Warning Signs For Sales Opportunities About to Die

Posted by Chris Mott on Thu, Jun 05, 2014 @ 13:06 PM


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.



Topics: changing sales performance, better sales techniques, better coaching of sales people, better sales outcomes, better closing percentage, adjusting the sales process

Less is More With Sales Proposals

Posted by Chris Mott on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 @ 07:02 AM

Teach Less learn More

When writing a proposal, have you or your salespeople ever overeducated a prospect, resulting in the loss of the deal?  If you didn’t answer yes to this question, you are likely in denial.

Let's recap some of the common obstacles which sales organizations face:

  • Qualifying the application and not the business problem,
  • Demos provided too early or with limited qualification,
  • Missing compelling reasons to buy,
  • Not creating a high-value relationship,
  • Incomplete financial discussions,
  • Decision Makers not engaged in the conversation, discussion or presentation, and
  • Competition not identified and compared.

Among other content, I conduct training sessions on presenting skills, which include proposal-writing.  A very high percentage of the attendees admit to not including a summary of the business problem or the consequences of inaction.  I encourage you to do some digging to determine whether or not that is happening with your salespeople.  You may be surprised.  Experience proves that most salespeople include lots of detail and comprehensive descriptions of their solutions.  While this may be necessary for very technical applications, as a general rule, we tend to provide too much information and too many details.

What are the risks of this?

  • We surprise people by including things they were not expecting.
  • We make things look and sound more complicated.
  • We create questions about whether they need everything.
  • We take focus off the big picture.
  • We complicate the decision.
  • We open doors for pushback.

We all know the old adage that says underpromise and overdeliver, and yet many salespeople frequently do the opposite.  Ask your technical people about their biggest complaint with the sales force.  You will likely hear something like, “They commit to things we may not be able to do.” or “Why can’t they sell what we have?”  This is, in essence, overcommitting.

Relationships are impacted by expectations.  Everybody has them; unfortunately, they differ widely from person to person.  What’s worse, salespeople do a poor job of communicating what they expect, both from their prospects and customers, and rarely ask about their expectations.  Think about that for a second.  It’s like saying that you will come home for a special birthday party, but fail to ask what time you need to arrive.  So, when the prospect says, "Please send me a proposal.", we send what we think they want, often without discussing and agreeing on what will be included.

If your information focuses too heavily on deliverables, at the expense of outcomes or results, you are more likely to create problems.  If it seems too overwhelming to the prospect, they could incorrectly believe that it will take “too much time”, be “too complicated”, or “too distracting”.  They may feel that it will require “too much change” or be "too difficult” and you may lose the prospect's attention and interest.

Put yourself in the shoes of the person reading the proposal.  Ask yourself how you would feel if you were considering it.  What questions would you have?  Are there components which you feel you could do without?  Does it feel like the risks outweigh the benefits? 

Remember that their responses to your proposal will likely be emotional, not intellectual.  They may process the information intellectually, but their conclusions are more likely to be about fear and risk.  Compensate for this by communicating in terms of how things will improve and how the investment will make people’s lives better.  More specifically, what will the outcome be?

In summary, keep it simple, include only what was discussed, and be concise.  Less is more.  The shorter the proposal, the more likely they are to read it!

Join us for Part Two of Leading the Ideal Sales Force on Wednesday March 12 at 11:00am ET. This compelling one hour webinar will cover new approaches and stratagies for this critical business need.    

Topics: changing sales performance, Closing Sales, avoid blowing sales, better closing percentage

What Kind of Help Do You Provide to Technical Salespeople?

Posted by Chris Mott on Thu, Jan 09, 2014 @ 09:01 AM

Stop Talking

This article discusses technical salespeople but has equal application to all salespeople with an orientation to product, specifications, features and benefits.  

Historically, Application/System Engineers focus on pre-sale and/or post-sale functions, collaborating with sales, delivery or service.  In some technology-heavy organizations, the role has served as a training ground for future salespeople.  Yet, in the twenty years that I have been helping companies, there are only a few that have really invested in developing the selling ability of their engineers.  Ironically, when companies hire salespeople, they typically overemphasize technical, industry and product knowledge. 

Dave Kurlan has written extensively about how the sales landscape has changed since 2008.  In Frank Belzer’s book, Sales Shift, he discusses how sales has been turned upside down by Inbound Marketing.  Today, professional selling requires better skills, tactics and strategies than ever before.  This means companies must invest in their Applications and System Engineers if they want to edge out the competition and thrive.

Ask yourself some questions:  How comfortable are you bringing along a technical person on your sales calls?  Do you worry about them talking too much?  If you sell through channels, have you found it difficult to control the transactional sales approach demonstrated by most of your channel partners' salespeople?

