A few year ago, I published an article about GPCTBA/C&I, the sales qualification framework we use at HubSpot. In the time since, a number of other sales teams have adopted it as their exploratory conversation framework too.
Just this past month, we released a full, free sales training course that features the framework prominently, as well as how to identify, connect, and advise contacts into customers. Thousands of people have enrolled in this course already.
But this qualification framework is not easy to learn. Not because it’s long, but some sales reps' weaknesses prevent them from even trying to qualify, let alone pulling it off successfully. For most salespeople it usually takes months, if not years, of coaching and practicing before they can overcome their weaknesses and master this in-depth exploratory process.
I’ve always found Dave Kurlan’s crucial strengths and major weaknesses helpful in determining whether a salesperson will be able to learn how to qualify effectively using our framework. Skills can be taught, but the four crucial strengths -- desire for success, positive outlook, commitment to do whatever it takes, and taking responsibility for outcomes -- are innate traits. These strengths are non-negotiable for me when deciding whether to bring a rep on board.
However, the weaknesses can take a toll on the strengths and impede a salesperson’s ability to learn skills. But because they’re so common, they’re not deal breakers in hiring. Instead, I try to diagnose them early so I can coach the rep to reverse the bad habit.
Here are Kurlan’s seven qualification-crippling weaknesses, with ways I’ve learned to recognize them and remedy them as quickly as possible.
7 Sales Weaknesses That Prevent Salespeople From Fully Qualifying
1) Money Weakness
When you were a child, you probably asked how much money someone made or something cost, and your mother or another adult reprimanded you. Because this happened at such a young age, the lesson became ingrained in your psyche: talking about money is impolite.
That might be true in many situations, but it’s not in sales. In fact, if a rep is uncomfortable talking about money, they’re not going to make any. Salespeople have to discuss money with their prospects in many different qualification scenarios: how much their product will make or save a company, how much the prospect is currently wasting or losing out on, how much the prospect is spending on other projects, the size of the budget for this purchase, and the prospect’s willingness to spend on the product. There’s no avoiding money questions -- they need to be asked early and often to close deals.
When I started in sales, I struggled with a money weakness. I got over it by writing down all the goals I wanted to achieve in my life: sending my kid to college, buying a farm, retiring by a certain age, and so on. Then I calculated the amount of money I’d need to make these things a reality, and broke the sum down into yearly, monthly, and weekly targets. With those numbers in mind, I tied my goals very concretely to my job, and success at my job to my ability to ask money questions. If I couldn’t talk dollars with my prospects, I wasn’t going to be able to build a strong college fund for my son. Suddenly getting over my fear felt a lot more urgent.
2) Non-Supportive Buy Cycle
To surface this weakness, I ask reps two questions. What was the last expensive item you bought, and how did you go about buying it?
The first answer reveals the person’s concept of what’s expensive. Usually a person will tell me they recently bought a car, an expensive item of clothing or jewelry, or a vacation. But sometimes the answers are more modest -- I once had a candidate say “a tank of gas.”
I don’t pose this question to judge how financially secure the candidate is, nor do I mentally score their response against some “right” answer. Instead, their answer informs me of how the candidate might handle pricing objections with their prospects. If someone thinks $300 is a lot of money and they’re selling a product for $3000, they might not be comfortable pushing back on a prospect who balks at the price.
Asking the second question -- how the person went about buying this expensive item -- tells me how accepting they’ll be of prospects who want to shop around. When they bought their new TV, did they do some preliminary research and then pull the trigger? Or did they endlessly compare models and prices for months until they found the absolute best deal?
If their process more closely resembled the latter scenario, they might let their prospects buy from them in that way, and that isn’t good. In a consultative sales process, it’s perfectly acceptable to assume your prospects are shopping around. But it’s not okay to encourage this behavior.
To overcome this problem, I tell reps to ensure that the prospect values their product’s differentiation over the competition’s. Make sure buyers understand why and how your product is superior without bashing or even mentioning rival tools.
3) Self-Limiting Beliefs
“Selling is hard.” “Prospects always tell the truth.” “Prospects who think it over will eventually buy from me.”
These statements are just three of the many misconceptions that salespeople hold to be truths. It’s important for a rep to recognize these self-limiting beliefs, understand the behavior they cause, and learn skills to avoid letting them impact their sales success.
Let’s focus on the third sentiment: “Prospects who think it over will eventually buy from me.”
I’ve met quite a few salespeople who believe this. But, week after week, month after month, the same sales opportunities sit in their pipeline, unmoved. These salespeople say they're giving their prospects time to "think it over," but really they're afraid to ask their prospects why they aren’t going to buy. These salespeople are afraid to suggest that a purchase doesn’t really seem like a priority, or to even ask if the prospect's needs are urgent.
Somewhere a long, long time ago in a land far, far away, a prospect has bought after thinking it over. So, they believe that the deal will eventually come in, and the last thing they want to do is risk losing it by pushing the prospect to share their real timeline or concerns. These reps are hopeful even though hope isn’t a strategy, especially in sales.
Reps with this self-limiting belief need to role play what the “sh** or get off the pot” conversation sounds like. They need to practice asking the right questions, and hearing, thinking through, and handling the typical prospect responses. They need to realize there’s little risk of losing a deal that’s not certain. They need to embrace the conversation by realizing they’ll probably help prospects make better-informed decisions, instead of pretending the deal will come in eventually.
