“Why aren’t they doing better?”
This is the question we get in nearly in every interaction we have with sales managers -- leaders who know their salespeople should be doing better by closing more deals but who just can’t seem to effectively coach them up into doing so. National reports confirm what we already know from this personal experience: Only about ⅓ of reps consistently make their quotas. Take a moment to let that sink in for a second. One-third. That statistic shows that many organizations are struggling.
Of course, you have to ask yourself why this is so.
In general, we find most sales managers to be bright, talented, and experienced leaders of good and reputable companies. They were once fantastic sales reps themselves. Yet, the vast majority of them are unable to “coach up” their salespeople to hit the big numbers -- the kind of numbers they did when they were in that role! It really is perplexing. Why are such superstars of sales plagued by underperforming teams once they assume leadership roles?
In life, we’re conditioned to look for the “one reason” things are amiss. It certainly makes finding a solution easier! Find what’s wrong, fix it, and move on to better days. In sales, we often try to do the same. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. This is one of those times.
There is no one reason your sales team is consistently missing its mark. Likely, there are several reasons, and you’ll have to address them all to see your numbers improve.
Our experience tells us the following issues are holding back your team:
Prospecting is like being at the beach and relaxing in the warm sun as you work on psyching yourself up to go into the icy cold water.
You finally get up off your cozy blanket and begin walking toward the water having second thoughts with each step you take.
You put your toe in the water and jump back as you shout: “Man, that water is freezing!”
Usually, at a friend’s insistence, you begin to wade into the water feeling discomfort as the cold water shocks your legs, chest, and most painfully, your back.
Finally, you go for it and dive all in!
As you wiggle around in the cold water in an attempt to warm yourself you finally realize your body has adjusted and you no longer feel the pain.
I find prospecting to be very much the same.
In the beginning, I dread it, but once I jump in and get going I feel a thousand times better about myself and my business. I get appointments, close deals, make money and wonder why I procrastinated.
I feel at peace as a result of taking action. Taking the action that I know will get results. And I feel at peace knowing that I’m doing all I can. It doesn’t get much better than that!
The thing I’ve learned about prospecting is the fact that you will feel discomfort.
You will either feel some pain as you push to get the ball rolling or you will feel pain later when you have a dry pipeline and you realize you’re not going to hit your number.
Obviously the latter hurts much more and is the type of discomfort that lingers and makes it significantly more difficult to swing back into action.
Here are 5 suggestions for you which will enable you to take your prospecting effectiveness up to the next level:
Be a Specialist - Focus on vertical markets:
As a result of buyers having easy access to lots of information today, and perceiving themselves as being informed, the expectations they have for you are much higher than in years past.
Specifically, they expect you to have knowledge of their industry, their company and of them as it relates to the role they play.
In addition, they expect you to ask intelligent questions, listen extremely well, know your products and services inside and out and make the experience all about them and their world.
They want to deal with “specialists”.
When it comes to being knowledgeable about their industry the best way to meet that expectation is to focus your prospecting efforts by specializing in several vertical markets.
If you’re going to get on LinkedIn, email and the phone to prospect for 2 hours and you’re calling into medical on one call, insurance on the next call, then a distribution company on your third call it will be very difficult for you to get in the “zone” and present yourself as knowledgeable while switching from vertical to vertical.
Select 3 or 4 vertical markets that your company is known to excel in and do enough research on each vertical to prepare yourself to have an intelligent business conversation.
Then, when you set aside 2 hours to prospect, focus on one or two verticals in that particular session. Exhaust your calls into one vertical then focus on the second vertical.
With this approach to prospecting each contact you make will get better and better as you get in the groove, present yourself as a “specialist” and build momentum.
Make Contact at the Right Level:
When you focus on several hot vertical markets and do the appropriate amount of research on each, your level of preparation will strengthen your confidence to call higher in the prospect organization.
The number one reason Salespeople do not call on executives is that they are not confident in their ability to engage an executive in a relevant and meaningful business conversation. Focusing on verticals will help you in this area as well.
Calling higher in the prospect organization enables you to better qualify the opportunity, identify the decision-making process and ask a few questions to uncover the company’s main objectives.
The Magic is in the Mix:
Having a process in place where you leverage several prospecting methods is the way to go.
Use a variety of touches to capture attention and build interest. And make sure that the messaging from one touch to the other links in a logical fashion. Tell a story; build a business case. This approach pulls the prospect in and increases the likelihood they will want to meet with you.
This is another area where your focus on several verticals will help you gain credibility and engage your prospect. Focusing on verticals also enables you to be very efficient as you use the same process with all prospects within the same vertical.
Make Multiple Touches - Persistence Wears Down Resistance
Some people paint a picture of doom and gloom and will tell you that if you don’t have a referral you can leverage you might as well give up because you’re not going to get in.
