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“Pissing On The Ashes”

by David Brock on January 26th, 2017

A colleague had a wonderfully colorful term to describe situations we both found ourselves in.  We were both senior executives in a large corporation.  Often, we found ourselves on the phone with desperate sales people.  A deal was about to close and they were worried about losing it.  They were pulling out all the stops, trying to win the deal at the last moment.  By that time they were so desperate, they would call on anyone for help–often it ended up being either Jerry or myself.

Jerry called these, “Pissing on the ashes” calls.  He likened it to a house burning down, calling the fire department too late, when all that was left was ashes.  Too often, we were called in where there was virtually nothing we could do to help win the deal.  Sure, sometimes customers were impressed by senior executives flying across the world begging for their business, but too often it was too little, too late.

The underlying issue is that too many sales people don’t understand when and how we win deals.  They think deals are won at closing.  They think a fantastic proposal or presentation, leveraging their best closing techniques, or talking about how wonderful their solutions are and the great reputation of the company is how to win deals.  Consequently, they spend all their time developing compelling presentations, working on their closing skills, and pitching their products.

The problem is, that’s not when you win deals.  Certainly, at the close is when you get the decision and, hopefully, win the order; but you never win deals at the closing stages.

Ironically, deals are won and lost in qualification and discovery.  And too often, that’s where sales people are the weakest.  Too often, sales people do a bad job at qualifying and discovery.  It may be in their rush to pitch their products, it may be their desperation to find deals to fill anemic pipelines, it may be just through pure sloppiness or cluelessness.

In past articles, I’ve mentioned the fastest way to improve win rates is to do a better job of disqualifying.  Too often, we waste time by chasing the wrong deals, deals outside our sweet spot.  Or we engage in wishful thinking with a customer that may be interested, but has no commitment to change.  The best way to win more deals is focusing viciously on customers and opportunities in your “sweet spot,” ignoring everything else.  Then make sure your customer has a high sense of urgency to change.  Perhaps there is a compelling event, or the consequences of doing nothing overwhelm the pain of change.

Once you are chasing the right deals, the where sales people win deals is in the discovery stage of the sales process.

This is where the customer tells you everything you need to do to win the deal.  It’s in the discovery process, we understand the needs and requirements of the customer.  It’s here we learn who will be involved in making the decision and how the decision will be made.  It’s in discovery we learn their attitudes about us and our competition.  It’s in the discovery stage that customers are eager to learn, to consider alternatives, to be open in shifting their points of view.  It’s in discovery, that we learn what they value, enabling us to present our solutions in the context of what they most value.  It’s here, where  we create our greatest value, helping the customer learn, helping their buying team align agendas, helping them learn how to buy and moving them through their buying process.

If we are trying to lead with insight or provocation, it’s in qualifying and discovery these insights are most impactful and when the customer is most open to learning about them.

Everything we do in the rest of the selling/buying process is shaped by the quality of our qualifying and discovery.  The time to win or lose deals is here, not in the final proposals and closing.

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2 Comments
  1. Janice Mars permalink

    Touche! I have never understood why so many sales managers get involved in late stage deals. Believing this is a good use of their time. Top performing sales managers always get involved early. They understand the importance of early qualification – or disqualification. Great post Dave.

  2. Brian MacIver permalink

    “deals are won and lost in qualification
    and ‘Value’ discovery with ‘Value’ Development”

    Now, I could not disagree with that!

    I often run a one day event called ‘Closing Day’
    5 or 6 sales people, 2 or 3 ‘deals’ each,

    When will it close?
    Who will give the order?
    Why will they order from you?

    There are a few more ‘rules’, but I’ll mention one:
    “What’s said in the room, stays in the room”

    So, we quickly identify: the ‘unqualified’, and ‘vague’ value propositions, then we focus on the Most Likely to close in our favour, and we ‘Bulletproof’ them.

    No last minute Senior managers required. 😉

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