I have three clients in various stages along the sales profession continuum; one is brand new with less than a year of experience, one is mid-career with around a dozen years of experience, and the other is a skilled professional with decades of experience. And yet each one of them shared a story about a specific prospect call they were on where they all made the exact same mistake that cost them the deal. Here’s how they played out:
The New Kid on the Block
Simon works in B2C retail sales in the consumer goods industry. He’s been with his company for just shy of a year, receiving basic sales training.
Over the course of a few sessions, we were working through how to handle common objections, with me coaching him on some of my go-to sales techniques. He reported how successful the techniques were, thrilled to be tied with the #1 sales person on the team in only a few weeks. Then he shared a lost deal scenario:
A woman came into the store expressing her needs very clearly: she needed a product that was a specific size, at a specific price point, and within a specific time frame. Simon launched into showing her options that met her size need first, and took a guess at how closely they would fit her price point. When I asked why he thought he lost the deal, he said he didn’t have time to take her through the various options available since she only had an hour.
Here’s where Simon lost the prospect:
- He didn’t acknowledge her time frame. The woman only had one hour to look at options, and Simon was so focused on selling features and benefits of the size she asked for, he failed to ask more probing questions to discover what she needed to accomplish during the hour she had.
What Simon could’ve done better:
- Simon needed to ask what the prospect intended to accomplish in one hour; did she need to leave with the product by the end of the hour, or was she shopping around with competitors? How did she determine her price point, and how did she plan to pay?
- Simon was so focused on using one of his new selling strategies, he didn’t listen to the prospect’s pain points to figure out what was most important and how to modify his presentation to fit her needs.
- Ask questions when the prospect tells you what they need and figure out what the most important pain points are, and in what order the prospect needs them solved. In Simon’s case, time was the most important pain point, followed by price, and then size.
The Mid-career Professional
Chris works in B2B sales in the IT industry, with close to a decade of experience as he transitioned from account liaison at a global titan to solution selling for a mid-size company. Here’s his lost deal story:
Chris secured a meeting with an executive at a tech company and went into the call knowing that employees of the company were already using his solution but were potentially putting the company at risk by doing so. When the prospect came on the call, he directly stated he wasn’t concerned about the problem Chris illuminated, rather he was interested in solving a different problem and Chris was up against two other competitors for the business.
Chris presented the major features and benefits of his solution from the position that he thought the prospect had a specific but different problem, and his technology was the solution.
Here’s where Chris lost the prospect:
- Chris focused more on what he thought the prospect’s problem was, effectively ignoring what the prospect said his pain point was. Chris was trying to convince the prospect of a problem he didn’t have. Chris was more comfortable selling the features and benefits of the solution as he understood it and avoided addressing the prospect’s real problem because Chris was afraid he didn’t know how to respond to the prospect’s needs.
What Chris could’ve done better:
- Chris needed to listen and acknowledge the prospect’s pain instead of blowing by it and launching into formulaic selling. When he heard the prospect’s pain, he needed to adjust his presentation and tailor it to the needs of the prospect and ditch the script.
- Chris needed to ask more probing questions to better understand the prospect’s pain, who the competition was, his time frame for solving the problem, budget, etc. to maintain control of the call.
- Actively listen to the prospect when they express their pain and really hear what they’re saying. Avoid the temptation to listen with the intent to respond. Instead, listen with the intent to solve their problem.
The Seasoned Veteran
Casey works with a mid-size company in the software industry in territory management. Despite his decades of selling prowess, Casey still loses sales on occasion. His story is like the other two above – he became so focused on selling features and benefits he thinks the prospect needs [formulaic selling], that he didn’t take the time to probe and understand the prospects real pain.
Actively listening to your prospect and the pain he is expressing positions you to become what I call an Assistant Buyer. It’s far easier to get on your prospect’s side of the proverbial table and help him select the solution that will solve the problem he knows he has than it is to sell him something he doesn’t think he wants or needs!