How can salespeople and CXOs win customers and keep them for years? In Winning Lifelong Customers With The Five Abilities, published in March, Rick Wong, a former salesperson, sales executive, and marketer at HP and Microsoft, created a guide for defining the “outside the contract” factors that decision makers care about when deciding to make a purchase.

“Whether working in a company or with partners, I saw the same trend–there were always a handful of salespeople who just seemed to always know the right things to do, and seemed to be moving with intention,” Wong said. Wong observed them, and came up with the five abilities and implemented them himself.

Tech sales is a unique field because the salespeople are never going to be the experts, Wong said. “They are expected to be knowledgeable, but in most cases, the people we’re selling to know as much or more about our products as we do,” he added.

The proliferation of social media and company websites has helped buyers become smarter and given them the ability to research products more thoroughly. “While we’re not the experts, technology salespeople have to be able to find those subject matter experts that the customer needs to be confident that what they’re buying or what they’ve evaluated is for real,” Wong said.

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The tech sales representative plays more of a coordinator or quarterbacking role, because typically they need to bring in an expert to sell to a large number of people. “There may be only one or two decision makers, but there are a lot of influencers,” Wong said. “Each has a thing they need, and it’s up to the salesperson to make sure they get in front of the right person at the right time to get the right thing.”

While companies like Amazon prove that sales automation is successful in the business to consumer space, in business-to-business, “sales is still a people thing,” Wong said. “I think it will be a long time before any kind of algorithm can tell us why a human being is going to commit millions of dollars to a company on behalf of their company. In the era of information overload, at the end of the day customers pick who they want to work with.”

Here are the five abilities that will help you become a better salesperson, and even help you climb the corporate ladder.

1. Visibility

It’s key to be consciously and consistently seen in the right way, at the right time, by the right people, Wong said. In sales, you must make sure your messaging gets people curious in less than 30 seconds, and design each communication so that people naturally want to pay attention.

2. Credibility

Credibility means a person can demonstrate that their abilities and those of their products and services in a productive way. They know enough about trends in the industry to be able to educate people, and have enough clout in their organization that they can advocate for their customer back at their company. “Sometimes you hear enterprise sales people say that the hardest thing is selling internally,” Wong said. Being credible also means giving helpful advice and assistance that goes beyond your stated product or service, he added.

3. Viability

Allow your prospects and customers to fully articulate their needs, Wong said. Then, use your knowledge and experience to evaluate those needs, coach potential customers, and correct their expectations. “I tell people that worse than not winning is winning the wrong customer,” Wong said. The wrong customer is a poor fit from the beginning, and is never satisfied. You need to go through a qualification process to ensure that you are viable for them, and they are viable for you, Wong said. “Otherwise, they will never be your advocate, and will never recommend you because they will never be satisfied,” he added.

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4. Capability

Capability gets into the personal side of selling, Wong said. “I strongly believe that people make business decisions for personal reasons,” Wong said. “The bigger the deal, the more personal it all becomes, because it affects their career, how much work they have to do, whatever it may be.” Wong found that five factors drive people to make decisions: Safety, simplicity in environment, rewards, recognition, and being a revolutionary and wanting to change everything. “You need to figure out which one of those you’re selling to, and sell the right way to them,” Wong said.

5. Reliability

“Anybody selling to any company tries to be as reliable as possible,” Wong said. “But especially in the tech industry, the unexpected happens almost always.” It’s important to be accountable if things don’t go exactly as planned, and communicate actively with the right technical, sales, and management staff when needed. A strong sales representative is also open and responsive when a customer is unhappy, and can offer new solutions, Wong said.

The five abilities can also be used to sell yourself and climb the leadership ladder, Wong said. For example, one of Wong’s mentees is an attorney, and asked how he should go about selling himself as a chief counsel for his company. If he got the job, he would be the youngest chief counsel in the company’s history. Wong took him through the five abilities:

  • Who do you need to be visible to?
  • Who is making the decision, and who is going to influence them?
  • Being the youngest, what are your barriers to being the most credible?
  • Is it viable for them at this point to bring somebody who is 15 years younger than anyone else on the executive committee onto that team?
  • How do we make sure they have a need for you, so that the people who evaluate your capabilities promote you? That you know what the criteria for success is, and that you have the time needed to be successful?

“He structured his approach to the interviews with the five abilities,” Wong said. “He got the job.”