Historically speaking, sales is one of the oldest existing professions, having gone through a plethora of different shifts throughout time. From the early trading days in the Roman Empire through the Industrial Revolution to the rise of door-to-door salesmen in the 1940s, sales representatives need to constantly adapt to the continuously changing behaviour of their customers in order to stay relevant and land a sale.

As the sales landscape is changing through maturing markets and consumers gaining control over their purchases in the digital age, the need for the traditional sales person becomes increasingly obsolete. In fact, the sales profession appears to be struggling. According to a recent Harvard Business Review report, 63% of all B2B salespeople are currently under-performing and this number seems to be only increasing.

In the digital era, advancements in technology provide the latest tools and insights into learning about customers and potential targets. From successful lead generation to customer retention, the variety of different tools that help sales professionals excel can seem overwhelming.

Back in 2010, having knocked on many doors as a former door-to-door salesman and sales manager, my business partner and I were fed up with the CRM tools available for ambitious salespeople. We felt that the CRM landscape completely ignored the needs of the salesperson. So, we decided to find a solution to leverage technology, solve established sales problems and put salespeople back into the driver’s seat. The result is Pipedrive, a leading CRM sales software used by ambitious SMEs worldwide.

Our philosophy is activity-based selling. We want you to focus on key actions rather than end results. It may be tough initially, but trust me, it works. In fact, according to our Global Sales Report, which reflects the sales performance of our 70,000 customers globally, we found that SMEs that focus on the right actions have a much higher conversion rate, typically around 37 per cent.

What is activity-based selling?

You might rightly wonder, so what exactly is activity-based selling? Let me explain. The vast majority of salespeople focus on results rather than actions. And it makes sense, as we all want to see results. As salespeople, the pressure to close the deals in our pipeline is powerful. But you need to do exactly the opposite. Instead, design your strategy around process. Keep your focus on your actions and not results. Resist the temptation to make the results your focus.

Let me give you an example: imagine you were running a marathon. At the start of the race, you are clearly aware of having to reach the finish line within a specific time. However, the activity-based approach requires you to make a core mental shift of focussing on the single steps you have to take in order to reach your end result. How quickly are you running? Are you controlling the rhythm of your breathing? The metrics you care about are the ones you can control in that very moment. After all, it is the process you need to focus on that will get you to your result.

Why is activity-based selling the answer?

Firstly, it puts you in control. In many fields of work, you apply yourself and do your absolute best and mostly you get the result you want. Not every time, of course — a surgeon won’t always perform a successful operation, a teacher won’t be able to get through to every student. But it dramatically increases your chances of success.

With activity-based selling, you take control. You decide that, for a set period, perhaps a month, you’re going to follow a system that you’ve established and focus on your own actions. Then you’ll assess it to see how well things are working and how they can be tweaked. When you do this, you suddenly find yourself in the driver’s seat.

And here’s the great news: When people focus on what they can control, they’re more productive. They do more of the things that ultimately lead to the sale.

Next, replace anxiety with confidence. Results-based selling could just as easily be called ‘anxiety-based selling’. You have a goal, such as a quota, but you simply don’t know how you’re going to achieve it. You lack a solid plan. So of course you’re feeling anxious.

When prospects meet you, or even talk with you on the phone, they can instantly sense your anxiety. You come across as desperate for their business. So they trust you less and are less likely to buy from you. The anxiety of your results-based approach can turn customers off.

To turn this around, you need confidence. And confidence starts with a sense of achievement. Activity-based selling is the quickest way for you to feel less anxious and more confident. You take genuine pride in achieving the marks you set out for yourself — how many calls you make on a certain day, how many meetings you hold, how many prospects you move from one stage to the next within your pipeline.

This confidence fuels you. It keeps you consistently doing the things that work for you. And it puts customers at ease. They respond positively to your confidence. The improvement is so powerful that it’s almost unfair to your competition!

Finally, maximise your key performance indicators (KPIs). Online tools will help you to stay organised and make the best use of your time – and this means working smarter.  When you follow this approach, you’re forced to determine how you work best. You can take lessons and gather ideas from other successful salespeople, but in the end you’re going to build the process that’s optimal for your skill set.

As you adopt and refine your approach, you’ll find improvement in all of these KPIs. You’ll develop the skills to get more deals into the pipeline. Your confidence will help you increase the value of your deals. You’ll close more. And your process will become so organised and fluid that you’re able to keep deals moving through at a faster pace.

Based on everything I’ve seen, learned and experienced myself — as a salesman at all levels, from selling books door to door to overseeing our rapidly growing sales operation at Pipedrive — I know this: when you master activity-based sales, you’ll put yourself on the best possible track to success, no matter what age you’re living in.

Timo Rein is the co-founder and president of Pipedrive, a provider of sales CRM software that gives sales teams control over their selling processes. He has 15+ years’ experience as a salesman, sales manager and software entrepreneur. Before co-founding Pipedrive, Rein helped to build a leading sales and management training house in the Baltics. Prior to that, he was among the top 1% door-to-door salesmen with Southwestern Company.