How to Avoid the Most Common Roadblocks to Sales Success
Not all sales organizations or professionals are created equal. While some consistently exceed their goals, others are constantly chasing them or playing catch up.
Despite the vast amount of intelligence currently available to sales professionals, I believe there is more to sustaining success in the long term. After all, success does not exist in a vacuum.
There are a number of roadblocks on the path to success, but steps can be taken to establish a consistent process for long term success. Roadblocks to success include:
Roadblock #1: Buyers have a system while sales people usually don’t have a consistent and scalable process.
It is always a back and forth in the sales and buyer system, and the individual with the stronger plan wins. Buyers have an effective system to deal with salespeople. Many buyers are even formally trained in dealing with salespeople.
The buyer’s system is designed to get as much information as possible to keep them in control of the situation. Buyers are often ambiguous about their intentions: how much they’ll spend, who makes decisions, etc. The prospect’s system on the other hand, is designed to garner as much information as possible without committing to a firm, but rather use their proposals to negotiate better deals with their current supplier or a competitor.
We all use this system for dealing with salespeople, even though we may not realize it.
Why do buyers do this? First of all, it works. Moreover, it is a mechanism used in order to protect themselves. Buyers often feel they need a system to deal with salespeople. It is an instinctive reaction to the negative stereotype of sales professionals that causes buyers to put up a defensive wall when dealing with anyone who is selling something.
So how do most salespeople deal with the buyer’s system? Most play right in to it. Many don’t use a systematic approach to selling and find themselves without a consistent plan. They allow the prospect to take control of the sales process. They eagerly:
- Give their information
- Make commitments without getting any in return
- Spend time and allocate resources to opportunities with minimal chance of closing
- Make unneeded concessions
- Misinterpret “I’ll think it over and get back to you” as a future sale
- Lose deals to competitors with better prepared salespeople
What do companies do to contribute to the problem? Most sales organizations train their teams on the features and benefits of their product/service, even though traditional feature and benefit selling has proven ineffective.
This underlying paradigm that drives the buyer/seller system works to the disadvantage of sales professional. A question is raised: is it in the best interest of the buyer to make significant purchasing decisions this way? No, this mode of operation is in neither the buyer’s nor the seller’s best interest.
The solution? A non-traditional approach to selling that provides a system that sales managers and professionals 100% buy-in to. The system should balance both the buyer and seller’s best interest – a mutual agreement with clear steps.
Roadblock #2: Spending too much time with prospects who will never buy.
To put this into perspective:
- Sales professionals won’t ask the hard questions up-front for fear of making their prospects feel uncomfortable or getting yet another “No.”
- Although this is not apparent, prospects are often uncomfortable saying no. Most sales professionals believe their role is to ‘close’ at every opportunity, and over the years sales training has taught its representatives “Do not take NO for an answer.” Reps are taught to be persistent, handle stalls and objections, and close at every opportunity. This approach has resulted in buyer’s needing their own system to protect their interests. Buyers realize sales professionals don’t want to hear “NO.” Therefore, buyers fear that when a salesperson hears a “NO” they’ll persist until they turn “NO” into “YES.” When the buyer really means “NO”, often they find the easiest way to buy some additional time is to tell the sales rep, I’ll think it over, I’ll get back to you. How many “I’ll think it over’s” really turn into business?
- C) Salespeople often find it difficult to get in contact with decision-makers. Instead most salespeople spend time with those contacts who are easier to engage, and with whom the salesperson is more comfortable talking.
The solution? The sales rep needs the tools and a system to effectively disqualify / qualify an opportunity and a means to obtain executive sponsorship early in the sales cycle. Learn to qualify your prospects out, not qualify them in. The top sales professional learns to ask the hard questions up-front, to save resources for opportunities where an initiative has been prioritized and the customer is willing and able to allocate budget. “NO” is an acceptable response from a buyer. Leaning into “NO” requires a tremendous paradigm shift for most sales people, but it can take all the pressure off the rep and increase their productivity. The prospect is also a beneficiary, because it makes the process feel more comfortable to say “No” or determine actionable next steps.
Roadblock #3: Salespeople fail to get firm commitments from buyers.
Salespeople are often very willing to grasp the opportunity to send a proposal, presentation, demo, etc. This approach is incredibly time-consuming and resource intensive. How many bids and proposals has your organization sent out over the last twelve months that resulted in no sale? How much does it cost you on an annual basis in misspent sales time, sales consulting time, trial software, loaner equipment, bid and proposal efforts, etc.? Sales managers often contribute further to the problem by monitoring the wrong statistics – quotes sent, meetings held, proposals outstanding driving lots of activity, but little results.
The solution? Salespeople must learn what motivates people to buy and become masters of the skills required to help buyers become comfortable sharing their challenges or business objectives. Gaining firm future commitments throughout the process will facilitate a more accurate forecasting process. Never do anything unless you know why, and have determined actionable next steps.
What can you do about the most common roadblocks to sales success?
Successful implementation of a common sales process requires the following steps:
Step #1: 100% Management buy-in. No sales process will succeed unless your front-line managers are 100% committed to and able to support and reinforce its implementation. A key to successful Sales Force Transformation is a conceptual shift on the part of first level managers from reactive – “what are you going to close this quarter?” to proactive coaching in all phases of the process – debriefing sales calls, strategizing deals, ongoing coaching and measurement.
Step #2: Sales buy-in. Most sales training is not as successful as anticipated as it is a one-time event without ongoing reinforcement, and because there is a lack of buy-in at all levels.
Step #3: Ownership. Even the best-selling system, without ongoing reinforcement and internal buy-in, will be a distant memory within 30 days if there is not a concentrated effort to track and measure effectiveness. It’s fine that your salespeople know what to do in theory – but to articulate messaging and strategy in a real world scenario requires that the reps go from knowing the material to owning all aspects of the process. Experiential learning can be a vehicle to help with ongoing reinforcement. With hands-on learning and reinforcement in an environment where it’s safe to get out of their comfort zone and implement more- effective behaviors can lead to consistent professional growth and revenue attainment.