otherwise win. Sales coaching invested on a product expert with great aptitude for sales will often make a top salesperson instantly.

Selling Skills

There are many selling skills sales coaching can focus on, from prospecting to presenting to handling objections. At ASHER, we pay special attention to these 10:

  • Focus on a few top prospects (ABM strategy)
  • Research prospects prior to first contact
  • Use coaches (insiders) to understand customer requirements
  • Ask questions and listen
  • Be a solutions provider
  • Provide appropriate marketing messages
  • Building long-term relationships with clients
  • Recognize the Buyers Shift
  • Ask for referrals and customer feedback
  • Know how to close the sale

Practicing each of the selling skills over and over is just like a golfer practicing with each club over and over until they master it. They continue to practice as long as they play the game, never allowing themselves to get rusty. Similarly, a true sales pro never stops learning and practicing.

Sales processes

This next factor which underlies sales success is having great sales processes. Sales processes are not meant to stifle creativity in salespeople, but rather to streamline and organize the steps of the buyer’s journey so that employees don’t have to reinvent the wheel with each deal.

While macro sales processes are generally established by managers, sales coaching can also address the micro-processes an individual salesperson uses in day to day work. These include determining who to follow up with and how, time management, personal lead generation techniques, etc.


The last hidden factor in the “sales iceberg” is motivation. Like aptitude, it tends to be intrinsic in the individual, but unlike aptitude it’s much more likely to be affected by outside influences, such as good sales coaching.

If people are unmotivated, it usually comes down to lack of training (they don’t know what to do to generate business), compensation problems (not enough, changes too often, or too complicated) or poor leadership (politics or not showing appreciation).

I find that one of the best ways to address motivation is to survey your staff. Simply ask them what motivates them and demotivates them about your current operation and you will find plenty to work with.

Elite salespeople are very well rewarded, and often enjoy the best things in life. Beneath the visible, glamorous side, however, lie a lot of factors people don’t see – including years of hard work, training, and a burning desire to become the best.

Are you ready to put in the work to become the best salesperson or sales leader YOU can be?