Several weeks ago, I did a deal review with a client. It was a very large deal, important to my client. The sales person is an outstanding sales person–one of the top performers in the organization.
As I looked at the notes on the deal, the sales person had a number of good conversations with people in the organization. He had a pretty good understanding of what they were trying to do. He was laser focused on demonstrating how his solution was the best in helping the customer achieve the goal.
He was trying to reach the decision-maker and had hit a road block. He’d made call after call, sent email after email. He was very frustrated, he was normally accustomed to getting into whoever he needed to see at an account. But this particular customer was just not responding to any of the creative offers he made—lunch, a demo, meeting with product managers, an extended loaner of a system—nothing would drive a response.
What was worse, is the people he had dealt with before started going dark.
As I looked at the email chain, each email was a variation on the same theme, “Let me tell you how wonderful my product is.”
The emails were written much more artfully and each offered an enticement about learning more about the product. But there were no responses.
In the review, I started asking my usual questions, “What are they trying to achieve, why are they doing this, what are the consequences of doing nothing, how does this fit into their overall strategy/priorities/vision, what are the personal wins for each person involved in the decision, ……..”
The sales person thought he knew the answers, but struggled. He realized that he had jumped from “discovery,” to “pitching” before he really understood all the stuff critical to his sales strategy and winning the deal.
We decided to do a little research. It took just a few minutes–we went to the company website. We started understanding more of their strategies, priorities, and what might be driving the need to change. We went to google, pretty quickly we found a number of press releases, speeches, presentations the company had given about their strategies and priorities. This particular project and it’s impact on the company were mentioned several times. In fact, the key executive we had been trying to reach had been interviewed a number of times–including his priorities around this particular project.
We went to LinkedIn and started looking at the profiles of each person involved in the project. We were trying to discern their biases, motivations, experience with these solutions, and the personal wins. Again, the profile of the key executive was rich with information. He had posted a number of presentations and video’s in his profile. It was clear the executive was a real visionary, he was driven to achieve certain things in the organization, he had a strong strategy.
I know what you are thinking, why didn’t the sales person do any of this up front? He really should have, in hindsight he recognized the error. He had fallen into the trap too many of us fall into—listening for what he wanted to hear, rather than really trying to understand what the customer was trying to achieve.
To his credit, once we started to see the problem, he came up with a new strategy.
Through the research, we had a pretty good idea of what was going on, but he still needed to reconfirm everything with the customer–understanding their strategy, priorities, the views of each person involved.
He wrote a very short email to the decisionmaker. In that email he indicated his understanding of the key issues–but posed some very good questions about what they were trying to achieve. In one sentence, he explained the experience my client had helping similar organizations on this issue. He finished the email, leveraging some of the executives quotes on his vision and the importance of the project in implementing the strategy. Then he asked for a meeting.
Late last night, I got an email from him, it was titled, “Some Magic Happened!”
He had forwarded me the response from the executive.
It was the kind of response any sales person dreams of. The customer was impressed with the knowledge and understanding of his and his company’s issues/strategies/priorities. He was intrigued to learn more about how my client might help them address the issues. He was flattered by the reference to his quotes and visions. He was eager to meet, share more about what they were trying to do and learn more about my client’s ability to help.
After weeks of emails and phone calls focused on “Let me tell you about my product,” shifting the approach to focus entirely on the customer and the individual had completely changed things.
The door is now open.
The sales person has a long way to go, but he now has a strategy that puts the customer and what they want to achieve at the center of everything he is doing with them.
This stuff works! It’s not trickery, manipulation, or any great sales technique. It’s simply focusing on the customer, understanding what they want to do, learning from them–then helping them learn.
It’s really that simple!
Take a look at your most important stalled deal. Do some research on both the company and the individuals. Try answering for yourself the questions I posed earlier in this post. Then go to the customer and ask them, let the words come from their mouths, probe, verify, validate, quantify. Be interested in them and what they want to achieve.
