This Is What Happens When You Sell On Your Front Foot

In boxing, the aggressor is on their front foot, driving the action. Even though boxing is different from many other sports, being on your front foot indicates you are on offense.

The opposite of being on your front foot is, naturally, being on your back foot. To fight from your back foot means you are moving away from your opponent as a way to create space, the strategy of a counter-puncher. There is no such thing as a counter-puncher strategy in sales. Selling requires you take initiative.

The Prospecting Initiative

Unless you are lucky enough to find a line of dream clients waiting to buy from you when you arrive at your office in the morning (if you even have an office), you are going to have to identify your targets (in my vernacular, Dream Clients) and reach out to schedule meetings with them. The fundamental role of a salesperson is to create new opportunities and pursue and win them.

Here is how you can tell if you are on your back foot, in a defensive crouch, waiting for the world to act on you. You are waiting for marketing to show up with a silver tray and present you with something I have heard described as marketing qualified leads. Maybe you rely on inbound. Whatever marketing does, it is not prospecting. Nor is it a replacement for prospecting.

I was once in a room with a group of salespeople, one of whom was thrilled to share with the entire team the good news that two of their dream clients filled out a form on their website. I asked him if he knew who they were before they filled out the form, and he answered that he did. I wondered if he already had their contact information, and he assured me he possessed the information. Even though he had the phone number and email and the belief that he could help them, his dream clients had to fill out a form before he would call them (something he still hadn’t done when he shared the story).

The Discovery Initiative

There is still a lot to be gained by using a traditional approach to discovery. There isn’t a high likelihood that listening to your dream client share with you their view of their challenges and opportunities, their ideas about what they need to improve their results, as well as their preferences about what they believe to be able to execute, isn’t going to be valuable. It’s impossibly difficult to hurt yourself by becoming an exceptional listener and ensuring your prospect not only believes you are listening but that you also care to learn what they want.

One of the most significant changes in how we sell is that we have evolved new approaches to discovery to address the new reality that our dream clients don’t always believe they have challenges worth solving, opportunities worth capturing, or any compelling reason to do something different. These approaches require that you get on your front foot and create a persuasive case for change, something necessary to creating an opportunity. Without a strategy that achieves these outcomes, you are left waiting for your dream client to become dissatisfied enough to take action.

If you are waiting for your dream client to become dissatisfied, or worse, waiting for them to let and RFP so you can finally compete for their business, you are not only on your back foot, but you are also flat-footed, stationary, and in deep trouble in a contest.

The Sales Conversation Initiative

I used to refer to the interaction between a salesperson and their prospect as the sales process. Lately, however, that description seems to miss the mark. The sales process is our plan to create and win new opportunities by accomplishing specific outcomes in a particular order, one that improves our odds of winning. The buyer’s journey is a similar outline of what buyer’s try to accomplish when they engage with salespeople, based on what they want. Because buyers often seek consensus, that means there are “journeys.” Not too long ago, I started to refer to the engagement we have with clients as “the sales conversation.”

Recently, people have suggested ideas like “buyers have more power,” and that one should “let them lead the process.” Some have been bold enough to suggest that “always be closing” is now “never be closing.” These ideas are repugnant to anyone who understands that selling is serving others, but that one cannot be servile if that is their intention. My friend, Mike Weinberg, has recently suggested that you are not going to win deals on compliance points.

The process of helping your dream client is too important to leave to chance, and more often than not, too important to leave to their discretion or preferences. If you are going to advise your client, there is not a better place to start than how the sales conversation should proceed.

If you provide your dream client with a proposal and pricing via email after having a single discovery call on the phone simply because they asked for it, I hope that what you sell is transactional, that there is enormous demand for what you sell, and that you have no need to create a preference to by from you and your company. If those factors are not accurate, complying with the request finds you resting on your back foot (and maybe with both arms resting on the ropes).

The Investment Initiative

Most salespeople struggle with their pricing when it is significantly higher than their competitor’s. They believe it is a liability when selling, in large part, because they want selling to be easy. I want selling to be easy, too, but reality teaches us that making things easy means doing hard things.

Being on your front foot when it comes to the investment requires that you are not afraid of your higher prices, that you can justify the delta, and that you are willing to disclose it early in the sales conversation. By doing so, you allow yourself to justify the more significant investment throughout the sales conversation. You give yourself time for more than one discussion.

Fearing your price keeps you in a defensive posture, something that is not going to allow you to justify the higher investment you are asking your client to make. When your client suggests your competitor has offered a lower price, it’s too late for you to start differentiating and creating the value worth paying more to obtain.

Your Front Foot

You are not in a contest with your client. The battle you are in is with yourself and your fears. It’s also a fight against complacency, apathy, indifference, and procrastination. Getting on your front foot means taking the initiative and doing what you know to be right, even when it is not easy. Especially when it is not easy.

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