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BirdsEye Viewwhy salesforces fail and how they can succeed (first in a series)
My friend Scott Coup who runs commercial banking for Enterprise Bank introduced me to a book titled “New Sales Simplified” by Mike Weinberg. I have been a successful salesperson myself all my life (my toughest sales audience is my family), and thought I’ve heard and seen it all before. This book articulated better my experiences and biases, as well as added new perspectives and methodologies to even a veteran salesperson.
This article is the first of a series. The first article will focus on reasons why salespeople fail at business development. The second article will address the bank’s responsibility for your sales success. It is the effective combination of both that makes the sales process and team rock.
The book tackles each of these issues – at the banker level and the bank’s level – with excellent suggestions for remediation and sales methodologies.
Why salespeople fail?
1. Haven’t done it/don’t know how.
Some people simply don’t know what to do. Many people in sales have actually never been forced to prospect and find new business. Taking care of existing customers is a reliable way to grow revenue; some say over 2/3rds of new sales come from existing customers in all lines of business. Portfolio management is absolutely essential to successful sales performance, but it is often not enough. When a veteran salesperson is faced with prospecting, they often don’t know how to go about it and what to expect.
2. They’re always waiting (on the Company)
Many salespeople are too patient and too slow to get into action and change behaviors. Both this author of the book and I have heard the excuses: waiting for new marketing materials; new products; better database; better CRM system; Salesforce installation; fresh lead lists etc.
Top sales performers don’t wait for anything or anyone. They ACT (remember Nike’s JUST DO IT?). They proactively attack target accounts even if they get way ahead of the support curve. They constantly invest in developing leads for future deal flow to ensure no future droughts.
Both the author and I agree: waiting is a key ingredient in the recipe for new business failure.
3. They are prisoners of hope.
Note: Credit for this apt term is given to Tom Reilly, a superb sales trainer and author of the book ”Value-Added Selling”.
These are salespeople that stopped working the sales process and developing new leads because they hope that the few leads in their pipeline are going to close. They waste too much time wondering about these leads instead of spreading their efforts across many opportunities along various stages of the sales cycle. Their lack of activity and overly optimistic projections inevitably lead to disappointment.
AB: A good sales person never stops prospecting, not even in the face of a burgeoning pipeline or a fantastic sale. Prospecting is the remedy to anxiety, dry spells, sales slumps and everything else a sales person dreads. It is the path to success and exceeding expectations.
4. They can’t tell the story.
One must always be able to tell a compelling story. The sales story is our single most important weapon because it is used 100% of the time. Even when we make initial phone calls we use talking points from the sales story. Bits and pieces of the story come up in emails, voicemails and presentations.
Your message must be concise, interesting and relevant to the audience.
5. They have awful target account selection and a lack of focus.
Many salespeople find themselves wandering aimlessly instead of focusing on a carefully selected and focused prospect list. Sometimes they fail because they don’t invest time and thought to ensure they are calling on the right prospects, hence wasting their talents on the wrong targets.
More often, though, the issue is always looking for new leads rather than focusing on the ones you have. Instead of continuing to attack the same strategically selected targets, they turn and pursue a new set of prospects. This constant change of direction doesn’t allow them to gain traction against a defined target set.
6. They are late to the party.
A strong salesperson proactively works a target lead list that can last them a long time. One never really knows when a lead will turn into an opportunity, but you do know that, when that happens, the opportunity will be a good one.
Arriving late to the party turns a positive advantage of a pre-existing relationship when no utility was involved (not specific opportunity identified for that lead) to the disadvantage of having the diligent salespeople there ahead of you. The target is already shopping and searching; you end up reacting to, rather than leading, your prospect, and the competition already set the tone to their advantage.
7. They have a negative attitude and pessimistic outlook.
It’s simple commonsense – sales winners take full responsibility for results. They don’t whine and complain. Excuses are always aplenty.
8. They are guilty of a fake or insincere phone effort.
Calling prospects is a key delineator between legitimate new business salespeople and posers. True business developers know it is something you need to do, while those who fail find every reason possible not to pick up the phone. Others hope for the answering machine, or pretend to make calls to “new names”. All too often, even with the best intentions, one gets distracted by anything from fantasy football to important emails coming in while one is supposed to be dedicated to making phone calls.
