Sales people are not fools. But this well-known saying brings home a problem that I often see; many Sales People appear to use Sales Tools but don’t really understand their purpose or master the underlying selling skills.
Let me give you an example. I was sitting in an Opportunity Review with the MD of a client recently, watching a Sales Person use his Opportunity Plan to present an opportunity. Part of the way through the MD whispered to me ‘don’t believe a word he is saying’. It was clear that the presentation was based on assumptions and that the Sales Person was only talking about the positive aspects of the opportunity to avoid awkward questions rather than being transparent about the situation to identify weaknesses and required actions to resolve them.
This happens all the time
This is not an isolated incident. Time after time I see scenarios like the one I witnessed recently in a discussion about Opportunity Qualification. Our client sells software to the Insurance Industry and the Sales Person who was presenting didn’t have enough leads. Instead of looking objectively at the Qualification Criteria and highlighting selling risks he did everything he could to sell the opportunity internally and justify investing pre-sales resources.
Many Account Plans are filled out to ‘keep-the-manager-happy’ but contain little substance. A common part of an Account Plan is a Customer SWOT analysis but rarely has the Sales Person grasped the questions he needs to ask to get this information from the customer.
Similarly, follow up letters sent after initial meetings that are full of sentences that start with ‘we’ suggest to me that the writer is very comfortable talking about the company and the products but less good at asking questions, listening and understanding what the customer really needs. It reminds me of a little nugget of wisdom I heard recently ‘The ability to speak several languages is an asset. The ability to keep your mouth shut in any language is priceless’.
Perhaps the time I most often see people going through the motions of using a tool but really not using it properly is in win/loss interviews. I can quite understand why, but Sales People all too often accept the first thing customers say about losing a deal – usually something about price or product features. They don’t want to delve deeper and find out if there is anything they as Sales People could have done better.
Understanding the value of a tool
I recently completed a workshop for a North American supplier to the mining industry so they were all pretty straight talking, hard-nosed guys. The objective of the Leadership Team workshop was to discuss and validate the content of a Sales Training to be rolled out globally.
At first I thought the workshop was going very wrong because the most senior guy questioned everything. But after a while I realised he was pushing his team to think hard about all the implementation obstacles and find strong arguments to justify why the tools and underlying capabilities were necessary. By the end of the workshop everybody understood what all the tools were for and the required skills behind them – the participants were not going to simply go through the Sales Process ticking boxes and they wouldn’t allow people who reported to them to do so either.
It’s all about mind set
Now I can’t recommend this sort of aggressive questioning technique for every organisation but the principle is right for everyone using a Sales Process or managing people who do. You have to get everybody’s buy-in. That means understanding the thinking behind each step in the process and the value of doing it properly.
It may be tough to have a lead turned down at Qualification stage especially if it means you have to go and find new leads. But it’s better than wasting time and resources on a bid that is never going to be won. And nobody likes to hear the uncomfortable truth about things they could have done better, but how can you learn if you don’t know what your own weaknesses are?
It is vital that managers ensure their team members understand why each step of the Sales Process and each Sales Tool is so valuable.
Questions to ask yourself
1. Do you understand the purpose and value of each step in the Sales Process and every Sales Tool?
2. Do your managers lead by example and demonstrate the underlying selling skills behind each tool?
3. Do you try hard to get feedback on your own performance, even when it may be uncomfortable?