That is simply not true.
I work with companies across the US in multiple industries and I consistently see top producers being very successful in getting appointments with net-new prospects without having the benefit of a referral.
As I pointed out above they present themselves as a specialist in the industry, use multiple methods to touch the prospect and they are extremely persistent.
Today it takes more touches than most Salespeople realize to first get on a prospect’s radar and then schedule either a phone appointment or face to face appointment. You need to build familiarity and credibility with your prospect and today that takes some time.
You must be prepared to follow up with a prospect 6 – 10 times.
The key to not being viewed as a pest is to deliver value in each touch. Provide information that is relevant and meaningful to the person you are trying to see. Focus on their industry issues and their role within the company. Only send them information that you believe will be viewed as relevant and insightful. This is how you build credibility and stand out.
Schedule Blocks of Time to Prospect:
You will fill your pipeline with qualified sales opportunity when you prospect consistently.
They key word here is “consistently”, and the best time to prospect is first thing in the morning. Get it done and out of the way!
Top producers block out the time to prospect. They put it in their calendars well in advance and then schedule around that sacred time.
Rarely will you hear them say: “I had to schedule a meeting with a prospect or customer in the time I slotted for prospecting. There was no other time they could meet”.
On the other hand, you will hear Salespeople that are struggling say this quite often. Clearly, it is a sub-conscious defense mechanism to avoid prospecting and the rejection that comes along with it.
I have realized that intelligence, talent, and skill do play a role in reaching Peak Sales Performance.
But, there is one thing that is more important than all of those 3 things put together, discipline.
Discipline is not sexy. We blow it off because ever since we were children our parents and teachers wagged their finger at us saying: “You need be more disciplined”, but it’s true.
If you will consistently prospect, and consistently tweak your messaging so it resonates with your prospects you can and you will reach a new level of sales performance.
You’ve heard that message before, and I’m certain you recognize its importance.
In your quest to differentiate your organization from the competition, you must find the people with problems that need solving and those who are looking for ideas to fast track their growth objectives.
That means your salespeople need to be skillful in getting past the gatekeepers and gaining an audience with the people who can benefit the most from your products and services.
The key question is, are they consistently doing that?
Are your salespeople successful at reaching decision-makers? Do they even know what to say when and if they reach them?
If you’re shaking your head “no”, you’re not alone.
Many salespeople -- yes, even the veterans -- are reluctant to call on decision-makers.
They spend the vast majority of their time with “influencers” and “screeners” and, as a result, waste an enormous amount of time and suffer from a closing ratio that is much lower than what they are capable of.
What exactly is happening?
The answer has to do with something called Sales DNA, the innate traits and competencies that either support or sabotage a salesperson’s ability to truly be successful.
When a salesperson’s DNA is strong, they are capable of getting decision makers involved in the sales process, effectively qualifying sales opportunity, shortening the sales cycle, and maintaining margins. When Sales DNA is weak, well, not much really happens.
Object Management Group says that a strong Sales DNA Score is the greatest predictor of sales performance, and the DNA score is comprised of 6 things: the need for approval, the ability to control emotions, supportive beliefs, a supportive buy cycle, comfort discussing money, and the ability to handle rejection.
When it comes to the failure to reach decision makers, it’s the need for approval that’s most often to blame.
The need to be liked is a huge hurdle for a lot of salespeople. Approximately 58% of all salespeople have this weakness and, on average, salespeople score 76% in that competency. Elite salespeople have an average score of 87%, and weak salespeople have an average score of 69%.
That alone is startling data, but OMG did us a favor by further filtering that information by the need to be liked, and they’ve come up with some very interesting results:
Do you see what’s happening here? Salespeople who don't need to be liked scored 47% higher on their ability to reach decision makers! Those same “don’t need to be liked” salespeople are also 51% more likely to close the opportunities in their pipeline and score 42% higher in the Consultative Seller Competency.
Why is the need to be liked such a problem? Because the need to be liked prevents salespeople from having meaningful “business conversations” that result in qualifying sales opportunity and selling value. Typical weaknesses are:
In short, the salesperson that needs to be liked is just too afraid of the prospect not liking them to ask the hard questions!
That includes persuading a “screener” of the benefits their organization will realize by introducing the salesperson to the actual decision maker.
Can a salesperson who suffers from a weak DNA be helped? YES!
You can train your salespeople to overcome this weakness.
It’s not easy or quick, but it can be done. We can help you do it. Shoot us an email, and we’ll be happy to give you some insights into the actions you can take to turn this situation around.
Sales management expert Duane Cashin has lead award-winning sales organizations and trained sales teams for companies of all sizes. He’s earned membership in Presidents Club and Circle of Excellence, successfully built and sold his own multi-million-dollar business, and enjoys sharing his passion for sales.