When Do “Lame Excuses” Mutate into Significant Risks?


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“12 Lame Excuses Salespeople Use and How to Respond”

This headline from a June 30th blog grabbed my attention like a July 4th firecracker. A better title might have been How to Ignore What You Hear. After the banking crisis, the BP oil spill, and the Japan nuclear reactor breakdown, who would be arrogant enough to blow off warnings, and then to further that stupidity by lambasting the messenger?

Had people at Lehman Brothers, BP, Tepco, and Boeing whined louder—and had more managers and government regulators been less dismissive of their whining—CNN.com could dedicate more screen area to stories about the breakup of Jonny Fairplay’s marriage, and the fifth season of Jersey Shore. Sadly, unmanaged risks make headlines all too often. And we’re reminded every time . . .

OK, I agree, you can’t compare sales risks with nuclear meltdowns, but come on! After learning about how otherwise smart people ignored risks that all but smacked them upside the head, are you still going to callously sweep under the rug the warnings your sales force brings to you? “Oh, I’ve heard it all before! Get back on the phone and make your quota!”

These are the “lame excuses” in bold that are described in the blog. Pure whining? Maybe. But I’ve added the risks that lurk behind them:

1. The product sucks. Risk: the product sucks. Ever tried to sell a product that was a flat-out misfit in the intended market? I have. And the only time slamming your head into a brick wall feels good is when you’ve stopped. You should ask what’s missing from the product or service. What’s included that’s not needed? What has to be changed? Maybe nothing can be done short term, but ignorance is never bliss. Why squander the opportunity to learn?

2. The price is too high. Risks: the product is mis-targeted, the messaging doesn’t match how customers think about the business challenge, the price really is too high!

3. No time for prospecting. Risks: sales force churn, missed revenue targets, poor morale, mis-aligned commission and incentive programs. Some companies saddle the sales force with customer support, CRM administration, and other tasks that reduce direct selling time. If you consistently hear this issue, the challenge might require changes in workflow, outsourcing lead generation, a redistribution of job responsibilities, and more.

4. Goals are too high. Risks: sales force churn, poor morale, mis-aligned incentive plans, the business plan is not grounded in the reality. One thing I’ve learned, goals are more SWAG than science.

5. Our competitors are better. Risks: wrong target market, mis-aligned product development investment, missed revenue targets, attrition of talented sales staff to competitors. Decompose the challenge: In which ways do competitors have a superior offering? How tangible are competitor benefits in the prospect’s mind? Which capabilities can be nullified or surpassed? Is it smarter not to take on certain competitors head-to-head? Do prospects perceive your product as “me too”?

6. We do not get enough support. Risks: sales force and customer churn, missed revenue targets, extended sales cycles, high sales expenses relative to revenue. Spend a day with your sales reps—whether top producer, middle-of-the-bell-curve, or underperformer. Are they chasing down answers to routine questions and checking ship status because no other resources are available, or because you haven’t provided better tools to get the information?

7. No one is buying now. Risks: long sales cycles, orders lost to competition, mis-aligned messaging, channel conflict. Sometimes, delays in buying decisions are a leading indicator of larger economic problems, and adjustments in financing, pricing or product may be needed.

8. My product is a commodity. Risk: your product is a commodity. It happens. One company I worked with in the bar coding industry failed to accept that reality, and managers insisted on pricing scanners at over $1,000 when customers could readily buy them for less than $500. With that delta, that’s not a pricing problem, that’s a strategy problem. A once-premium product became a throw away, and customers weren’t stupid to the economics.

9. Can’t get an appointment. Risks: confusing and un-motivating messages, mismanagement of social media and other communications channels, poor sales training, lack of understanding of customer need, misaligned value proposition.

10. Can’t get them to return my calls. Risks: overly dependent on phone for communications, not competent in other communications and social media technologies, misaligned communications, prospects don’t understand the “value proposition,” the company, and its brand.

11. Not enough people know about our products/run more ads. Risks: continued wasted marketing spend, opportunities lost to competition. Possibly another way to say “the right people don’t know about our solution . . .” Dig into the problem, but don’t avoid giving credence to it.

12. All I need is more leads. Risks: ineffective marketing execution, wasted marketing spend, poor workflow between marketing and sales.

Hubris kills a company’s business strategy as surely as voracious competitors. “Lame excuses” might not actually be lame. Few things bring more risk to a selling organization than a manager’s bring-me-sales-not-excuses mindset.

Oil derrick and nuclear plant workers are as prone to whining as salespeople, but the risks they reveal should never be ignored.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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