I'm going to share the story of a real salesperson and his current, real opportunity, but change the names of everyone involved. I hear stories like this every day but this particular one happens way too often.
2 months ago, Bob agreed to a $25,000 pilot for an enterprise size company generating billions in revenue. At the time, he was told a successful pilot would lead to much more business in 2021. Last week he excitedly shared that the company was very happy with the results of their pilot to date, and they asked Bob to prepare a business case for exponentially increasing the size and scope of their spend. The future purchase would be north of $250,000.
While colleagues and supervisors shared their enthusiasm for this exciting moment, my first reaction was, "And why do you think this is good news?"
"Dave, you're so negative."
I was asked to explain why I felt that way because Bob and his team believed that this was clearly a positive development. I pointed out that the request to prepare a business case was nothing more than a request for (another) proposal and Bob would once again need to prove and convince the company that doing business with them would provide value, create ROI, and justify the tenfold increase in spend.
The response from Bob's team? "Good point."
This IS the customer moving forward, but only moving forward to resume their discussions as to whether to or not to move forward with an increase in spend. One more time. The only thing moving forward is a resumption of the discussion about moving forward. I did not hear anything about decisions, commitments, intent, budgets, terms, agreements, contracts, PO's, timelines, or closing dates. The only thing certain, is that Bob can open the opportunity in his CRM application and place a checkmark to indicate that the pilot was successfully completed. Check! The opportunity did not advance in any other measurable or meaningful way because he is right back where he was in October when he proposed the same solution only to settle for 10% of the business in the form of this pilot. They weren't convinced then, and apparently, still aren't convinced.
There are a few issues here:
- The pilot was not sold correctly - When Bob agreed to the mini-pilot, there should have been a very clear understanding of what exactly would constitute success; and if he met the criteria for a successful pilot, what exactly would happen next. If the "next" step is anything other than easily and automatically transitioning to the larger order, then Bob should not have begun the pilot.
- The salesperson had happy ears - When the customer asked Bob to prepare another business case for 2021, Bob should not have been so eager to facilitate. Instead, he should have asked why they were asking for another business case since he did that prior to the pilot. Bob should have also asked what they were looking for in the business case, who would be reviewing it, and what would happen after it was reviewed. If Bob hears anything other than "we'll be signing an agreement" it's a no-go on the new business case/proposal.
- The sales manager did not push back - Given the poorly executed expectations and next steps prior to the pilot, and the new request for a proposal, the sales manager should have pushed back hard and not allowed either the pilot or the business case to move forward without a better understanding of timelines, next steps and commitments.
This story is not unusual in any way. Scenarios like this occur at an alarming rate throughout each day at companies across the spectrum of more than 200 industries. Even good salespeople make mistakes like these and ineffective sales managers allow them to happen time and time again. Great salespeople, who make up the top 5% of the sales population, never allow scenarios like this to take place. Weak salespeople, who make up the bottom 50%, always allow scenarios like this to occur.
The story I shared here is just one example of the ripple effect from lack of quality sales training and coaching, and lack of effective sales management. Much of this could be solved with improved sales selection - hiring the right sales managers and salespeople to begin with. The rest can be solved with a sales force evaluation to identify the core issues and gaps, and then the right training to better prepare the sales team to execute when they find themselves in scenarios like these.
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