Salespeople are often sloppy, particularly when it comes to structuring and conducting initial/discovery sales calls. What’s perplexing is how many sellers simply take for these hard-earned customer/prospect meetings for granted. Today, it takes so much effort and energy to secure a meeting with a key prospect, yet salespeople don’t prep or plan anywhere near as much as they should. They often wing it. They lose control early in the meeting and never gain it back. They talk too much and present too soon. And maybe most damaging of all, they get perceived as amateurs, and instead of coming across as professional problem-solvers, value-creators and consultants, they end up getting relegated to “vendor” status. Ouch.
Here are 8 Ugly Reasons Sales Calls Derail:
1. The salesperson forgets the purpose of the meeting (sales call). In many B2B sales roles, particularly in longer, more complex sales, it takes multiple meetings to advance an opportunity and sell something. In most cases, these initial, or early stage sales calls, really should be much more about discovery and learning everything we can about the prospect and their situation. Yet, even in these supposed discovery meetings, salespeople confuse presenting with selling, and rush to get to the presentation stage.
2. They fail to recognize the buyer’s behavioral style. Very early in the sales call, during the rapport building phase, we should be trying to figure out who is in front of us. You don’t need to be a master of the DISC model to discern whether your prospect is more of an extrovert or introvert…whether they’re a highly relational and chatty type who wants to spend 30 minutes talking about SEC football, or a fast-moving, hard-charging, get-to-the-point as fast as possible driver. Yet so often we see salespeople fail to recognize the buyer’s style. The consequences can be deadly, but it’s often fun to see, and hard not to laugh when a fast-talking, hand-flailing, disorganized salesperson fails to grasp that they’re meeting with a cautious analytical who can’t relate to their loud, boisterous, shoot from the hip approach. And it can be even more amusing (and painful) watching a highly relational, long-talking seller not sense the impatient, driven buyer who’s ready to get down to business ASAP.
3. They don’t have a plan. It doesn’t get any plainer or more obvious that this: Sales calls run off the tracks because salespeople don’t own their sales call structure, don’t have a plan, and don’t set up the meeting early on by sharing their agenda. Years ago during a pre-call coaching session, I had a young salesperson tell me he didn’t like to plan out his sales calls because he felt that made them come off as mechanical. Amused, I questioned his approach to which he responded that he liked his calls to be more organic. Well, I had the privilege of sitting through a couple of his organic sales calls, and they were organic alright – an organic mess. You can read more about that experience in Chapter 10 of New Sales. Simplified.
4. Salespeople do the Show Up and Throw Up or Spray and Pray thing. Do I even need to add any descriptive comments here? How often do sellers go in and just verbally vomit all over the prospect? Way too often, I’m afraid. I was leading a session on conducting sales calls for a client a long time ago and a young-gun sales rep named Chip took issue with my description of the all-too-common “show up and throw up” approach. Chip preferred to call it the “spray and pray.” You spray out everything your know and pray you happened to hit on something relevant to the prospect. Sadly, that describes a pretty high percentage of ineffective sales calls today.
5. Sellers make truly lame attempts at doing discovery work and asking probing questions. Despite all that’s been written about conducting solid early-stage sales calls – even referring to them specifically as “Discovery Meetings” – somehow, someway, a good percentage of salespeople are woefully ill-prepared to discover what they need to. One of my mentors (and old sales managers, Donnie Williams) loved to say, “Remember when you were little and they told us there was no such thing as a stupid question? Well, they lied. There are plenty of stupid questions and salespeople ask them on sales calls everyday!” Salespeople not only ask lame questions, but they neither frame their questions well nor ask enough questions. Many come off awkwardly lacking confidence, while others give off the vibe of a prosecuting attorneys cross-examining someone on the witness stand. Some will ask a pathetic generic question like, “Tell me about your pain points.” And way too many salespeople will halt their probing the second they uncover the slightest pain or opportunity. These amateurs start drooling when they think there’s a deal brewing. Instead of continuing their probing to learn more, they start counting commission dollars in their head, and leap immediately to the presentation stage eager to show the prospect that they can help.
6. They’re pathetic at using tools and sales materials. It’s embarrassing to see a sales rep open a brochure, turn to a specific page and then push the brochure across the table. It’s worse watching reps fumble through screens on their iPad trying to find the relevant solution, only to then read the content to the buyer as if it was story time in Kindergarten class. And let’s not even begin to describe the self-focused demos being conducted everyday by salespeople who only know how to click, click, click their way through the software while mentioning canned features without making any tie-in to the prospect’s business issues. As one of our US presidential candidates is fond of saying: It’s a disaster!
7. Salespeople hide from rather than seeking and fleshing out objections. Sometime we refer to this as “happy ears.” Salespeople, preferring to leave the sales call feeling good, don’t dig past the surface or ask the hard questions, even whey they can sense the prospect has discomfort or there are obvious obstacles to advancing the sale. Nothing good happens by ignoring potential obstacles and objections. These un-dealt-with issues almost always come back to bite us later and are usually the cause of deals going dark.
8. They fail to define, secure and schedule next steps. I don’t care if you get a standing ovation from your customer and they tell you that you delivered the best presentation they’ve ever seen. If you leave that room without defining and getting agreement to the customer’s next step, you failed. Notice what I’m saying: It’s not enough to give yourself or your company an assignment. You must get the buyer to agree to their next step, too. It’s a quid pro quo. “How about we do this and you do that?” Not clearly defining the customer’s next step is another cause for sales opportunities going dark. And today, because we have our calendars with us (in our phones) at all times, it’s easier than ever to ask the customer to commit to scheduling the next step.
Which of theses ugly eight sins are you or sales team guilty of committing? If you’re looking for a simple, sound structure and step-by-step guide for conducting highly effective early stage sales calls, check out Chapter 11 in New Sales. Simplified.