Even if you are part of a sales team, your individual performance is what generates income for you and your company. It is the actions you take that allow you to make connections with prospects, effectively qualify opportunities, and close deals.
Most sales professionals have some awareness of how their own unique personality traits, communication style and thoughts (positive and negative) impact their sales performance on a day-to-day basis. Recognizing your strengths, as well as the things that hinder your sales performance, can keep you on track to succeed at sales – especially when the going gets tough. The truth is that customer behavior always has the potential to catch you off-guard, that every day can’t be a quota-buster, and that you will make mistakes along the way.
What’s important is acknowledging that’s okay to have weaknesses and blind spots…and therefore, it is a sign of strength — not weakness — if you commit time and effort to improving in these areas. To start you thinking about areas that you may want to work on, here are four common obstacles to sales success — and some tips for overcoming each of them.
#1: Wishful Thinking
Challenge: Your boss ratcheted up your quota, again. Your leads are getting thin. You feel certain that pain is coming at the end of the month or quarter, as you potentially miss the new target. You rationalize that maybe it’s better to start counting every weak lead as a strong one, or every minor indicator of interest as a fully qualified opportunity. At least then, you can hold onto hope right ’till the bitter end.
Solution: Let the data speak clearly to you, and to your team. Massaging the data will only sow seeds of confusion — and lead you to waste time and miss real opportunities. Research shows that when the pipeline runs thin is exactly the time to tighten your qualifying process. You need to get rid of dead wood and stop wasting time on prospects that are never going to buy from you. Go through your current pipeline and set aside anything questionable from the forecast. Then focus on (a) closing what remains and (b) rebuiding your lead flow. You may still miss your next target, but you’ll be showing prudent results and positioning for success in the subsequent period.
#2: Prospecting Paralysis
Challenge: The number of prospects that used to find you (call, show up at your office/store, asked for quotes) has diminished or disappeared. You now find yourself having to go looking for prospects who could or might buy from you. Or perhaps you’ve been fortunate enough to work with a core group of long-time customers, but business from these ‘old faithfuls’ is tapering off, and you need to rebuild your pipeline.
Solution: Your first priority is to accept that the way you acquire business from new and existing accounts evolves over time, so your prospecting strategies must also evolve. If you’re afraid to ‘get back out there’, remember this: The fastest path to a new customer is through an existing one. Instead of playing golf with one account, place calls to all of them — and ask for one or two qualified referrals from each. This is a great way to prime the pump and generate warm introductions that can re-energize your prospecting efforts.
#3: Qualifying Confusion
Challenge: You were counting on those two or three big deals to make your numbers this month. You were sure you had them ready to buy, but somehow you didn’t land any of them. Now, not only did you miss the mark but you doubt your own skills like never before.
Solution: First of all, remember that no matter how hard we try, we can’t control buyer behavior, and it will always be more complex and unpredictable than we would like. Second, sit down and think afresh about the sales process. Did you fully understand the problem the prospect is trying to solve? Did you fully explore the prospect’s budget dollars and willingness to allocate the necessary resources to solve their problem? Did you verify that you were talking directly to everyone involved in the decision-making process?
Was this purchasing decision a top priority? Were there subtle indicators of confusion during the sales cycle? Often, we think the prospect understands all that we share — and, afraid to look stupid, they play along, nodding in agreement when in fact they are totally lost. Thinking through these indicators may help you find new ways to more comprehensively qualify, or more effectively educate.
#4: Buyer Bending
Challenge: The days until month-end can be counted on one hand. The pressure is on to attend to the ABCs (Always Be Closing). You don’t want to manipulate customers but you need to get deals signed, and you’re leaning towards some creative math, sketchy discounts and hollow promises to make it to quota.
Solution: Before bending your own ethics or twisting customers’ arms, start by looking honestly at your pipeline and thinking about who would actually benefit from signing a deal this month. Perhaps one of your prospects is about to end their fiscal year and could expense the purchase in a timely manner. Maybe another one has been looking for an opportunity to showcase the better efficiencies that your product or service could provide. In short, look for alignment between your sales needs and your prospects’ business needs. Chances are there is more opportunity for win-win than you had anticipated.
What each of these four challenges shares is the tendency to avoid facing difficult facts, ignore warning signs and fall back into the comfort zone of old habits. By committing to a clear and fresh look at the facts, you can overcome these sales obstacles and push your performance forward — for this month, next quarter and the future.