9. They are not likeable, don’t adapt their style, or have low EQ
AB: I actually think this is the biggest obstacle for many people. People buy from people they like. Sometimes your quirk, inability to read your audience and other inherent issues get in the way of your success. In addition, correctible things such as bead breath, bad communication style etc. also stand in the way of your success – but those can be fixed. The first job for any salesperson is to connect with the buyer. Whatever stands in your way needs to be addressed.
10. They can’t conduct an effective sales call.
In most cases, the moment of truth for us in the face-to-face sales call. Much of the preliminary work is to get to this point. Unfortunately, many sales fail at that moment. All too often, the sales person doesn’t have a solid plan/agenda, or doesn’t share that with the prospect. Without such preparation, the prospect ends up controlling the meeting, which is suboptimal. Moreover, the salesperson ends up talking too much.
11. They love to babysit their existing accounts.
This is a sensitive topic. How can anyone proclaim that taking care of your best customers is not the very best place to spend your time? The point is, I’m not saying we don’t need to service our customers, but we also know that most salespeople prefer to overserve their existing accounts at the expense of prospecting (which I, for one, find quite understandable). As Weinberg says, “it’s my job to point out the opportunity cost of a salesperson spending 95% of their time babysitting existing customers. That sounds a lot like a customer service role than a sales role”.
12. They are busy being good corporate citizens.
“This reason gets in in trouble with Human resources folks”, says Weinberg. “Being a good corporate citizen seems harmless, on the surface. However, there are some in sales who would rather volunteer to clean the restrooms than to have to sit across from a stranger and ask a few probing questions about the person’s business and face possible rejection.” Weinberg pushes the point further: “It’s rarely the person voted “most pleasant, selfless member of the team who thrives at acquiring new business.”
AB: Weinberg is direct and blunt about what it takes for a salesperson to be successful. It’s important to recognize that, for too many people in sales positions, finding reasons not to sell is a key activity. Weinberg unmasks the excuses one by one, and, in the process, exaggerates to make a point. Take the comments with a grain of salt, but do not dismiss offhand. There is truth in what he says; it’s a difficult truth to face though.
13. You don’t own your sales process and default to the buyer’s.
When we don’t own and manage the sales process, the buyer often takes over. The buyer doesn’t maximize our opportunity, not even when they ask for a proposal or a term sheet early on. Own your sales process and gather the necessary data to produce the best proposal ever, with full understanding of the prospect’s selection criteria and their hierarchy, as well as the true underlying issues driving the request for proposal.
14. They don’t use and protect their calendar.
Time management is still a difficult challenge. Distractions away from sales-oriented tasks are everywhere. A major contributor to any salesperson success is proactive prospecting. One must ensure they make time for this activity, which often seems thankless and certainly not great fun. Only salespeople that dedicate blocks of time on their calendar to prospecting consistently succeed in acquiring new business.
15. They stopped learning and growing.
Too few salespeople view themselves as professionals with an important skillset. Our commercial bankers and wealth advisors certainly do, but how about the Treasury Management officers? Our retail bankers? All are professionals who need to invest in their own development. While it is true that some people are naturally better at sales than others, ALL of us can get better at this profession. Do not fall into the trap of arrogance, assuming you already know it all. Even the most successful salespeople must adapt to a changing world, customer expectations and generational gaps. A perfect example is Jill Konrath’s book: SNAP selling: Speed Up Sales and Win More Business with Todays Frazzled Customers”. This is a book that recognizes the increasing demands on our prospects’’ time, and offers ways to combat that challenge. “We must continually be sharpening our skills and improving our craft”.
16. Honestly, they are not built for it
This is the hardest reason, says Weinberg, and I agree. It is the most personal and it near-impossible to address. Some people are just too relational to make it in a new business development role – but they will make excellent portfolio managers and support our sales forces. Sales entail conflict, personal risk, and rejection daily. Some people find that too taxing, and they should be recast in a better suited role.
This first article in the series has a negative tone. Weinberg’s intent, and mine as well, is to candidly examine ourselves – both managers and salesforce members – and identify your soft spots to work on.
Salesforces do not work in a vacuum. They should get the support and nurturing of the enterprise behind them to put the wind beneath their wind and help them succeed. The next article will examine the corporate responsibilities for sales success.