It is not rocket science to conclude that timing is critical in sales. In fact, it’s said that timing is everything. While I agree, whether or not you properly execute your sales process will indeed either lead to success or cause timing problems.
Things do change. Decision-maker’s leave, priorities change and budget freezes occur. In some cases, you simply can’t control these. For example, in the movie Dumb and Dumber, Jim Carey asked a woman he likes what the chances are of them getting together. Just like a prospect, she first offers a non-answer. After he asks some great follow-up questions, she says, "One out of a million." His response is, “So you’re telling me I have a chance!” While the odds are extreme, I guarantee you that every salesperson on the planet has thought exactly the same thing at some point in their careers.
Before we discuss warning signs, let’s look at some of the potential causes of this.
There are belief system problems, such as these few: believing that prospects are being honest, that you can’t lose this deal, and that they seem to be committed.
Issues with Sales DNA can present challenges too, including:
- Incomplete discussions about finances and budgets as a result of Discomfort Talking About Money;
- Failing to clarify or question contradictory comments because a need to be liked makes it difficult to ask questions or confront;
- A need to educate (a form of free consulting) caused by a belief that says you need to do a lot of research to make the right decision;
- Failing to hear the most critical things a prospect says because you are trying too hard to reach an outcome (thinking while you sell or Getting Emotionally Involved).
If we approach opportunity management from a purely data-driven perspective (the science of selling), it could manifest as a desire to validate a conclusion that we have already reached. Not asking others for their opinion is a perfect example of this.
I recently heard a youth hockey coach say that virtually all of the parents who come and ask his opinion on whether or not their child should play in a summer league or attend a skills camp have already made up their mind and simply want him to validate their opinion. Worse, most do not listen particularly well when the child is not really interested in or committed to playing hockey.
My conclusion is that the warning signs of a deal going wrong are always there in big, bright, flashing, red neon lights. As quoted in Pogo, "We have met the enemy...and he is us."
What are the warning signs that we so frequently ignore?
- Momentum shifts – slowing down and sometimes speeding up,
- Behavior changes – interaction, calls, email response,
- Missed or extended deadlines on agreements,
- Unexpected holding patterns,
- Lack of follow-up or follow-through by prospects,
- New players arriving on the scene, and/or
- Requests for additional data or information.
Your solutions are either important to your prospects or they are not. If it is important and within their control, it will happen. If it isn't important, it won’t happen. While the accuracy of this statement is not 100% correct, it is probable in the 70-80% percent range - pretty good odds if you were playing the lottery.
Warning signs connect to the sales process. This means the warning will arise from one of the following areas:
- Quality of the Relationship,
- Existence of a Need,
- Compelling Reasons to Buy,
- Whether or Not the Decision Maker is Involved in your Meetings,
- Whether or Not you Completely Understand and can Influence their Decision Making Process and Criteria,
- Whether or Not you are Aware of and Aligned with their Timeline, and/or
- Whether They Can and Will Spend the Required Money with you.
It’s very likely that in most cases of delay or eventual loss, one or more of these areas was not thoroughly addressed. Things were said that you accepted as the truth and you moved forward without questioning anything. Having missed the first warning sign (one of the steps was not completed), you may begin to understand and accept the warning signs described above and ignore the flashing lights that say trouble lies ahead.
So what can we do to prevent these things from happening?
- Slow Down.
- Develop more effective listening and questioning skills.
- Be sure they are serious, rather than simply interested, in moving their business to you.
- Become more effective at selling value.
- Thoroughly qualify every real opportunity.
If you read the comments, you’d see a range of thoughts, including, “Sales training is a must.”, “They likely have the wrong trainers.”, “Not all salespeople are trainable.” and “It works only when senior management is bought in.” All of these statements are true particularly if you include the context. What I found upsetting is that there was little reference to sales leadership.
In my experience, the majority of CEO’s do not come from sales. They generally have finance, operations, technical, scientific or marketing backgrounds. Many lack a full appreciation of professional sales, the nature of salespeople or seeing sales as less structured than other parts of the business. Given this, it’s not surprising that when hiring a sales leader, they choose people who desire autonomy and operate well independently.
Objective Management Group’s research shows that only 7% of sales leaders are truly effective at coaching salespeople. While shocking, this finding is not surprising when you consider that most sales leaders fail to invest enough time in this critical function. Autonomous sales leaders were autonomous salespeople first. They operated with little assistance and intervention. Imagine how much more productive they would have been if they had sales leaders with great coaching skills. Since only 7% of sales leaders are effective coaches and they work for CEO’s whose core competencies are not in sales, building a high-performing sales organization is almost impossible without sales leadership training and development.
Sales leaders should spend 80% of their time on accountability, coaching, motivating, mentoring and recruiting. A significant majority fails to invest this much time. Their approach to coaching (and I’m not knocking sales leaders) is to tell salespeople what they should do instead of helping them to discover the right strategy themselves. They also frequently close the deal for them. How can anyone learn without making mistakes and learning from them?
Kurlan and Associates, Inc. is hosting a two-day Sales Leadership Intensive at the Boston Marriot Long Wharf in May. This program will focus on practical strategies and skill development for sales leaders. Additional Information can be found by clicking here.
Monday is Marathon day in Boston; it’s an annual marathon hosted by the city of Boston, on Patriots' Day, the third Monday of April, a state holiday in Massachusetts . Other U.S. towns, like Lexington and Concord, hold big parades.
Recently, my colleague, Dave Kurlan, was flying out of Texas and sat next to Nina Kuscsik who was traveling to Boston for the big event. Thirty years ago, she won the first official women’s race of the Marathon. Along with the other women who competed that day, she will be recognized for her accomplishment and was invited to be one of the race “starters”.
She told Dave that physically preparing to run 26 miles isn’t a big challenge and that, with time and proper training, most people are capable of doing it. The hard part is preparing emotionally for such a grueling experience.
I’ve heard elite rock climbers say that when they climb, everything stops and a peace takes hold. Their mind slows down and their natural body rhythms kick in.
Analogously, how much time do you spend working on the mental toughness of your salespeople? If you are like most sales leaders, the answer is, “Not nearly enough.”
Let’s turn the question around. How often do you get emotionally-involved, i.e., frustrated or annoyed, when you work with your salespeople? The answer for too many sales leaders is, “Too much.”
Ironically, the majority of sales leaders experience less of this problem when they are actually selling. Reasons for this include: they like selling, they feel less pressure, they are more comfortable as salespeople and they had more practice time being a salesperson.
If you believe in role-play and active sales coaching, then you know its value. The feedback is real-time. You can demonstrate what questions could have been asked and how to ask them. You’ll see how people respond under pressure. You can work on identified areas for improvement. Most importantly, you ensure practice time.
How much time do you spend dedicated to becoming a better sales leader? How extensive is your peer network and do you continually work on honing your skills together? What are you doing to reduce the impact of getting emotionally-involved in your coaching?
Best practice companies recognize the critical importance of developing their sales leaders. They understand that in our new economy, salespeople must make the shift from account manager to proactive hunter, from presenter to value-seller.
Make an investment in yourself and your company. Attend our two-day Sales Leadership Intensive in May. When you commit to your own growth and demonstrate this, your salespeople will respond better to their own development.