I’m following a fascinating discussion in LinkedIn. You should read it here. The author makes a fair point that executives must constantly look for opportunities to learn, improve, and grow their businesses.
He poses the premise they should do this by answering every prospecting call they get–since sales people presenting their solutions will give the customer insights and ideas to improve their business. He goes further to imply execs are being irresponsible in not answering every prospecting call.
Theoretically, this makes some sense. Sales people can be a great source of ideas and insights about business. They can and should be helping customers discover ways they can improve, new opportunities to pursue, ways they can grow.
Customers are crying for help, sales people can and should be leading sources of that help. And with great executives, we see them constantly curious and constantly learning–they look everywhere for ideas, insight and inspiration.
It seems like a perfect match–execs looking for ideas, sales people filling that void.
The reality, however, is far different. The demand for new ideas and learning from executives has not changed–it’s just that sales people do an extraordinarily poor job of fulfilling this demand.
Survey after survey reports customers saying: “The sales person doesn’t understand my business, markets, challenges. The sales person doesn’t give me ideas on how to improve. The sales person doesn’t understand their products–particularly how they can help me. They waste my time.”
The failure of this premise is not on the side of executives that refuse to answer prospecting calls, but the fact that poorly trained sales people are pushing execs to not pick up the phone, to not respond to prospecting outreach.
Stated differently, we have not reached this point because of bad behaviors on the parts of our customers, but rather because of sales failure to execute. Sales people are driving customers away and to other sources of insight and learning.
Customers’ desire and need to learn has not gone away, they are just finding better sources of insight, learning, and information. Digital channels have become an important source of information and learning. Peer groups, and other forums are important channels.
Data from Gartner also indicates customers have a willingness to engage sales people as a channel for learning, the challenge continues to be the failure of too many sales people in execution.
Our feigned indignation about the irresponsibility of executives in not accepting prospecting calls is misplaced. Rather, we would do better by focusing on improving sales abilities to bring value into these prospecting calls.
We can’t be too hasty in assigning blame to sales people making bad prospecting calls. After all, they are only doing what they have been taught to do, told to do, and for which they are measured.
We know what we should be doing, we know how we should be engaging customers. We have amazing technologies that help us more effectively target the right prospects with the right messages. We have the capabilities of being remarkably personalized in our outreach. Yet too often, we don’t do these things because it involves too much work. It becomes far easier to drive volume, than to take the time to understand our customers, tailoring our outreach and relevance.
The “fault,” is not on our customers’ side. They are responding, appropriately, to what we have created.
As a profession, we are increasingly challenged. Customers aren’t picking up the phone, they aren’t responding to email. Social platforms, like LinkedIn, which used to be trusted are becoming new channels for the delivery of spam.
Our “good” messages are being drowned out in an ocean of “spam.” And when I talk about spam, I’m not referring to riches being promised by Nigerian princes, I’m talking about poorly constructed and designed prospecting programs implemented by reputable companies–whether they be public, well known private, well know start-ups.
The bad execution from those that know better and would claim to do better, poisons the well for all of us. It is incumbent on us to clean up our own acts, to be more purposeful, creating great value in all of our outreach. If more of us started doing this, rather than constantly falling back on lazy volume/velocity approaches, we would give our customers more of a reason to pick up the phone and to respond to our emails.