Sales leaders and businesses are paying a hefty price for not developing the selling skills of their people. They’re not only selling less than they could be, they’re also being forced to sell at lower prices than they should be!
There are so few in sales who are truly professional sellers. It’s salespeople’s own approach, attitude, and behavior that is shooting their sales effort in the foot while causing buyers to perceive them as nothing more than vendors and commodity sellers rather than the professional problem solvers and value creators we so badly want them to be.
Salespeople Living in Reactive Mode Are Arriving Late to Opportunities
Probably the most common and damaging driver of salespeople being perceived and treated simply as vendors is being late to a sales opportunity. Sales leaders allow their teams to spend way too much time operating in reactive mode. Sellers are waiting for leads, waiting for customers to raise their hands, waiting for beautifully teed-up opportunities.
Reactive sellers are often slow arriving to a new sales opportunity. By the time they’re involved, the buyer is far down the path. Buying criteria have been established. Even worse, these reactive sellers end up way at the back of the line. Often, they find themselves playing catch-up to their more proactive competitors’ salespeople, who got there first, who were building relationships before the buyer started shopping, who were in what I call “Position A”: Sitting in the consultant’s seat, bringing value, sharing insights, and helping define the buyer’s requirements.
Can you see why being late to the opportunity often relegates your salesperson to vendor status? How hard is it to be seen as a value creator and consultant to the prospective customer who is already far down the path? Very hard. It’s no fun selling from behind, eating the dust of your competitor who already has a relationship and earned a seat at the table because he was in the opportunity early. In fact, it might very well be that your competitor actually created the opportunity by proactively targeting the customer.
Unless your solution is so radically different from and superior to the competition’s, which I hate to tell you is rarely the case, it is very hard to come across as a consultative, value-creating salesperson when you’re tardy. Typically, from that position, it takes a very low price to earn the buyer’s attention. And that’s a game we certainly don’t want to play.
Salespeople Who Lead with Their Product Are Asking to Be Commoditized
Adding insult to injury, after they’re slow to get involved in a potential sales opportunity, many salespeople further reduce their effectiveness by leading with their product or solution. Again, it’s untrained or poorly trained sellers who don’t know any better. They put their product out front and make it the focus of the conversation when meeting with potential customers. What are the consequences of making the offering the hero of the story? That approach communicates -- loud and clear -- to the customer that the salesperson is self-focused, more concerned with what he’s selling than with the customer’s issues, needs, and desires. Think about it. It’s a truly horrible message to send.
When salespeople lead with their product or service, it is impossible to be perceived as consultants or trusted advisors. It makes it as clear as day that the salesperson believes the relationship and sale are centered on his offering, not the customer and its needs. It’s as if the salesperson is begging the customer to put his offering’s features and price on a spreadsheet to be compared against every competitors’ features and price. The salesperson might as well show up wearing a company logo golf shirt embroidered with these words: WE ARE ALL ABOUT OUR PRODUCTS!
Hear me clearly: When you live by the product then you die by the product. Salespeople who lead with their offering are admitting that they bring zero value to the equation, and they’re essentially telling customers to commoditize the purchase decision.
Salespeople Conducting Amateurish and Ineffective Sales Calls Doom Themselves to Vendor or Product-Pitcher Status
Who’s teaching salespeople how to plan and conduct sales calls? If what I’m seeing is any indication, nobody is. So much sales training today is focused on macro theories. Popular sales blogs and LinkedIn posts are filled with articles espousing the virtues of macro sales theories like social selling and insight selling. But there are few sales experts writing about how to better execute the day-to-day basics, the fundamentals. Talking about sales call structure may not be sexy, but it has never been more needed, especially as sales managers are spending less time in the field coaching people.
Here are some of the most common sales call sins:
- The salesperson doesn’t establish herself as a professional or assert control by setting up the meeting, sharing her agenda, and getting buy-in from the customer.
- Sellers approach the sales call already in presentation mode and are too quick to jump to a demo or presentation.
- Salespeople talk way too much and listen way too little. It’s very hard to come across as a professional problem solver when you don’t discover the customer’s real issues. As I’m fond of repeating: Discovery precedes presentation -- always!
