Are Your Salespeople Calling on “Power” or “Parrots”?

parrot buyer

 

There are many “gate keepers” we must often pass through to close a sale. With technology today we have buyers who hide behind voice mail and email and send out RFP’s and we have little or no discussion with them. If we try to make a cold call we may be greeted by a “no solicitation sign” or guard house that will not let us pass without an appointment. If we make it to the lobby we may have a receptionist gate keeper trained not to let us pass, and not to share decision makers names. However one of the gate keepers sales must identify quickly is the buyer who has no purchasing power and is a Parrot.

 

So your salesperson has made it through the gauntlet of obstacles we now face in sales and finally met with the buyer. The buyer shared what they are looking for, what their research has told them they need and your salesperson has presented. When we ask your salesperson for an update, they say ; “we had a good meeting”. OK, great to know, but why don’t we have the purchase order? What is preventing the buyer from giving you the order? Why is this sale taking so long? I thought you said you thought you won the order two months ago…where is it?

 

If you find yourself asking your salespeople these questions and more, chances are your salesperson actually presented your solution to a parrot and not power. Parrots are tasked with finding the best product, service and price for a particular problem to be solved and they echo their findings to someone else or others with the power to make the decision to purchase. Rarely are buyers the users of your solution but they are the person who actually inputs the purchase order into their system and assigns the PO.

 

What should your salespeople do if a sale they thought they won goes dark?

 

What should salespeople do if they discover they are calling on a parrot?

 

How do we shorten the sales cycle when we never get to meet with power?

 

If you find yourself asking these questions there are ways to insure you win the sale. One of the leading ways is to equip and empower your buyer with tools to help them present your solution.

 

Good salespeople will always ask in their qualifying process: “who is also involved in making the buying decision?” Some buyers have already been assigned a budget and can cut the purchase order. However as the cost of the purchase climbs I have found others…often time many others will be involved in making the final decision. The key to winning these orders is clearly understanding the buying process, the criteria being used to evaluate solutions, and the buyer personas of those making or influencing the buying decision. I hear some of you saying; “Well Mark that is a lot of work to do on a PO that four other companies are also trying to win.” Yes it can be if you have not done the market work ahead of time. However if you know the buyers in your market, how they buy, who they need to get sign off from, and what is important to those influencers you can include it in your presentation.

 

I was asked to help a company some time ago and they had seen steady profitable growth for years and then as the economy changed their phones seemed to stop ringing. Sales dropped monthly to 1/10th of what they once were and their senior leaders were concerned. They heard through a friend what I do and hired me to solve this problem.

 

The first thing I always do is seek current market truths. After a series of win loss calls we discovered that our customers were also feeling the pinch of the economy tightening and their companies have tightened their restrictions on purchasing. Specifically purchases the size of the products our company was selling once were able to be approved of by the buyer now needed many other signatures. We now have CEO’s, CFO’s, various VP’s all needing to agree before a purchase order would be issued.

 

The trouble in this new reality was our buyers are great at buying and terrible at presenting, it’s not that they are bad people it is just not their gift. We asked if we could meet with and present our solutions to the key influencers and we were met with; “no, they are too busy and this is what I am paid to do”. So as we reviewed sales we lost we found one common “spin cycle” as I call them where the purchase seems to spin round and round and go no where was when a key user or decision maker challenged the buyer with a question or series of questions they needed answers to and the buyers were not prepared to answer. Once we understood this was occurring we created a presentation slide deck that specifically spoke to the common influencer buyer persona’s who needed to approve the purchase. In addition we added a new step early on in our sales process that involved a webinar with the buyer and the various power influencers to share our solution and ask questions to better understand what the influencers needed to make the buying decision at a time that worked for their crazy, short staffed schedules. Within three months sales were tracking back to historical levels and within eight months sales were up over 30% to their prior average monthly sales… in the worst economy this company had ever experienced.

 

 

 

How about your business…..

 

Are you calling on Parrots? Do you know?

 

Who do the Parrots repeat your presentation to?

 

What do those buyer personas need, require to approve the proposal?

 

What can you provide proactively based on your understanding of your customers’ process?