Assuming that a technical person can naturally lower a technical prospect's resistance, and likely have greater credibility than a salesperson, why wouldn’t you leverage this dynamic?

You may be saying to yourself, “Of course, we train them.  We are constantly investing in our technical people.”  But, in which form of training is that investment?  Technical people tend to have common Sales DNA challenges which include:

Consider the impact that these characteristics have on the quality of a relationship.  If technical people must help prospects discover and develop alternative solutions and personally compelling reasons for them to act as a sponsor, they need very good interpersonal skills and technical expertise.

They need to follow the company's customized sales process, understand the business problems facing their prospects, and be skilled at developing their part of the conversation.  They must develop critical skills to discuss details, remain big picture, and avoid providing free consulting.

It’s common for technical people to pick things up quickly.  Sales leadership may interpret this to mean that they require less sales coaching.  Yet, everyone is affected by self-limiting beliefs.  The challenge for technical people more often is how strongly held these self-beliefs are.  Helping people see how they can think through a different lens takes time and repetition, which requires great coaching.

Consider the impact that your technical people have on a sale.  Ask yourself whether your team sees sales as a noble, highly-skilled profession (Frank Belzer's 1-minute video on joint sales calls with technical salespeople).  Do they see themselves as technical people who don’t need to develop their selling ability?  What messages are you delivering about this?  Would it be a good idea to challenge your own thinking?

I invite you to join me and a panel of sales experts for an impactful, one-hour webinar discussing the architecture of the sales force and more on February 5:  "Leading Your Ideal Sales Force - Part 1" at 11:00AM Eastern Time.

Topics: changing sales performance, helping sales people change, arguing with prospects, effective sales training

Emotional Intelligence Undermines Sales Training

Posted by Chris Mott on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 @ 13:01 PM

emotional intelligence

My oldest daughter is close to attending graduate school.  She has spent the last 3+ years working with young girls struggling with difficult home lives, behavioral problems, substance abuse and a variety of emotional challenges.  She will graduate with a degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy and follow her path in life.

The school which she plans to attend has a very unique approach to training therapists.  Naropa incorporates traditional Western practices with Eastern spiritual, meditative and mind-body work.  If you've ever tried to meditate or committed to a meditation practice, you know how hard it is to slow down, let alone stop your mind from working. 

A primary tenant of Norapa’s teaching is to:

  • Become aware of how your mind and body are activated by external and internal triggers,
  • Understand the emotions and thoughts behind them, and
  • Learn how to experience this without bringing it into the therapists' work with clients.
When I heard about this, I was awed by its simplicity and practical application - not just for training therapists, but also for people in general.

Let's look at how salespeople are affected by triggers.  Here is the scenario: After several positive discussions on a large opportunity, a salesperson calls the prospect and is told that they've decided to put the project on the back burner.

Experience / Trigger Possible Outcome
Interest Declines Is this a pattern? 
Communication Slows How do I make sure I say the right thing?
Pipeline Shrinks It's a good thing that I have other opportunities.
Manager is Disappointed What did I miss or do wrong?
Spousal Worries Maybe I shouldn't talk about this.
Pressure Increases I can't make any more mistakes.

The affects for the salesperson could include:
  • Over-thinking, resulting in the call strategy not being executed,
  • Tentativeness and indecision,
  • Over-reliance on existing opportunities,
  • Less willingness to share with the sales manager,
  • Concern over risk-taking,
  • Less directness in conversations, and
  • Fatigue and mental tiredness.

You may be thinking that if you've had salespeople like that, you would know it, or you only hire seasoned people who don’t have these problems.  You may be right, but the research at Objective Management Group (OMG) shows something very different:

  • 90% Have Unsustainable Pipelines,
  • 83% Lack Written Personal Goals,
  • 60% Make Excuses,
  • 55% Lack Urgency, and
  • 45% Are Not Self-Starters.

Sales training usually emphasizes skills, tactics, process and motivation.  These are important and necessary; however, the primary sales development goal should be to change behavior and in order to accomplish this, you need to influence the way that salespeople think.  There are several challenges to accomplishing this:

  • A solid percentage of salespeople don’t want to change their thinking or approach,
  • Those who will change are usually unaware of the underlying cause of the sales problem, and
  • There isn’t a methodology in place to drive this change.

For a sales expert who knows what he/she is doing, this isn't as difficult as it sounds and doesn't take as long as you would think.  It's also the only way to achieve meaningful change.

Do you need a higher-performing sales force?  Learn what the root cause of the problem is.

Topics: choosing a sales training company, comparison of top salespeople, changing sales performance

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