- Salespeople give off the vibe that they are there to “pitch at” the prospect, which creates an awkward, adversarial dynamic and often provokes a guarded, even cynical, posture from the customer.
Take some time now to replay in your mind the last dozen or so of your people’s sales calls that you observed. Were the salespeople coming across as consultative professionals or product pushers? Did they do more talking or listening? Was their objective to learn as much as possible as to improve the customer’s condition, or to launch into presentation mode as quickly as possible? And, most important, if you were the customer, how would you view the salesperson -- simply as a self-interested vendor or as a true value creator, advisor, and trustworthy business partner?
Amateurish approaches doom the salesperson to vendor and product-pitcher status. You don’t earn a seat as the expert or consultant at the customer’s table when you’re viewed as a pitchman better suited to doing infomercials than to helping your customer address business challenges.
Salespeople Who Avoid Objections Never Get the Chance to Address Them
Some salespeople bury their head in the sand whenever they sense their prospects have reservations or concerns. Newsflash: Refusing to discuss these anxieties doesn't make them go away. On the contrary, doing so means reps completely lose the opportunity to resolve them.
If a prospect seems less than enthusiastic about a specific feature or detail, ask probing questions. You might say, “What are your thoughts on [feature]?” or “What challenges or difficulties do you foresee around [aspect of deal]?”
It's also helpful to ask, “Are there any reasons you wouldn't buy?”
There are only two potential responses to this question. The buyer will say, “Yes, I'm concerned about X, Y, and Z,” -- in which case you've successfully brought hidden objections out into the open -- or they'll reply, “No, I think we're ready to move forward.”
Either way, the outcome is positive.
Salespeople Doing Whatever the Customer Requests Come Across as Order Takers
When the customer or prospect tells a salesperson to jump, a majority respond with the traditional “How high?” and typically do so with great excitement. They think, what could be better? The customer wants me to do something and I will show him that I’m the best, I’m the fastest, I’m the most compliant, I have the best attitude, I follow instructions better than anyone, I’m likable, I present better than anyone, and I’ll provide the most creative and in-depth proposal.
The harsh reality is that when the seller does whatever the customer asks and is more concerned with being liked than respected, it often lowers instead of raises the perception of the salesperson in the buyer’s eyes. Sure, that sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.
In no way am I declaring that responsiveness is unimportant. It’s hugely important. And I’m not advocating that salespeople behave like obstinate unlikable jerks. Not at all. But I am strenuously making the case that in today’s sales environment, where value is the yardstick by which all potential providers are measured, it is imperative that we think hard about how sellers are perceived by buyers. Too often, the very likable, highly relational, super-responsive, overly accommodating salesperson gets blown out of the water when going up against a true sales killer who owns his sales process and isn’t afraid to push back against the buyer.
How do your people respond when a potential client they haven’t been working summons them to come in for a presentation or demo, or announces that he’s gathering his team together and wants their best dog and pony show? Do they get all lathered up, enthusiastically preparing for their big moment in the spotlight? Or do they raise one eyebrow, pause to think, and begin to wonder what prompted this prospect’s request? Do they run headfirst and blind into this premature presentation, or do they assert control of the situation and begin an important dialogue with customer? Put bluntly, are they yes men (order takers) willing to do whatever a customer wants hoping to earn obedience points on the way to a sale? Or are they confident enough to push back on the request, professionally and respectfully informing the prospect that they’d loved to come in and present, but only at the right time, after having had the opportunity to meet various stakeholders, better understand what prompted the request, and learn more about the situation so they can then craft a relevant presentation?
Let me close this post where we began. Ill-equipped salespeople are hurting sales and profit performance because they are consistently perceived by customers as nothing more than vendors. Contrary to what many weak salespeople believe, customers are not looking for subservient order takers; they are seeking help and value. And it’s just about impossible to come across as a value creator when you’re late to an opportunity, leading with product, pitching instead of probing, and presenting and proposing prematurely.
Sales Management. Simplified. The Straight Truth About Getting Exceptional Results from
Your Sales Team by Mike Weinberg. © 2016 Mike Weinberg. All rights reserved.
Published by AMACOM Books www.amacombooks.org. Division of American Management Association 1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.