There’s nothing like being around sales people excited and energized with a new product launch or new marketing initiative. Once they understand it and know what to do, there’s no stopping them. They will break down brick walls, they’ll charge forward 200 miles per hour doing exactly what you told them to do. They will go out and try to overcome anything to make the sale. It’s trully exciting being around a sales team with this kind of energy.
That’s the good news. The bad news is: If you have pointed them in the wrong direction or have not equipped them to deal with what they will face, the results can be terrible. They could be selling the wrong thing to the wrong people in the wrong way. Nothing takes the steam out of a sales effort than sales people encountering resistance they cannot overcome, or if they are not properly equipped to deal with issues customers raises.
A few days ago, a couple of sales people met with me. They were on a mission. They had been trained and equipped to do one thing, convince me to shift from my current supplier to them. They were very competent in the sales call they were executing. They were personable, asked appropriate questions, listened well, and managed to capture my interest. It was clear their entire sales strategy was built around “our alternative costs you significantly less than your current vendor’s services.”
I was interested, we went through their proposal. At face value, their claim was true—-but I’ve bought a lot of what they were selling in the past, I knew there were hidden charges. I asked them, “What happens when you add the hidden charges?” Their faces went blank. They asked, “What do you mean?” I pointed to the 4 point type on their brochure, saying, “Your brochure talks about these hidden charges. What about these?” Apparently they hadn’t been trained in this. After some fumbling and some quick calls they were able to give me an apples to apples comparison. It turned out their pricing was less than 2% different than what I was currently paying, not the significant difference their sales strategy was built around.
I don’t fault them, they did the sales call they were trained to do, they executed it perfectly. The problem is they were trained incorrectly and not equipped to deal with the real questions customers would probably ask. The fault rested with the product marketing and marketing people who didn’t adequately prepare the organization to deal with the real customer issues. I talked to the sales people about the situation. We discussed that they would encounter the same problem with every customer they called on. They were discouraged and didn’t know what to do. I felt bad—not bad enough to buy. It wasn’t my problem, but it was a problem for their company.
I’m working with a very large organization with an experienced and strong sales organization. They have launched an important but very complex product. They have invested a lot in training the sales people how to address three specific, but difficult issues with the customers. The sales people are doing it—but they are struggling. They are having a very difficult time connecting with the customer. It’s not through lack of effort, bad training, or support materials. One of the three core issues is very new to them and very complex. They have been trained a certain way to address it in a certain way, but they were struggling to be successful and needed help. Somehow they just weren’t connecting with the customers, they were getting very frustrated in trying to communicate the importance of this core issue.
It so happens, I had a conversation with one of the senior executives in the product organization. He had spent a lot of time calling on customers, on this specific issue, and was being very successful. I asked him, “What are you doing to be successful in discussing this issue with customers? The sales people are really struggling and need help, what would you suggest?”
I was surprised by his response, he state, “Oh, I don’t talk about that at all. It’s not the right issue to talk to the customers about, they don’t get it and there is a better way to capture their attention, this is what I do…..” The problem, was further compounded as we talked about this and a few other issues further. The product people had subtly, but importantly shifted lots of their strategies and messages. Most of the sales people didn’t know, they were still trying to execute what they were directed and trained to do — and struggling. Many people who had tried and failed, were on the verge of giving up and going back to sell what they were confident in selling. Those few who knew the subtle shifts in messaging and strategy were confused and didn’t know what to do.
I could go on, but I’ve made my point. The wonderful thing about sales people, is when you get them excited and energized about a new initiative, there is no stopping them. The problem is that you have to make sure you have pointed them in the right direction and that you aren’t shifting where you are going. Trying to turn an energized sales force is somewhat like trying to turn an oil tanker. If you have to shift, realize it will be confusing, address that directly and know that changing the direction will take time.
The other thing, make sure you equip the sales people to be successful. Sales people will charge ahead and execute what you have told them to do, but if they don’t meet success after a few times, they will stop and focus their time where they know they will be successful. Trying to recapture that energy and initiative is extremely difficult. It is more difficult, more time consuming, and more costly than doing things right in the first place.
An energized, focused sales force, on a mission is a sight to behold. The results they can produce are tremendous. Don’t waste that opportunity.