 

How can you adjust your repeatable sales process to adapt to how your buyers are buying today?

 

Yes, this market work takes some time, and you will definitely learn some things that will make you feel uneasy or even upset however the value you receive by adapting to these current market truths will far outweigh the time and pain.

 

(As a side note…while we adjusted our process and had record sales, one of our competitors doubled their advertising and eventually went out of business. Another downsized their operation and waited out the economic storm with plans to re-staff when business got back to normal. They are still in business, but have never re-staffed and have not brought their sales back to pre- economic challenge levels.)

 

 

Fix Sales Performance; Stop Playing “Marko Polo “With Your Buyers

When we were young we often played the kids game Marko Polo in a pool or any body of water for that matter. The person who was “it” would close their eyes and shout “Marko” and all the others in the pool where not it would yell “Polo” . The objective of the game was if you were saying Marko to locate and tag others who said Polo and you win. Far too many salespeople today act like they are “it” and blindly shout out features and benefits to anyone in their market who will listen , just hoping one of their buyers yells polo and they can reach them fast enough to make a sale before the buyer moves.

Salespeople who do not allow buyers to play “Marko Polo” achieve and surpass sales goals.

I was asked to help a top sales star on a large elephant sale he was working for over six months but for some reason has not been able to close. I asked to meet with the buyer to try to understand what was preventing this salesperson from closing this order that could make his, and his companies’ sales year. On the drive to the account the salesman shared how he saw this opportunity as pretty straight forward. The buyer contacted him about six months ago and wanted to meet to discuss products and get a quote that may be able to fix a problem she was having. The sales person went on to say how every time he follows up on this proposal, the buyer changes something and needs to speak with someone new or adds another criteria that is very important and this has stalled the sale.

We met with the buyer and she shared that she did in fact contact the salesman six months ago because she found his product on the internet doing some research, asked around in her network and felt it would be a perfect solution to a problem her company was having. She asked for a quote and she went on to say how the salesperson did a great job of sending her a quote for what she requested within 24 hours. I could feel something was definitely off in this salesperson – buyer exchange so I started asking questions. I wanted to clearly understand the problem and the buyer was more than willing to share and actually take us both on a tour and showed us the situation. (this was the first time in six months this salesperson had been beyond the meeting office adjacent to the lobby) As I continued to ask questions I found the salesperson was firing features and benefits that could possibly solve the question …”Marko”. The buyer would then grow quiet as the salesperson played feature and benefit bingo just hoping something he was trained to say would stick and help close this big sale. I would start asking more questions and the buyer invited me to meet with their chief engineer who was in charge of the technical application and integration of whatever product they decided to purchase. I continued to ask questions and this engineer brought up new criteria and expectations the buyer had yet to share. I asked if anyone else was involved in the project and the buyer and engineer smiled and said “well this is Bob’s plant and nothing new goes into this plant without his blessing”. So I asked if we could meet Bob and they said he is typically a really busy guy who does not meet with vendors, but we will try.

Bob was in his office, perch if you will over looking the entire facility. The engineer asked if he had a minute and he saw all of us in his doorway and quickly said no, just gather their information and email it to me. So I stepped forward and introduced myself and said the reason we wanted to meet him was we understood this was his plant, and we were quoting this project to solve the problem we discussed and wanted to make sure we completely understood the problem from his perspective and wanted to make sure we gathered all the requirements . Bob agreed to give us 5 minutes and an hour latter we left his office.

When we returned to the buyer’s meeting office the salesperson moved into an awkward at best close. He even went as far as saying he could probably get a discount since their prices were going up in 30 days. REALLY? I could not believe he was using a tactic that might work on his small mom and pop accounts on this multinational corporation. The buyer grew quiet again. I quickly asked if we could meet again next week and present the ideal solution based on everything the buyer, engineer, and Bob shared.

The trouble with this sale is what I call “Marko Polo sales”.

How do you know if your salespeople are “Marko Polo selling?

