“What is the worst sales call you have ever made, watched, or been subjected to?”

A cringe-worthy question, to be sure, even scary this time of year. But it’s one worth spending a couple of uncomfortable minutes thinking about.

OK . . . .

Now, once you’ve zeroed in on the worst, or one of the worst, take a moment to answer two more questions:

Why was this call so “bad”? Be as specific as you can.
How could it have been fixed-that is, what could the seller have done differently?

We ask “the worst sales call ever” question in our consultative selling course, FOCIS®, after the participants have learned (and practiced) the elements of a successful sales call and how to assess their experiences. (We say “elements” instead of “steps” because sales calls rarely unfold in a precise 1-2-3 order.) As you can imagine, during the past 24 years we have heard some real horror stories. And they are still coming.

“I never lose. I either win or learn.”
-Nelson Mandela (Attributed)

Just earlier this month, for example, I heard about one that is without question a contender for the first prize-or, maybe, I should say, the last prize. What made this call especially scary in my view was the context and the wider implications. The seller was not a rookie with little or no experience making even small sales. This salesperson represented a Fortune 500 company going after an opportunity worth tens of millions of dollars. Clearly a case of “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Why so scary?

First, the rep opened the meeting by explaining why his company’s product was “not as bad” as the prospect had probably heard. He was defensive from the beginning. At some point in his career, he was probably told to get objections out early and overcome them then and there. Not the best idea. What kind of relationships can you really build by being adversarial? Instead, we teach how to minimize objections as they come up in the natural give and take between seller and buyer.

Unfortunately, in this call there was no give and take, natural or otherwise. That’s the second fear factor here. The key reason is that the sales rep asked virtually no questions of the buyer. His approach was what we call “seller centric.” The conversation was one way (seller to buyer) and one topic (“me and my company”). Effective salespeople in business-to-business environments make the conversation a dialogue, not a lecture, so that it’s “buyer centric.”

Third, he concluded by saying that even though his company’s product “might not be the best,” it was “good enough” for what the buyer wanted. Let’s assume, for a moment, that the buyer’s problem could be solved with the seller’s product, one that was just good enough. Even so, for millions of dollars, would the buyer-or the buyer’s bosses-really want to accept a solution even the sales rep couldn’t get enthusiastic about?

Finally, the rep missed a great opportunity to show why his product really was the “best” for the situation-why the value proposition made sense and served the buyer well. If the product were indeed “good enough” to solve the problem, then, all things considered, it might in fact be the “best” product to solve the problem, even if it weren’t the highest performing across the board. Why not just say that? In our experience, this type of lost opportunity happens because the rep has no path to follow-no process-to lead the buyer to the right solution.

For me, hearing about that “worst sales call” was scary enough. Even scarier, though, is knowing that many, many sales reps make similar mistakes. Those reps might be doing “OK” or at least putting food on the table. But they, their managers, and their companies aren’t doing nearly so well as the very best salespeople do-the 20 percent who consistently bring in 80 percent of the business. The top 20 percent actually behave differently than the other 80 percent. They apply superior consultative selling skills and a sales process customized to their markets and their company. They set their tables for a feast.

If you’re a manager or executive, ask yourself these questions to see what ghosts and goblins may be haunting your sales organization. If you’re a sales person, know that you can escape their clutches by building the right skills and developing a highly productive sales process.

1. Do you know what your team’s sales calls look like? You might be surprised, even shocked.
2. Are your presentations “canned pitches” or planned presentations customized for each prospect?
3. Are your sales people communicating the true value of your offering? (If they simply share the value proposition and tout the company, the answer is “No.”)
4. Do you have just a few sales people who bring in 70 to 80 percent of all new business?
5. Do some reps experience a year, or even years, without making a major sale?

Do the answers send shivers down your spine? You know who to call. Just get in touch with us. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss how to get on the “treat” side of these questions instead of the “trick” side. In fact, just by going on a few new-prospect calls with your reps, we can see why they are-or are not-doing well and offer our recommendations.

Our approach helps both experienced and inexperienced sales people represent their brand the way it deserves to be represented. Let us hear from you at 847-446-0008 Ext. 1 or pkrone@productivestrategies.com. We’re not scary at all.

Comments are closed.