I am writing my fourth book. I have catalogued many of the factors that have made selling—and leading sales—more challenging than ever, offering strategies and tactics to address these factors effectively.
Some would look at the lists and use external factors to explain why less than fifty percent of salespeople fail to achieve their targets. They would be wrong to believe that things like buyers giving salespeople less time, or needing consensus, cause their poor results.
Salespeople and sales organisations struggle because they haven’t changed their sales approach to address the new realities and challenges of selling effectively. It’s not external; it’s internal.
The Limits of Your Perception
The fundamentals of selling are durable, and they don’t change very much over time. Things like prospecting, closing, negotiation, good questioning techniques, and differentiating yourself and your offering will always be part of selling. Over time, these things evolve, even if you do not recognise the evolution and even if you choose not to respond.
Recently, a sales leader told me about a person on his team who walked into a customer’s office and opened his catalogue to show the prospective client their new offerings. The salesperson is an order-taker in a world that belongs to value creators, something his sales leader knows to be true. You might not be using an approach that is as outdated as this one, but there are other areas where you need to update your traditional methods.
Now, one of the most challenging outcomes in sales is gaining the first meeting. It’s always been difficult, but over time, their companies ask more of them, and they are less willing to meet with salespeople whom, they suspect, will waste their time. Much of the response to this trend has been the exact opposite of what is useful, believing that technology will improve results. This approach is the same as yelling at someone who doesn’t understand what you are saying, thinking that relentlessly repeating yourself but louder, is the key to changing their mind.
To improve your prospecting results, you need to change your approach by improving your value proposition for the meeting, offering your contacts a meeting that they will benefit from even if they never work with you. You make prospecting much more difficult without an approach that allows you to create value in the first call, one that provides your contact with a higher resolution lens through which to see their business and decision.
It’s an “old school” to use the phone, but it is still the best way to attend a meeting. It’s a “new school” to have an unassailable value proposition that improves your effectiveness on the phone.
Too Many Stakeholders
Another difficult challenge is avoiding the “no decision” that follows when the contacts and stakeholders in a company struggle to agree to move forward. Certain words project that a salesperson has a limited perception of the problem, like suggesting that the single contact they have been working with will be the sole decision-maker. The story concludes with a phone call from the contact, informing the salesperson that the decision-makers have decided to go in another direction.
There is every reason to believe that you are missing stakeholders, that you are going to have to work to acquire them, and that some will be opposed to the change you are helping to create. It’s also likely true that your primary contact will fear losing control of things once people express their opinions and needs.
It’s an “old school” to acquire a stakeholder in leadership who will support your initiative, which will always be helpful. It’s a “new school” approach to develop an approach to identifying the stakeholders necessary to a deal, the buying committee, and understand how to approach consensus building.
Being of Value
One of the mistakes we sometimes make in sales is loading up the sales force with so much product knowledge and technical information that their competency around pitching the product exceeds their ability to sell effectively. At some large sales kickoff meetings where I have spoken, the sales force might be required to attend five sessions on the product without a single workshop on sales skills. The emphasis on the solution can cause you to believe the solution is the value you offer.
For a salesperson to serve their clients, they have to know more about where their client’s company and their company come together. The client will always know more about their business than the salesperson, but the salesperson should still know more about the decision they are helping the client make. When you help people decide every day, and those same people make the decision infrequently, you must be the expert.
The solution is not the value you create in the sales conversation you are having with your clients. Your insights, experience, approach, and ability to provide new potential and new opportunities make up the value you provide; this is also what creates a preference to buy from you. Your solution is how you execute the advice you provide to your clients, which is an important distinction.
Selling is going to continue to evolve—maybe more than other areas of business. If you are not actively working on getting better, you are getting worse. Don’t let the limits of your perception be the limits of your results.