In an outstanding post, Why Sales People Need To Create Value, Not Just Communicate, Bob Apollo cites a data point from Forrester: “Prospects say only 1 in 8 conversations with sales people are useful!”
It’s a staggering number! 87.5% of the conversations customers are having with sales people are a waste of time!
Think of the massive losses in productivity and costs that are incurred both on the part of customers and within our own sales organizations. Collectively, it’s $100’s of millions if not billions.
It’s no wonder that customers put huge barriers to sales–screening calls, avoiding calls, putting gatekeepers in place. It’s no wonder, customers are looking to other sources for information and learning if 87.5% of the time, sales people will be wasting their time.
The Customer Perspective:
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. The phone rings. From the ID (or lack of ID) you know it’s a sales person. You know it’s almost 9 chances in 10 that sales person is going to waste your time. You know, you’ll lose not only the few minutes you might spend on the phone, but also the time spent in recovering from the interruption–finding where you left off on the work you were doing, recovering you thought process, getting going again (As well as muttering under your breath about “Damn sales people!”).
Are you going to pick up the phone and answer the call with those odds?
No sane person would! (Hopefully our customers are mostly rational people.)
The odds get worse, the more the customer knows who you are—“That’s Jim, he always wastes my time, I’ll never pick up a call from him!”
Imagine what would happen if you created value in every customer interaction, if you were the one sales person in eight that used your customers’ time well. What would that do in terms of accessibility? What would that do in positioning you to be the trusted advisor? What would that do to your competitive positioning? If the customer is investing time with you–because you never waste their time, minimizing time with your competitors, are you going to be more likely to win? If you do this in every engagement with the customer, would you be more likely to develop both a loyal customer relationship, but a strong advocate, “Talk to Dave, he never wastes your time, you always learn something new!”
Look at it from your customers’ organizational points of view. They know for every 8 hours their people spend with sales people 7 of those hours are lost? You can start doing the math–What’s the fully burdened cost of an hour of a person’s time, how many hours do sales people spend with your people each week? Pretty soon the costs are astronomical. As a business owner, I’d put a “No Soliciting” sign in the reception area, I’d program phones, “If you are a sales person, hit 9”–which is pre-programmed to hang up. I couldn’t afford the lost productivity from my people.
The Sales Manager’s/Executive’s Perspective:
Imagine you have a team of 8 sales people. 7 of those sales people are wasting their customers’ time. Their ability to achieve their goals will be very limited. But the impact is greater–it makes it tougher for that 1 sales person who isn’t wasting their customers’ time. They have to overcome the negative reputation being produced by the others. So it makes it harder for them to sell.
Now imagine the cost of selling dilemma, if I had a team of 8 sales people, fully burdened costing me $100K each, so roughly $700K of my spending is wasted money. Now imagine going to get funding for more people, more tools, more sales programs. What’s management going to respond?
Fun With Numbers:
OK, I’m playing some games with numbers, just to simplify things a little. Not every call 7 out of 8 sales people make is a waste of time. And if we knew those 7 people, we’d get rid of them. But this is, in effect, what’s happening. Yes, it’s spread across a large number of people, but the effect is the same–7 out of 8 FTE’s are wasting customers’ time with every interaction. While they are producing some business, they are no where near as productive and impactful as the could be. When you start aggregating the costs of lost productivity from both the customers’ and sales organizations’ points of view, the costs are massive–and unforgivable.
The Simple Solution:
There’s a simple solution, all of us know, too few execute. It’s called the Sales Call Plan. It’s the process of spending a few minutes researching, thinking, planning before making that call (in person or by the phone or through email or whatever channel). It’s thinking about, What is the customer concerned about? What can I do that can help the customer address those concerns? Is what I plan to talk about going to help the customer move through their buying process? Do I have the right people participating? What do they want to accomplish in the meeting? What are the outcomes we should agree upon at the conclusion of the meeting?
We might go further, agreeing on an agenda before the meeting–making sure both the customer and we are aligned and prepared to accomplish something.
Finally, after developing the Sales Call Plan, it means challenging yourself, “What value will I create for the customer in this call/meeting?” If you don’t know the answer, you aren’t ready and should postpone the call.
It’s so simple to stand out from every other sales person, all you have to do is create value in every customer interaction.
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