Two Problems That Kill Your Sales

Recurring problems with generating and capturing new opportunities seem to fall into one of two categories. The first is a lack of relevance, something that plagues those who have not adopted a modern sales approach. The second is the lack of agility necessary to deal with a complex and nonlinear sales conversation.

Relevance

No matter how much value you believe your solution might create for your client, if your approach doesn’t begin and end with something that makes what you have to say relevant to your contacts, you will struggle to create and win opportunities.

Inability to Get a Meeting: Most salespeople believe they are asking the client for a meeting so they can discover the client’s challenges and compel them to look at their solution. That kind of request doesn’t drive a prospect to open their calendar and schedule a meeting, because there is no value offered in trade for their time.

Without that value, the salesperson is irrelevant. Decision-makers and decision-shapers are unwilling to waste time with someone who can’t teach them something worth knowing.

Inability to Compel Change: The reason so many salespeople fail to secure second meetings is that they didn’t engage in a conversation that would compel the client to further explore change. When the sales conversation focuses on things other than change, it is difficult to justify a second meeting.

Improving your ability to create new opportunities rests on your ability to compel change. If you think your solution alone should compel your prospective client to change, you’re likely to ignore the relevance of your advice (and your presence) in the first place.

Weak Sales Conversations and Questions: Last week, a salesperson called me to talk about investments—I had filled out a form on his company website. He started by sharing the investment options, treating the conversation as if it were transactional. Granted, in some ways the conversation was transactional, because the investment was relatively small. But when I asked him to explain the strategic outcomes I should expect for my investment, he was unable to respond. Our call ended without a sale.

Powerful conversations are built on creating value for the contact sitting across from you. In sales conversations, you get immediate feedback in the form of engagement. The lack of engagement means you are not doing much to move your contact, which will lead to poor outcomes. The same is true of weak questions, ones that don’t require your contact to stop and think about the question. You need the client to tell you that you asked them a “fantastic” question.

Agility

For a very long time, the sales conversation was essentially linear, making it possible to follow a well-defined process that, in theory, took you reliably from target to close. But the way that buyers buy has changed, so neither the sales process we might prefer nor the theoretical model of the buyer’s journey provide reliable guidance.

The Challenge of Gaining Commitments: Many conflicts in sales arise over the commitments we ask our clients to make and the order in which we have certain conversations. They often try to avoid necessary conversations, even though skipping them will make it more difficult for them to make and execute a good decision.

Salespeople are complicit in allowing their contacts to make these poor decisions. They agree to things like providing a solution before they have done enough discovery, providing proposals too early and without an agreement that the solution is viable for the client, and emailing proposals and pricing instead of sitting down with the client. All these practices betray an inability to gain commitments.

Inability to Influence Consensus: Of all the major commitments you need to gain and manage, put consensus right at the top of the list. In some cases, your contact will not believe consensus is necessary (it is), or they will know it is necessary but try to avoid the messy process of bringing in people with multifarious ideas, questions, preferences, and complaints.

Failing to control that process, or said another way, failing to influence it in some meaningful way, increases the odds to end up with no deal—and to leave your client in the same bad spot in which you found them. The ability to sell the process is the key to selling your client the solution they need—and the key to ensuring they can execute it.

The Graveyard of Dead Deals: The graveyard of dead deals, which some delusional folks mistakenly describe as “our pipeline,” is largely the result of an inability to manage the sales conversation in some meaningful way.

Missed Opportunities

These problems often emerge the first time you pick up the phone to call your dream client, as both your relevance and your ability to gain commitments are variables in your success. Failing to pass either test here means no meeting, no matter how much time and effort you put into it. That meeting is now a wasted opportunity, one you might not see again for some time.

When you do get in front of the contact you are pursuing, if the conversation goes nowhere and you have to start chasing the contact by voicemail and email, it’s because your conversation wasn’t relevant or because you didn’t exercise control over the process by selling the client the process itself. Your insights need to go beyond knowing how to produce better results in guiding your clients on what they have to do to be able to adopt your solution. Otherwise, you’ll just waste more opportunities.

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