Last week I was having a conversation with an executive. This executive had an incredible background. He had built and sold several very successful start-ups. You would recognize their names. Currently he served on the boards of several large companies, was involved in another great start-up, was part of a venture company. This individual has just an awesome background, filled with success–and is just wickedly smart.
Somehow, we got onto the topic of prospecting. I was describing a prospecting call I had recently made. Laughing as I described the situation, I talked about preparing for a call on a very senior executive. I talked about how I had developed a premise for the call, how I developed an introduction so the executive’s assistant would connect me to the executive. Finally, I spoke about “psyching myself up” to make the call.
You know–, wiping the palms of your hands on you pants, the 5 deep breath’s as you reach for the phone, running the call plan through my mind as I dialed, listening to the ringing……
Through this story, the executive was chuckling. He said, “It’s great to know other people go through the same thing in making prospecting calls.”
He went on to describe his own process, with the accompanying anxiousness and “psyching himself up” as he dialed the phone. Here was one of the most successful business executives I’d ever met–still nervous about prospecting.
We went on to discuss it. Each of us had made 1000’s of prospecting calls in our lives. Each of us had achieved some levels of success. We were each confident in our abilities do deal with virtually any situation that might occur in a prospecting call, but we had some anxiety as we picked up the phone. to make a prospecting call.
As we discussed our prospecting approaches, we discovered part of our anxiety came from each prospecting call we made was important. Neither of us just dialed a list of numbers going through our pitch. We were very selective, very purposeful as we selected prospects, prepared for the calls, and executed them. We were invested in our prospecting and wanted each call to be successful.
We laughed at the silliness of the anxiety, particularly at our ages. Most of the calls we made, the anxiety was unjustified. The calls went well, we each had high success rates, but even when they weren’t successful we were able to build strong connections and relationships.
Following the meeting, I reflected on the conversation. There were a couple of important learnings:
- We don’t prospect casually, we are at our best when we are focused and purposeful in our prospecting. This drives higher levels of results.
- It’s natural to feel some anxiety, we tend to feel that way on things that are really important to us. Harnessing that anxiety enables us to sharpen our focus.
- In spite of the anxiety, we always pick up the phone. Nothing happens until we make the calls.
A while back I was involved in a discussion about performance. For some reason, a specific individual had drawn the attention and ire of a top executive—rather an account that individual was responsible for was drawing the ire of the executive.
The issue was real, the account–a major channel partner–wasn’t performing, in fact it was creating problems for my client.
It’s reasonable to hold the sales person accountable for addressing this issue. The sales person may have needed support in addressing the issue, but it is the sales person’s responsibility to manage the relationship, manage the shared expectations, and help the channel partner meet these shared expectations.
However, the problem was not that simple.
The sales person did not know his and the account’s performance weren’t meeting expectations. The sales person was “managing” the account. It was producing the expected amount of revenue, but there were other issues making the relationship with this particular partner very difficult.
After looking into the situation, it became clear the sales person didn’t understand management’s expectations in managing the relationship. He’d been focused on the number, since he was making the number he thought he was performing well.
Somehow, there had been a disconnect between this individual and his management–the whole management chain. Over time, expectations of channel partners had changed, yet those expectations had not been translated into specific performance expectations for the sales person.
While the sales person wasn’t meeting top management’s expectations, it really wasn’t his fault.
It’s not an uncommon problem. Too often, managers aren’t having the right discussions with their people. Managers aren’t being explicit in defining expectations and setting goals for their people. Conversations are held in the abstract, passing comments are made, suggestions are made, but these aren’t translated into specific expectations for sales people.
Too often, things change over time. Expectations evolve as business conditions change. What we may have defined well several years ago has evolved and changed. We think our people have somehow changed, as well. But until we have the explicit conversations setting goals and metrics, it’s unfair to expect our people to change.
We can’t expect our people to read our minds, intuiting what is expected. We need to sit down periodically to review performance expectations, we need to make sure our people are on the same page as us.
It’s not their performance problem if they don’t know–that’s our performance issue.
It doesn’t become their performance issue until they clearly understand. Even then, we need to continue to reinforce the priorities, coach them on what high performance is, and support them when they need help.