  1. The buyer asked for a quote of a specific product and that’s what they received.
  2. Your salesperson does not know or understand the problem the buyer wants to solve.
  3. Sales has not identified all the decision makers and influencers
  4. Sales quickly provided a quote “Marko
  5. Every time the salesperson follows up something new comes up or someone new has to approve the quote “Polo
  6. The buyer is often not sure what the entire problem is to be solved so they are gathering information and share new criteria on each call. “Polo
  7. The sales person plugs the opportunity into their CRM system and calls the buyer every 2-3 weeks to see if they have made a decision? “Marko”
  8. Often the buyer goes dark and fails to respond to email or voice messages.
  9. Sales proceeds to get more aggressive trying to close and calls the buyer more often “Marko
  10. Ultimately the buyer makes a decision to buy your product or leave the pool “Polo

Unlike the child’s game if you catch someone leaving the pool you yell “fish out of water” and win….in sales you lose. Chances are the buyer found another salesperson who took the time to clearly understand the problem and their quote just felt right.

If you ask your sales star why the deal everyone thought he would close fell though he will say Price, Availability, and my particular favorite the competitor’s product had a feature ours did not have. In reality, if you do win loss calls buyers will tell you why they did not buy and price is not even on the list.

If you want to Fix Sales Performance; Stop Playing “Marko Polo “With Your Buyers!

We returned to the account a week later and presented an different solution and we asked our product engineers to also attend to answer any technical questions that may arise and after the presentation we took Bob and team to a near by installation so he and his team could speak with someone using our products. My client won the sale and went on to win all their facilities from what I understand over the next few years.

Are your salespeople playing “Marko Polo” with your buyers?

Have you lost a large order you thought you were going to win in the last six months?

Why did your salesperson say you lost this order?

Did you conduct a win loss call with the buyer to verify?

One of my early mentors used to say “time kills deals” The longer a possible sale drags on the less your probability of closing. When salespeople do not understand the problem being solved and just quote what the buyer asked for they run the risk of playing Marko Polo and having experienced buyers just leave the pool.

“Protecting the Fort” and the Failure to Achieve Sales Goals

by Mark Allen Roberts

When asked to help under performing sales teams, I always start by understanding the problem to be solved then working with their sales people in the market. One common role misunderstanding  among salespeople limits their ability to achieve their sales goals; “Protecting the Fort”. Some salespeople, often those who have been with you for a number of years believe part of their job is “Protecting the Fort” and not selling.They envision the sales and buying process more as a battle and they have to ward off buyer advances. What I am referring to can be simply explained as;

Protecting the Fort; a sales behavior exhibited by salespeople that is inward focused, not market serving, that believes part of their job is to teach buyers how to buy according to their companies’ internal rules, needs, and wants or quickly disqualify them and move on to the next sale.

Salespeople who protect the fort miss sales goals.

I was asked to help an under performing sales team some time ago. I spent time with each salesperson and I was surprised how much business two of their salespeople were not closing. They both had strong pipelines, a defined sales process, and a great lead nurturing plan and yet they were not meeting their sales objectives. I decided to spend some time doing four legged sales calls and after a few calls with each salesperson I quickly understood the problem hurting their sales performance. I found both sales people followed a sales process, followed up with their accounts timely, but consistently failed to close because they spent more time trying to get buyers to comply with how their company did things. The buyers were trying to buy this companies’ product but were met with …”we can’t do that..” “that’s not how we do things…” and both were saying “ I could never get that approved” . The salespeople would quickly use their understanding of internal unbreakable rules and policies to disqualify customers and not close the sale.  However when I asked the CEO if the salespeople had shared buyers needs and requests the answer was a quick..No. He even went on to say that some of what the buyers requested he would have gladly approved based on the customer and the size of the order.

Markets change and buyers buying processes and criteria change. Market leading companies are constantly sensing for market shifts and adapt…they must be more agile.

Teams that practice an Agile sales methodology meet and exceed growth goals.

Sales teams forced to sell based on …”the way we do things around here” fail.

So how about your sales team?

When was the last time you went on a four-legged sales call?

What internal rules do your salespeople think are acceptable to be deal breakers?

When was the last time one of your salespeople challenged one of your policies?

When you analyze lost sales , is their a common “internal rule” that is interrupting the sales process?

