Among all the product shortages we have experienced in the past ten months, there has been no shortage of crappy movies. It's almost like the movie studios decided to release all the movies filmed in the past several years that weren't ready for prime time and hope that people would stream them at home during the pandemic because we had watched everything else.
One exception to the crappiness of 2020 movies is The Trial of the Chicago 7. This article is not a review of the movie but it was a terrific film and worth the time to watch it. As good as this movie is, it comes with a bonus because it also provides three exceptional lessons for salespeople and sales managers. Let's take a look!
How many times have you worked a sales opportunity when at some point late in the process you finally determined that the decision had already been made and it wasn't you? The prospect invited several competitors to engage, went through the motions, and led them to believe they had a chance. You may have been a better overall fit, had a better solution, more of the needed capabilities, a better warranty, been able to deliver more quickly, had better pricing and terms, better references and more. Despite all that, none of it was going to make a bit of difference because the key decision maker, who they wouldn't let you meet, had a relationship with someone at one of your competitors and for optics, your contact was tasked to involve three other companies. Another version of this occurs when your contact is the decision maker but engages competitors so that the process has the appearances of being fair and objective to anyone who might be checking in on them. In either scenario, the decision was made before you got involved and nothing that you said or did was going to change that decision. In the movie, the judge went through the motions of the months-long trial but it didn't matter how much proof of innocence the defense provided because the judge refused to let any of it be heard. Someone above him had already decided what the outcome of this trial would be.
The lesson is that if you are going to fail, you must fail early! That requires thorough qualifying and inspection as to where you stand versus your competitors, questions and statements that most salespeople fail to ask, like:
- In my experience, when a potential customer won't let me meet the decision maker it's usually a pretty good indicator that I won't be getting the business
- Decision makers for our solutions usually have a strong existing relationship with companies like mine, and Jim (the decision-maker) doesn't have a relationship with us, so who does he have a relationship with?
- I'm getting the feeling that even if we can prove that we have a superior solution, you won't be working with us
According to the data from Objective Management Group (OMG) and the 2,051,625 salespeople they have assessed, 59% of all salespeople can't ask those questions because their need to be liked prevents them from asking a question that could cause their prospect to no longer like them.
You're a Pawn
How many times have you worked a sales opportunity where your prospect was so interested that they requested a proposal or quote earlier than you expected? You probably believed that you had a really strong opportunity, thought this would be an easy one and forecast it to close within 30 days. Unfortunately, your prospect had an incumbent vendor that they planned to retain but needed the extra quotes to either make it appear that they collected three quotes or they were trying to keep the incumbent honest. Had you quoted the lowest price, the business wouldn't have gone to you; they would have shown the quote to the incumbent and demanded that they match it if they wanted to keep the business. In this scenario, you were being exploited. The lesson is that when a prospect moves too quickly to a quote or proposal, you need to ask better qualifying questions, like:
- Who do you usually buy this from? (XYZ)
- Why didn't you call them? (We wanted to explore our options)
- In my experience, companies that are happy with who they are using don't usually take the time to look for options. (They get defensive)
- Why did you call us? (You were on the list)
They will probably tell you that yes, they are happy, but if you come in with a better price they would consider moving the business to you. THAT'S YOUR CUE CARD! It's not a sign that they're about to buy from you; it's a sign that they're NOT going to buy from you. You should immediately say, "Based on experience, it sounds like you just need a quote to keep the other guys honest." If you're face to face I suggest writing a random number on a napkin and handing the napkin to them. If you are virtual, you can email them the same thing. The point is, don't take the time to work up a quote, and don't take the time to produce a proposal. Just say, "No thank you."
According to more of OMG's data, only 30% of salespeople have selling value as a strength. Additionally, only 36% are able to control their emotions and at this point the sales conversation calls for staying calm and selling value. Most salespeople lose right there.
For Sales Managers - The Expert Debrief
In one scene of the movie, the defense attorney was cross-examining the assistant to the mayor, a witness who said he was offered $100,000 to issue a permit to protest, and the request was a bribe, not a joke as the attorney suggested. The attorney asked a bunch of questions that sounded something like this (it's from memory so the words that come after "when you called" might not all be exactly what was said):
- When you called the US Attorney General what did he say? (I didn't call him)
- When you called the FBI what did they say? (I didn't call them)
- When you called the Attorney General of Illinois what did he say? (I didn't call him)
- When you called the State Police what did they say? (I didn't call them)
- When you called the Chicago Police what did they say? (I didn't call them)
- When you told the mayor what did he say? (I didn't tell him)
- So if you didn't tell anyone then you must have believed the offer to be a joke.
This is absolutely the most powerful way to debrief salespeople. Assume they did what they were supposed to do by asking, "When you asked what it was about their current vendor that they were unhappy with what did they say?" Continue to ask questions using, "When you asked..." about everything they should have asked until your salesperson says, "I didn't ask that." Then you can learn whether it's because the salesperson didn't know to ask that question or knew to ask but was uncomfortable asking. And finally, why was the salesperson uncomfortable. Then, and only then, does the coaching actually begin and it begins with a role play!
More of OMG's data says that only 7% of all sales managers can debrief, coach and role play effectively.
If you want to learn to coach like that - and there are so many examples of how to properly debrief and coach, join me for my annual public (virtual this year) 3-day Sales Leadership Intensive from May 19-21. You'll be glad you did!