Posted by: drewdice | April 28, 2011

Is the Cowardly Lion impacting your business growth?

I was talking with a customer the other day about her company’s sales trajectory – while she was not overly displeased with how her firm is performing, she was perplexed at why she could not get a better handle on some critical areas within sales:

– Forecasting: deals will be closing when; it seems that quite frequently, deals are slipping from month to month, quarter to quarter, and sometimes, fall off for “no apparent reason”. She has no confidence in projections

– Transparency: her firm spends a decent amount of time, money, attention and resources to generate interest, leads, and prospects (by her admission – all of those things are subject to interpretation), yet she, as the sales leader, cannot get a handle on what leads and prospects are good, what the pull through and conversion rates are from her firm’s lead generation efforts, and so, cannot make sound business decisions with regards to investments. Additionally, she is unclear as to what the key factors are in nurturing and maturing leads through to qualified opportunities and ultimately, won deals

– Expansion and penetration of key accounts: It appears that her sales team can win some quality deals, but engagements and relationships seem to end when projects end – no expansion of the relationship, no immediate follow on work, no referrals into other areas of the client’s business.

This woman was/is rightfully frustrated in her current state.

While there is no one answer to all of the above issues, one thing did become clear to me during our conversation (I know you don’t have the context of the entire conversation here, but stay with me here):

– Courage is critical for sales professionals and business leaders as they strive to produce outcomes of value for customers and the firm they represent.

My client’s sales team members represented a broad portfolio of services – and many of those team members were legacy sales people who were very comfortable selling one or two of the offerings, but not all – and definitely not many of the more current and high margin offerings.

You might imagine, then, that the sales people were reluctant to engage prospects and clients in discussions on topics where the reps themselves did not have a high level of comfort/expertise. Prospect conversations, as a result, were not pursued with the vigor or passion that a “sweet spot” discussion would hold. If an immediate need was not expressed by the prospect or client, the sales people were not sure how to keep the relationship progressing – this was manifested in many leads “dying”, open opportunities in the pipeline lingering and sliding out (when, in actuality, they were dead already), and the sales people could not articulate to my client why sales were sliding.

Point is, there are fundamental things that top performers do. Having courage certainly lies beneath taking risks, being vulnerable, consulting instead of selling (you get the picture). In my opinion, courage, combined with good ol’ fashioned grit and smarts would direct a sales person to (at least) –

– non stop, lifelong learning – what are your people doing to mastering their craft, learn about the industries your organization serves, understand the real challenges your customers face

– be interested, not interesting – too often, sales people prattle on, because they don’t know how to build valuable relationships and connections. So, they show up and spew information in hopes that something will resonate with the prospect or client. Do homework; come prepared; bring value to every meeting, and make it about the prospect or client, not you. You may be amazed at how conversations and relationships transform as a result

-listen and follow up – if I had a nickel for every time a sales person called me, made a pitch of some sort, pledged to do something, and then dropped off the face of the earth…..focus on your target prospects and customers; understand what is really important to them in solving their critical challenges – and help them. Period. Do what you say you will do, and be relentless in your service.

If you are like the client in this post, you are losing valuable business – and not because the prospects/clients don’t need your help. Your people may not be clear on what it takes to actually win; they may not be fully prepared to think/behave as a top performer. Without these things, they will, more often than not, lack the courage it takes to truly engage. What a shame.

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