Are your internal rules for sales engagement market focused to help buyers buy…or designed to protect the fort?

I can hear the voice of past company owners I have served saying “ Ya but..” so let me address their concerns. I am not saying all the parameters you have given your salespeople should be allowed to be challenged. For example a lost sale is not the worst sale. The worst sale is one you work, nurture, close, deliver, and the customer never pays. So I am not advocating changing policies that insure buyers have the ability to pay. I am not advocating salespeople be permitted to sell products or services at a profit loss.

What I am saying is your sales team must understand their fundamental role; helping buyers buy not protecting the fort.

Are Your “Salespeople Hunting Elephants With a BB Gun?” Answer 10 questions…

Are Your “Salespeople Hunting Elephants With a BB Gun?” Answer 10 questions…


As I have shared in prior posts, salespeople are like water; they find and take the path of least resistance. Having carried a sales bag for years I get it; it takes a tremendous amount of work to sell a large number of new accounts when I can sell one big account and make the same amount of money, and possibly more. The problem is most salespeople are ill equipped to land big accounts so they are hunting elephants with a BB gun. When your team hunts elephants with a BB gun they not only fail to hit sales objectives, and fail to increase the number of prospects in their funnel….there’s a high probability they are irritating the elephants.

Some of my fondest sales memories were landing some big elephants in the markets I served like; Wal-Mart, Block Buster, Musicland Stores, Nintendo, Dell, Blackberry, and others….and I have to admit it was a rush. I had a big advantage though and that was training and sales tools to land big accounts (elephants). When you sell big accounts you must understand how they buy, who is involved in the buying decision, and aggressively pursue the economic buyer. ( the one who has the power to write you a check) Just as if you were hunting elephants on the plains in Africa, you would equip yourself with a different set of equipment (tools) to bag your trophy, than if you were hunting rabbits or squirrels in Ohio. The environment is different, your weapons are different, and the net number of targets and shots you can take is very different.

One common problem I am observing in the market today is salespeople are hunting elephants with a BB gun and getting frustrated and surprised when they fail to bag their trophy.

How do you know if your salespeople are hunting elephants with a BB gun?

  1. Have your salespeople focused on and failed to close elephants in the past 6-8 months?
  2. When you ask why they failed to close the sale, all they say is price?
  3. Do you keep hearing “good meeting” but fail to see an order or a clear understanding of what was achieved at the last meeting and what the next step of the buying process is for the prospect?
  4. Do you notice the entire sales territory is underperforming to plan?
  5. When you ask about the territory performance, does your salesperson always add the elephant to the discussion?
  6. Are other team members complaining they are being pulled into this “big” opportunity and they are not seeing the sale moving to a close?
  7. Has your salesperson said something like; the account just went dark?
  8. Have you seen new leads not being followed up on in a timely manner?
  9. If you did bag an elephant in the last 6-8 months, was it significantly under your profit targets?
  10. ..I saved the hardest question for last …What does your gut say, should your salesperson be presenting large key accounts in your market? Are they trained and have they demonstrated the ability to listen and present solutions to problems? Would you want your salesperson calling on you?

So how did your team score? If you answered “yes” to four or more of the above, your salesperson is hunting elephants with a BB gun. How did you answer question #10? If you said “no” stop irritating the elephants in your market today.

There are a number of problems with your salespeople hunting elephants when they are not equipped to win;

they fail to bring home all the rabbits and squirrels in their market

they only irritate and make the elephants angry and that anger is attached to your companies’ brand

they compromise margins and they are  operating in the domain of losses

they pull resources from other areas of the organization that fail to meet their objectives

Market leading sales organizations understand the buying process for large key accounts is different than the smaller accounts they serve, and they provide the tools and training to clear the jungle and bag those market elephants.

How is your team’s sales history bagging elephants?

What is the main reason your salespeople say as to why they failed to win their trophy?

How many other opportunities are not followed up on that they could close with a BB gun?

Do you agree or disagree elephant hunting requires different training, tools and experience?

If your team wants to bag some elephants, are you equipping them with the right tools and training? Or are you counting on them to “just make it happen”?