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Small Children Playing with Wild Lions: 10 Things Your Sales People Do Not Know!

10 things sales do not know

Imagine small children playing a game of tag close to a large pride of lions on the savannas of Africa. Can you see it?  This perilous situation is the reality facing most sales professionals today.  Innocence and ignorance are two sides of the same reality.  Most salespeople are both innocent and ignorant.  They are innocent until they have been violated by a cruel prospect.  They are ignorant because they lack the capability (skills and knowledge) to engage with a prospect for success. 

For many years, I have read statistics that most salespeople are not effectively trained.  Why?  There is a presumption of simplicity with sales.  Selling is easy.  Anyone can sell.  She is friendly; I bet she is in sales…Blah, blah, blah!  Here is the honest truth; selling is difficult.  Taking orders, on the other hand, is much easier.  There is a blurry line between trues sales professionals and order-takers.

It takes complex skills to convince a prospect to part with something of value (like money).  We will come back to this later.  I have spent the better part of six months helping companies negotiate a pandemic and a precipitous economic decline.  I have learned that business development skills are absent.  The powerful economy (before the pandemic) was hiding a deficit for business development skills at the executive level.  CEOs could not see the weak (and under-equipped) teams they were sending into the field.  The mediocre performance was tolerated.  Poor performance became a revolving door in search of the next mediocre candidate.  The bar was set very low while expectations remained high.

I estimate only ten percent of all “salespeople” are competent and a shocking one percent are exceptional.  Don’t believe me?  Stay with me until the end.  Marketing and sales were considered two different functions in the past.  Social selling and the internet have changed the landscape.  We no longer need a sales professional to inform a potential buyer exclusively.  Most buyers are self-educating along the buying journey before the transaction occurs.  Depending on the complexity of the product or service, it is estimated that up to eighty percent of the buyer’s journey takes place BEFORE they ever encounter a salesperson.

In the past, sales people gained credibility from the buyer by being informed; the expert on a product or service.  The internet has changed that reality.  Today, most buyers research the company, product, or service in order to avoid being sold.  Let’s make this distinction very clear.  People do not like to be sold; however, people do like to buy.  In other words, most people like to do research and then approach a “sales” person to take the order or assist with the transaction.  Don’t believe me? 

In the not so distant future, cars will be purchased exclusively online with apps like Cars, Carvana, and Vroom.  You will buy your first Tesla or another electric vehicle on a website and meet with a customer service person (formerly sales) to pick up your vehicle or have it dropped off at your home.  We will soon see a domino effect for these transactions in other industries.  By the year 2025, many dealerships will close or become a few remaining showrooms only.  I recently went to three furniture shops in Houston to purchase a couch for my son.  None of the furniture was for sale at all three stores.  I could not buy anything in the store.  Everything was only available for delivery or from a website.

The term “sales” is misleading.  It connotes a simple transaction.  Business development, on the other hand, is complicated.   Business development professionals must create value in a market for products or services.  Creating value for a potential customer requires a complex set of skills.  Following are ten things most sales professionals likely do not know:

  1. Buyers want to be educated, not sold. Education-based marketing is the superhighway for closing sales.  The more a buyer is educated along the buying journey; the sooner a deal becomes ripe for closing. Attempting to close too soon will derail most deals prematurely. Learning how to determine deal ripeness is an essential skill.
  2. Trust precedes the decision to buy. Trust is not binary (you have trust or you do not).  There are degrees of trust.  Trust is earned over time.  Investing the time to earn a buyer's trust is essential.  The amount of trust required to close a deal is commensurate with the stakes of transactions.
  3. Needs or desires are surfaced by buying objections. Identifying what the buyer is not looking for or cannot do is a powerful skill.  Getting a buyer to say no gives them power.  The word no is followed by what the buyer really wants in the transaction.  The longer the buying cycle, the higher the number of “No’s” are required to close a deal.  Three to five “No’s” are in the ideal range for small transactions.  More is needed for larger transactions.
  4. Anchoring gets you paid. Negotiation is an essential skill for sales professionals.  While there are many negotiating skills to learn, anchoring is powerful to avoid “sticker shock” and settle a buyer’s mind for the ideal range of success.  When used properly, a price anchor will get to yes sooner and leave both sides happy with the deal.
  5. Two types of questions are magic. Using “how” and “what” questions during discovery are prerequisites for talking about your products or services.  Two calibrated questions and three labels are all that is needed to get a buyer to share what they really want in a transaction.
  6. Voicemails are your friend. The world is full of gatekeepers to decision-makers.  A well-crafted voicemail is a powerful tool for connecting with a buyer.  There are five parts to a successful voicemail.  One part of a successful voicemail is leaving your phone number slowly, at least three times – once in the beginning and twice at the end.
  7. Obscurity is the enemy. In business development, it is not who you know; it is who knows you.  With social tools like LinkedIn or Facebook, there are multiple methods for making sure a buyer knows your name before you approach them.  Social pre-work can make a cold-call into a warm-call or generate incoming leads that can be converted to prospects.
  8. Stories are an essential sales tool. Humans communicated through story-telling exclusively until the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s.  Storytelling is essential to prescript the buyer’s journey.  Positioning yourself properly in the story (on a website or face-to-face) is essential.  Are you the hero, the guide, or the villain in the customer’s story?  What is the problem or challenge that is being solved in their story?
  9. Pain is the secret sauce. Big decisions or changes are precipitated by pain.  What’s the pain that needs to be reduced?  How will your product or service help eliminate the pain?  When we acknowledge the pain, we are more likely to make a change.  Using a label such as, “It seems like you are frustrated with your current bank” is a powerful method to help a buyer surface pain.
  10. Economics is the solution. The math must work in a deal.  Creating an economic solution in the mind of a buyer takes skill.  Tools like C.O.W. are powerful to accelerate the buyer’s journey. The Cost of Waiting (COW) creates a sense of urgency for the buyer.  In other words, the longer a buyer waits, the more it costs them.

The language above is from the one-percenters in sales.  One-percenters (business development professionals) are intimate with these powerful tools as well as many other high-level skills such as CRM optimization, pipeline analytics, and calculating ZOPA.  As Malcolm Gladwell teaches in his book, Outliers, true experts have put ten-thousand hours into practicing and honing a skill or craft.  These people are the rain-makers in sales.  They are skilled whale hunters.  They close big deals and are rewarded significantly.  One rain-maker (whale hunter) can rescue your company from economic uncertainty and achieve powerful results.

Ten-percenters (in sales) are familiar with these concepts and likely use a few of them.  Through trial and error or deliberate learning, they discover the concepts and are gaining experience.  As they master one skill, they will add another.  They are competent sales professionals that create more commerce than the other ninety-percent combined.  If you have ten salespeople on your team now, you can replace them all with just two ten-percenters and close more deals for your business. 

The remaining ninety-percent are children playing among lions.  They are outmatched and vulnerable.  They have never been taught how to be successful in sales.  Sales skills can be learned and mastered with time and plenty of practice.   It is not their fault.  Someone gave them a business card (sales title), a company vehicle, and told them to deliver donuts.