7 Bad Assumptions Salespeople Should Never Make
One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes is: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Buying behavior continues to change at warp speed. But business-to-business (B2B) vendor actions/reactions crawl at a glacial pace. It’s not clear to me how many vendors are in denial, don’t know how to respond, or both. They seem sure their old selling approaches will still work.
I’ve identified seven bad assumptions sellers continue to make:
1. Website Leads = Topline Revenue. For vendors selling complex big-ticket items, Website leads remind me of the bingo cards from trade shows. Traditionally, vendors had visitors fill out “bingo cards” with contact information before getting whatever they had to offer (mouse pads, Nerf balls, key chains, etc.).
Fast forward two decades and realize most Website visitors now access your Website rather than visiting trade show booths. Please don’t confuse activity with progress. In most cases, Website visitors are doing product evaluations, not starting buying cycles. Think of the selling time wasted and tepid win rates when starting too low within organizations. “Bingo card leads” are not the path to higher revenue.
2. Buyers Are a Blank Canvas. Despite the fact that vendors agree their sellers are getting involved in buying cycles later than ever before, most leave it up to each salesperson to determine how they are going to align with potential buyers who have already established their requirements. Common mistakes are:
- Failing to give buyers a chance to share what requirements they have already determined. Poor alignment = Poor buying experience.
- Those sellers who ask what requirements have been established make premature attempts to change the requirements list. This will infuriate buyers.
To align with these buyers, it is necessary to:
- Learn what they think they want.
- Take them back into solution development.
- And by asking questions, hopefully have buyers conclude there were some missing requirements.
Executing this successfully will provide better buying experiences, have buyers conclude sellers are competent, and provide a better chance of being Column A.
3. “I Just Compete with Vendors.” There is a tremendous advantage when a salesperson can gain access to a Key Player, take that person from latent to active need, and establish themselves as Column A. If a seller gets to a high level, unbudgeted initiatives can be funded.
Even when working for companies that are doing well, senior executives don’t have blank checks for unbudgeted funds. If a seller can present a strong payback, the executive can have a look at all the budgeted projects in a given year and rob Peter to pay Paul.
The best defense against being displaced by competitors is to take the offensive. Work with prospects and customers to build a strong cost vs. benefit that will make it more difficult to postpone or cancel expenditures.
4. The Senior Executive Is the Decision-Maker. When working with committees, many salespeople and their managers assume the highest-level person is the decision-maker.
I was working on an opportunity to sell sales training and process, and the primary contacts were the director of Training (Joe) and SVP of Worldwide Sales (Allan). Our primary competitor left a series of footprints on Joe’s forehead as they were trying (unsuccessfully) to go over his head and meet with Allan.
Ultimately, we won the business and I asked Joe how the decision was made. He told me he believed our offering was a better fit for the organization. Allan left the decision up to him.
The words “always” and “never” seldom apply to Sales. My suggestion is not to make knee-jerk assumptions that the top person in the organizational chart will make the final decision.
5. Proposals Sell. Of all the closing techniques I’m aware of, the least effective is issuing a proposal to non-decision-makers, who then will distribute it to members of the buying committee. This is a recipe for disaster for many reasons:
- In their rush to move transactions along, many proposals are issued too soon.
- Sellers lose a great deal of control once proposals are issued. Many prospects “go dark” after receiving proposals.
- Few executive buyers will take the time to read proposals.
- Executives who try to read proposals often will give up if/when they don’t fully understand what they are reading.
Proposals should provide the information needed for buyers to make buying decisions and should document/confirm:
- Desired business outcomes
- Reasons the outcomes cannot be achieved
- The specific capabilities that address the reasons uncovered
- Implementation activities
- The potential value
- The total costs
6. Buyers Will Be Honest with You About Why You Lost. Similar to break-ups, buyers want to deliver bad news quickly and limit or eliminate explanations. My belief is that when pricing and offerings are fairly equal, the better salesperson wins the lion’s share.
In trying to get more usable information about losses, my suggestion is that losing vendors wait a few months and have someone other than the salesperson contact the decision-maker. Explain that you’re trying to improve the company’s selling efforts and would appreciate it if the buyer could briefly explain:
- The major reasons for choosing the winning vendor
- Perceived deficiencies in the losing vendor’s offering or support
- Aspects of the selling effort that could have been done more effectively
Going the distance and losing is the worst possible scenario for vendors and sellers. Having invested time and effort, actionable loss reports can salvage some benefit.
7. Executives Are Interested in Offerings. While lower-level staff’s interest is primarily in learning about products/offerings, executives have neither the time nor inclination to become knowledgeable about products.
Executives are interested in improving business results and want the “CliffsNotes” version of offerings. They’d like a seller to uncover their business issues, help them realize why they can’t be achieved without the seller’s offering, and then at a high level, have an understanding of what capabilities are needed to achieve the desired outcome.
Frank Visgatis is president/chief operating officer and co-founder/co-author of CustomerCentric Selling (CCS), which delivers sales training through a suite of sales training workshops around the globe to provide sales organizations with the selling skills and tools necessary to win in a highly competitive marketplace. The heart of CustomerCentric Selling lies within the buyer-driven sales process that guides the sell cycle so salespeople can be more effective and close more deals. For more information, visit http://www.customercentric.com