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Why Continue to Dominate Second Place?

One of your sales team excitedly meets with what seems to be a perfect prospect–someone who is interested, open, and qualified. She is frustrated with her existing vendor’s delivery of products and services, and voices it.

The sales rep becomes more enthusiastic as he hears more about the prospect’s pain points. He envisions real possibility in helping her. He shares with her several success stories about how his firm has greatly assisted other clients.

The prospect is evidently interested and asks the sales rep to put together a proposal. The rep invests several hours into doing so, then sends it over to the prospect, who asks the salesperson to give her two days and then follow up.

When the salesperson calls at the appointed time, he gets the dreaded, “We’ve decided to go with your competitor.”

Of course, the sales rep is quite discouraged, and surprised. How was this opportunity lost? The prospect showed a real need. She was the decision maker. A budget had been agreed upon for changing and improving the prospect’s situation.

Here is the reason: At the first hint of buying signals from the prospect, the salesperson stopped asking diagnostic, qualifying questions. Instead of executing effective selling skills, he let his emotions take over the sales meeting.

His competitor, on the other hand, exhibited emotional control. She asked more questions, uncovered even more needs and wants from the prospect and as a result, delivered a better solution.

Your sales team is coming in second place for two reasons. Coach to the real issue and you will move from second place to first.

#1. Remind your sales team that the presenting problem generally is not the real problem.

Psychologists understand this concept well. A patient meets with the doctor and says she has a problem with alcohol and drug abuse. The psychologist doesn’t start presenting solutions because he knows it’s not the real problem. The real problem might be the patient’s lack of self-worth, her inability to deal with life challenges in a positive manner or the company she keeps.

The same is true in the selling profession. The problem presented by the prospect is generally not the real issue. For example, in my business of sales development and training, a prospect says they have a prospecting/business development challenge. However, through further conversation and questions, the real issue is uncovered. They don’t have a prospecting problem — they have a hiring problem.

This prospect doesn’t know how to vet potential sales candidates for business development. Their approach to sourcing and vetting candidate models is based on gut and hope. This discovery greatly changes the solution that is presented. Instead of focusing on prospecting and business development training, the recommendations turn to installing an effective hiring process.

#2. The curse of knowledge.

This phrase comes from Dan and Chip Heath, authors of Made to Stick. Their research shows that often, the longer we are in business, the less effective we can become.

We gain product knowledge and expertise, which creates assumptions and conclusions, rather than curiosity and questions.

In sales, you hear similar issues from your prospects, such as too much downtime, poor innovation or ineffective project management. You’ve heard and helped clients with these issues many times, so you assume to know the full implications of the problem and the right solutions.
This curse of knowledge sets us up to get beat by the competing salesperson that is still curious, and asks more and better questions.

To avoid the curse of knowledge, apply the soft skill of emotional self-awareness and reality testing. Debrief each sales call to see when and how you started assuming to know the answer and stopped asking questions. When debriefing your sales call, check to see if you got the answers to:

  • The financial impact of the prospect’s problem: Are they losing customers? Market share?
  • The strategic impact of the prospect’s problem: Is their reputation being affected?
  • The personal impact of the prospect’s problem: Are they working overtime because of the issues? Getting pressure from the board?

Stop dominating second place and move up to No. 1. Remember, the presenting problem isn’t the real one. Avoid the curse of knowledge by approaching every sales call with a beginner’s mind.

How have you moved out of second place in the past? Leave a comment and let us know.

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