Great Meetings that Go Nowhere

Do your sales reps ever tell you the following story?

They meet with a mid-level manager who is extremely interested in engaging your company to fix an issue.  This person willingly shares information regarding their perception of the challenges the company is facing and how personally committed they are to implement a solution.  The meeting ends with an agreement that your sales rep will send a proposal for the contact to run past their boss with an expectation that it will be a “rubber stamp” approval.  The action item is for your rep to follow-up in roughly two weeks, at which point they should have the approval to move forward. 

Unfortunately, when the two weeks come to pass the prospect tells your rep they have not had a chance to speak with their boss, but they expect to have the opportunity to sit down and have the discussion within the next few days.  Days turn into months, which inevitably turn into an endless cycle of following up, ultimately getting nowhere.

The issue here is that the prospect who wanted to believe they would get the approval simply overestimated their own influence. Compounding the issue is that your sales rep was a willing participant who wanted to believe this as well.  Unfortunately, this sales scenario seems to be the most common reason so many forecasted deals are clogging up sales pipelines with phrases like “contact went dark” as the explanation for the lack of closure.

If we are going to address this problem, we need to help our sales reps think more critically when assessing a contact’s influence.

The first step in providing a sales team with a more critical filtering process begins by comparing experiences where an “influencer” is capable of driving decisions up the corporate ladder, engaging key decision endorsers early on, and methodically influencing a go-forward decision.  By contrast, the “non-influential” stakeholders will tend to downplay their manager’s involvement and mistake the approval to research solutions with budgetary spending power. In many cases, they will have minimal if any, conversation with their manager regarding their meetings with the sales rep. The greatest concern is their inability to define their manager’s vision, goals, and potential objections.  This becomes apparent when they plan to present the features and benefits that your company offers as justification for the cost, rather than focusing on the total cost of the issues and the return on investment.  In most cases, they plan to present your solution without your sales people present.

One approach we utilize at Venator is to incorporate this filtering system into the company CRM (i.e. salesforce.com), ultimately impacting the sales rep’s mindset.  We do this by creating what are called “opportunity validation rules.”   These rules force a sales rep to think critically about their decision to give a deal a 35% or greater chance of closing.  It also gives a rep pause before indiscriminately sending a proposal to an advocate stakeholder.  The filters below can be implemented as a picklist where a rep is asked to review and choose one or more when updating an opportunity stage in the company CRM.

1) Contact spoke with their manager about us and began paving way for an intro
2) Main contact has experience influencing manager to spend money or make changes
3) Influencer can clearly define their manager’s issues, concerns and vision
4) Internal champion can articulate their manager’s possible objections
5) Contact is focused on aligning our solution to their manager’s key drivers
6) Contact can set up an immediate introduction to their manager

Additionally, sales management can utilize a set of critical questions when deal-coaching their reps.  Despite the tension deal coaching can cause between a manager and a rep, these questions are meant to interrogate reality when a rep is ready to send a proposal to a so-called “influencer.” Interrogating reality simply means questioning what is perceived to be the ‘reality’ at hand. These questions can include:

  • What is the relationship between the different stakeholders?
  • How much consensus is there regarding the issue? Explain?
  • What concerns have the other stakeholders expressed?
  • Has your contact had discussions with their manager about the fact that they are looking at us? Tell me about those discussions…
  • What are other priorities that could interfere with this initiative?
  • If there was a possible stumbling block that management may present, what is it?

It’s been said that the first step to fixing an issue is to admit that you have one.  In this case, the first step for a sales person is to become extremely critical of their internal champion’s power and influence.  It is just as important for sales management to implement a sales coaching process that reveals these situations, rather than allowing the sales people to clog up the pipeline with non-closeable “forecasted” business.

Realistically, how many GREAT meetings are your sales people having with prospects that want your solution, but won’t be able to influence the other decision makers to spend the money? Maybe it’s time to interrogate “reality.”

Jay Spielvogel is President and Founder of Venator Sales Group LLC.

Venator Sales Group is a Sales Consulting, Optimization, & Training firm with a laser-focus on improving every aspect of a client’s sales culture and sales performance. Founded over a decade ago by high-performing, professional sales practitioners, Venator combines a strategic sales management approach with real-world understanding of the factors necessary for success in today’s selling environment. Venator helps companies turn around inconsistent or lackluster sales performance by infusing a sales culture based on accountability, compliance, and critical thinking.

Contact Venator to learn how you can build a more successful, scalable sales team.

Phone – 914-220-5484, Email – Info@venatorsalesgroup.com

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