Rapid growth of business frequently means improved selling behavior of your salesforce. Some leaders I encounter are aware there are issues in their salesforce, but often don’t have complete visibility into specific behaviors that ought to be changed. Below are five of the most common behaviors of salespeople I have encountered and what I advised.
1. Be an ignoramus. Too often, I find salespeople believing they have to know everything about a buyer prior to a meeting and then demonstrate their knowledge by expounding on a marketing message, rather than by asking questions and learning. Better to be an ignoramus and ask questions than to know about the business, motivations, and objectives and be wrong. In a recent role play with a Japanese sales team, a salesperson told the buyer, “This product requires by-weekly application rather than weekly, and let me tell you all the reasons why that is good for you,” rather than simply asking, “For many of our customers, lower frequency of application is a priority. Is this a priority for you as well, or is there something else more important?” In a different client company, salespeople told me that they had been trained to memorize long pitches and taught to regurgitate them on demand, which they did so breathlessly, in order to cram in as much information as possible in a limited amount of time. What are your salespeople doing that they think is right that might not be? Are those on your salesforce asking pointed questions, listening, and learning through conversation, or are they dominating the conversation with a pitch?
2. Assert your expertise. Too many salespeople treat a sales meeting like an oral exam—as if they are being scored on how many questions they can answer, hoping they get the answers right. Yet, the best salespeople are experts in their domain and assert their expertise. A sales meeting is a dialog, not a pitch. They push back, give examples, and parry questions with their own questions back to a prospect. In a role play, a buyer asked a salesperson, “We need an ERP system to improve our customer service. How long will that take to implement and how much will it cost.” While the salesperson fumbled with responses about the timeline and approximate costs for different systems, a far better response would have been, “Why do you think it is an ERP that will improve customer service as opposed to something else?” Are your salespeople behaving like experts when meeting with prospects and customers, or like a pupil submitting to an oral exam?
3. No question is too rude to ask—even in Japanese. Obsequiousness is never a good look on anyone, and the customer is no deity, not even in Japan. Yet, too many salespeople treat the customer as such. In role plays, I have found salespeople tentative in their speech, asking circumspect questions, fearing that being too direct will be viewed as rude, even though it is tentativeness and obsequiousness that tires the patience of potential buyers. In a recent role play, a salesperson asked the buyer at least a dozen questions around the number of their customers per month. Many of the questions were redundant. I found just observing the interaction torturous, so I can only imagine what a real prospect might experience! When I could take no more, I stopped the salesperson and asked, “Where are you going with this?” He said, “I suspect the prospect might not be satisfied with the number of monthly customers, but might believe that capacity to handle more is limited. We can probably help solve that issue for them.” When I suggested the salesperson to ask the question directly, he insisted that in Japanese it would be rude to ask such a direct question. So I asked the question instead—in Japanese! The buyer gave an immediate answer that revealed a business opportunity. When I asked the people in the room, all of whom were Japanese, if I had asked in a reasonably polite way, all agreed that I had. Japanese is an extraordinarily powerful and flexible language in which you can ask any question politely if you do it right. Do you salespeople all know how?
4. Buying proposition trumps value proposition. A value proposition presumes that all customers value the same thing in the same way when making a decision to buy. It is no more than a generic, educated supposition that might or might not be right. A buying proposition, however, closes deals, and the two are not the same. Some years back, a friend of mine related to me a story about a large business looking for a mobile telecommunications provider with which to partner. The salesperson for the telecom provider expounded on the coverage, capacity, and speed of the network and the availability of tech support and customer service—all part of the company’s value proposition. He got the business, but for nothing to do with the value proposition. The buying proposition for this large account was the ability to deliver cricket scores in real time to mobile devices. The rest did not matter. Who would have known? Too often, I find salespeople over-relying on value propositions carefully curated by some marketing department. In a recent role play, a salesperson offered a buyer to provide scientific data to back up claims of the efficacy of the product he was selling, assuming the data is the silver bullet to close the deal. After all, the data demonstrated the veracity of the value proposition. However, without regard to how the prospect makes decisions to buy, what kind of data a buyer might find compelling, or by what standard that data will be evaluated, just tossing over data and expecting the data to sell the product is nothing more than a shot in the dark. Are your salespeople making buying propositions specific to each prospect, or are they blindly pitching a standard value proposition to all, hoping it will stick?
5. Value trumps rank. Japanese is supposedly a hierarchical society, where the importance of rank supersedes all else, but this is far too much of a generalization. I frequently hear Japanese salespeople complain that they cannot possibly meet with an economic buyer—that is to say the person with the independent authority to decide to dispense money for a product or service—because the buyer’s rank is higher than his or her own. Lack of rank parity becomes an excuse for dealing with gatekeepers and intermediaries who are only empowered to say ‘no,’ and never empowered to say ‘yes,’ and for lack of progress on the sale. The onus then falls on the salesperson’s company to make an appearance to close a deal. Yet, the only people who believe rank parity is essential to hold a meeting are insecure gatekeepers with no economic buying authority and mediocre salespeople. Real value knows no rank. Excellent salespeople understand that title and rank matter not one bit to real buyers—as long as the salesperson has compelling value to offer. No buyer will turn away any sales rep who can convincingly help the buyer make millions for his or her business over something as trivial as titles! Yet, I constantly see salespeople wasting their time with non-economic buyers, supposedly “preparing the ground,” until their boss can make a call with him or her and entice an appearance of a higher-ranking economic buyer. At the same time, I see sales directors and managers running frantically and needlessly from one customer visit to the next with sales reps who are eminently of getting and holding such meetings on their own if they did things right. If you find that your sales managers are required to make an appearance with a sales rep to close a deal, fire your salespeople! After all, who needs them?
Do you know how your salespeople are behaving in front of customers? Are they behaving in ways they think are perfectly fine that are in fact doing both you and themselves a disservice? If you are not sure, find out and change the status quo. In most cases, people are willing, able to learn, and want to improve. There is never any reason to accept the status quo if that is not what you want. Click To Tweet