How many sales have you lost even though you knew you were the best choice for the customer?
If you’re like most sales organizations, the answer is “a lot.”
What’s behind that? Are prospects stupid? Lazy? Lying to themselves? Is your competition being shady?
Maybe. But sometimes the reason customers are not buying is that your salespeople are failing them.
In fact, I’d place an educated bet that most sales teams are routinely failing their prospects. Here are five ways that’s happening.
1. They’re treating low-level employees like they’re executives
There’s a now-famous statistic that claims that by the time they contact a salesperson, a buyer has completed 70% of their buying journey.
In most cases, especially in complex b2b sales, what happens is this:
An executive, VP, or other decision-maker has tasked a low-level employee with the job of researching a solution to a problem they’ve identified.
This employee takes a handful of solution criteria, and hops on Google. If you’ve invested in SEO and your content marketing team is doing a good job, you pop up as an option in the search results. The employee reads your blog and downloads your white papers and case studies, your solution pages, and your checklists. They watch your videos and read about your company history and values.
They create a spreadsheet and list the criteria they’ve been handed, and mark you as adequate or not on each item.
If you measure up “on paper,” they’ll contact your sales department for a presentation.
From this person’s perspective, it’s true, they’ve already done 70% of the work they’ll do for this purchase by the time they call you.
And, if your sales team treats the researcher as if they were the decision-maker, 70% of the journey is over. And the last 30% probably won’t go well.
2. They’re presenting based on invisible criteria
What happens next, usually, is your marketing department hands off this “hot lead” to your sales team. If the lucky salesperson isn’t already jaded, they’ll eagerly jump at the opportunity to hop on a call and present your offerings to a prospect who is supposedly 70% of the way to the purchase.
What your salesperson doesn’t know is that they’ve just leapt into a lion’s pit full of invisible criteria they don’t know or understand, with a novice lion tamer (the researcher) who only poorly understands the criteria themselves.
So the salesperson gives the presentation, without clarity into what the buyer needs, to a low-level employee who won’t be making the ultimate decision, and hopes that their presentation checks off a few marks in the spreadsheet they probably don’t even know exists, which might, if they’re lucky, lead to a sale… or not.
3. They’re not having value discussions
What’s missing from this scenario is any value discussion at all. The salesperson leaps straight to presentation, at the direction of the novice lion tamer, without any attempt to understand the roots of the need or the business value of the solution to this particular prospect.
As a result, the sale takes place in a commodity market, where your solution is lined up next to all the competition according to pre-determined criteria. The vendor who marks all the boxes for the lowest available price wins… if “winning” is defined as a low-margin, probably discounted, sale to a client who is likely to be dissatisfied when their pre-defined criteria turn out not to serve the genuine business need.
4. They’re having value discussions with the wrong people
Ah, but if your salespeople are well trained, they are having value discussions!
They may ask discovery questions to understand the client’s business needs. They may run scenarios that quantify the benefits of your solution and share the results with their prospects.
If this is true for your sales team, may I congratulate you on being ahead of the pack.
But if they’re only having these conversations with the researcher who first contacted them, then they’re still failing.
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard sales managers say, “We tried having value conversations, but it just doesn’t work” for the simple reason that the salespeople are having the value conversations with the wrong people.
In most cases, a low-level employee tasked with researching a solution won’t have enough expertise or context to understand the larger business needs and initiatives that the solution is designed to support. Trying to have that conversation with them will feel to a salesperson like hitting a brick wall.
5. They’re afraid of pushing back
On the rare occasions that a sales team consistently gets to the point of having real value conversations with the right people, they may still fail to get to the finish line for the simple reason that they accept the prospect’s incorrect assumptions without pushing back.
While it’s reasonable to assume that a company’s leadership has a clear view of what they want to accomplish inside their organization, it’s also common for them to have an unclear view of the best way to get there. They are experts in their business, but they’re not experts in yours–otherwise, they wouldn’t need you at all.
Teach your salespeople the most common bad assumptions in your industry, and encourage and enable them to be fearless in challenging those assumptions when they encounter them, and even proactively.
Overcome these five common failures, and you’ll win many more deals–while benefiting all those prospects who otherwise might make the wrong purchasing decision.