4) Need for Approval
Need for approval becomes a weakness when a salesperson cares more about being liked than they care about closing business. Taking criticism or bad attitudes personally is never a good thing, but it’s especially dangerous in sales, where reps regularly deal with rejection.
Not to mention that in order for a salesperson to truly help a prospect, they’ll need to ask some hard questions that risk the prospect’s camaraderie. But that’s okay -- in my opinion, salespeople should strive to be respected, not liked. However, a rep with a high need for approval will shy away from difficult questions in qualifying, and they’ll accept put-offs in closing.
There are a few strategies I use to help reps get over their fears of being disliked. First, I suggest a mindset shift. I see sales as a virtuous profession that helps people solve problems, and the hard questions are a part of figuring out whether a rep can actually help. When reps adopt this attitude, they’re more willing to sacrifice their feelings in the short-term for their client’s greater good in the long-term.
Second, I arm them with strong positioning statements to handle prospect push back. That way, when someone impatiently says they “just want to know why you’re calling” the rep knows they have a concise, interest-generating phrase in their back pocket.
The last tactic is one that I actually used to get over my own need for approval, and that’s to get it outside of work. Does your spouse love you? Your mom? Your dog? Then enlist that person to give you reassurances and affirmations so you don’t seek them from prospects.
5) Controlling Emotions
Sales reps are people, and people sometimes let their emotions get the best of them. If a salesperson gets an unsavory response from a prospect -- “this isn’t a good fit for us,” or “we’re not interested in this,” for example -- they might let their feelings of disappointment tune out the rest of the conversation.
And this is a mistake because, as I mentioned above, prospects aren’t always honest. Maybe they in fact could benefit from your product, but they’re saying they’re not interested because they’re busy working on a time-sensitive project. Not interested right now is different from not interested ever.
If you let your emotions take over, you might not pick up on the openings they set up for you. In fact, you might be so distracted by your emotions that you don’t even listen to what they say next.
To counteract your negative emotions, ask questions -- no matter how you feel. If you got the lead from an ebook download, ask what they were trying to learn from it. If they claim to not have the problem your product solves, ask how they’re doing it so you can learn. Regardless of the specific question you use, just keep asking. Be curious. Under no circumstances should you just leave your contact information and ask them to call you back. And you shouldn’t just start explaining things to them, because they’ll quickly tune you out.
6) Too Trusting
During interviews, I ask candidates if they are trusting people. Just to clarify their answer, I usually then ask if people have to earn their trust, or if they always give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
In this case there is an answer I’m looking for -- skeptical is better. And the reason is because prospects actually aren’t always honest. In fact, they lie quite a bit.
Before you get up in arms, let me clarify that these lies aren’t insidious. Think about how many times you’ve told a salesperson you were busy when you weren’t. Or a scenario when you claimed to need time to “think it over” when you knew you had no intention of buying any time soon. Most of these lies are told by prospects in order to spare our feelings or avoid confrontation. So they’re more like white lies, but untruths nonetheless.
Of course, these little lies can prevent a sale from happening. Sales reps that aren’t too trusting know how to make the sale even when a prospect isn’t being completely forthright and honest.
For example, let’s say a prospect tells you, “Our business is doing great,” but at the same time asks questions like, “So, how would you help us save money on X?”. Are things really going great or are they struggling with profitability? A curious, skeptical salesperson will challenge their prospect by asking that question.
The salesperson who accepts that prospects aren’t always totally honest will be more likely to gently probe until they uncover the truth. Approaching conversations with healthy skepticism and a willingness to ask incisive questions is necessary to break down prospects’ walls, and uncover the truth.
Next time you’re on a sales call, don’t take everything the prospect says at face value. You can’t help someone if you can’t uncover the truth.
7) Fear of Rejection
The only thing a salesperson truly controls is who they spend their time with. But, if they can’t control their own fear of rejection, it will control them.
Salespeople who are afraid of being rejected won’t pick up the phone, won’t ask tough questions, and might even be afraid to ask a customer for their business for fear of getting a “no.”
To overcome this fear, salespeople need to practice getting “no’s”. They need to embrace the value of getting them. For a prospect that does need what you have, a “no” might just be an objection or a “No, not now” or a “No, I’m having a horrible morning and I don’t want to talk about this, but I’ll talk to you after lunch if you can call me then.”
Salespeople need to hang in there when they get a no, clarify why it’s a no and adapt.
Salespeople who fear rejection might suffer from a related weakness: Recovering from rejection. But when salespeople get better at clarifying why prospects say “no”, they’ll learn to recover more quickly when the answer truly is “no”.
Many times, of course, no means no. And if a salesperson knows their sales process conversion ratios, they won’t sweat it at all. A “no” simply means a salesperson can redirect their time to someone who might say “yes”. Salespeople who embrace this are in control of not just where they spend their time, but their destiny.
If you’re a sales leader who'd like to test your sales force for these weaknesses, I recommend using Objective Management Group’s salesperson assessment. Once you know what you’re up against, it’s a lot easier to coach your team to success.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in November 2014 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.