No one intentionally tries to lose a sale. It’s not uncommon, however, for even savvy sellers to inadvertently self-inflict a wound or two during the sales year. After all, it’s tough to be perfect all of the time.
Here is our list of the most common self-inflicted wounds that we see in working with clients in all industries.
- Failure to ask for an action commitment after each sales call. This one is a classic. You know the situation because you have been there before. You make a sales call and it’s going well. You can feel the connection with the buyer. He/she is answering your questions, the conversation is flowing and you are feeling great about the experience. Then something happens. Maybe it’s a telephone call, an unexpected interruption by their assistant or their sudden realization that they have another meeting soon. The sales call ends abruptly. They thank you for meeting with them and you realize you haven’t asked for any form of action commitment on the buyer’s part. The opportunity to move the buy-sell process forward is lost and you feel awful.
Helpful Tip: Develop a call plan and stick to it. Resist the urge for exuberance when you sense the call going well. Stick to your sales call plan, listen attentively, watch the clock (thoughtfully) and be ready to ask for some form of action commitment that will move the decision process forward.
- Excessive & Unsolicited Discounting. Many sales representatives feel that they must offer a discount in order to win the business. Discounting becomes a way of “closing the deal.” “It’s worked before so I don’t know why it wouldn’t work again.” If you look carefully, you will see a pattern. Sometimes it’s a few sales representatives that exhibit this behavior. Other times its one region and occasionally it’s pervasive throughout the entire sales organization.
When a sales representative begins to rely on discounting as a crutch for closing the deal, he/she looks for any excuse to see if the seller will bite. When a sales representative offers a discount, even though the buyer has not requested one, we call this “negotiating with yourself.” Even if you are trying to show your flexibility, unsolicited discounts destroy credibility, invalidate value propositions and commoditize your solution.
Helpful Tip: Many sales professionals that we encounter don’t fully understand how their actions are eroding the company’s gross margin. They offer a discount without knowing how much more they need to sell as a result of this activity. For some companies, this is the fault of company leadership. Educating the sales force on both of these points is foundational and helps them become better sales professionals. Discounting is commonplace in many industries. Occasionally, sales representatives may have to concede to a discount demand but they need to understand thoroughly the ramifications.
- Talking Leaflet. You know who these folks are. They can talk for days about their product. They often talk non-stop during a sales call in an attempt to impress the prospect with their product and technical/clinical knowledge. Instead of being influential and persuasive, they hinder the building of relationships and often alienate potential and existing clients because they dominate the sales call.
Helpful Tip: In every sales call, there is a fine line between gathering information and providing information. Savvy sales professionals gather information by asking thought provoking, insightful questions. They spur intense conversation by sharing insight and asking for opinions. They ask tough questions, probing willingness to change, desired results, organizational priorities and perceptions of risk. Above all they practice active listening. Once they understand the Buyer’s requirements they can then connect their product, service or solution in a manner that doesn’t make them sound like a “talking leaflet.”
- Potted Plant Syndrome. We have all had a company representative attend a sales call and not say anything except hello and goodbye. We call it the “Potted Plant Syndrome” because the individual is planted in the chair and does nothing! This hurts the company’s credibility as well as yours. The customer wants to know why you fly people like this around who contribute little or nothing to a conversation. Are they unprepared, lack knowledge or simply uninterested?
Helpful Tip: As we have stated several times in our blogs, sales calls must be carefully planned to be effective. Every sales call is a live performance and every call that a sales professional makes asks the buyer for his/her most valuable asset…their time. Planning is especially important when the sales representative has someone else from their organization on the call. Most often, a joint sales call is done for one of the following reasons:
- A manager is conducting a routine ride-along
- A product service specialist is addressing a service related problem
- A technical specialist is attending to share knowledge and insight
- A key account review is being performed
Brief your colleague well. Share with them your objectives and challenges. Savvy sellers involve their colleagues early in the sales call and as often as necessary. If done well, your partner can be a valuable asset in elevating your credibility and driving the sales process forward.
- Lone Ranger. Selling is a team sport. Lone Rangers are characters from the past. Everyone needs help in winning a complex deal. It may be an answer from a company subject matter expert, insight from a marketing product manager or a contract from legal but company resources are required.
Helpful Tip: One way to prevent this is by mapping the Buy-Sell Process and determining which company resource and which marketing materials are appropriate to be used at each stage. If this is done effectively, it is easy for a manager to coach to the appropriate stage in the process and ensure that the Lone Ranger is using company resources properly.
- Selling a Product Not a Solution. There is an analogy that we use often in our sales workshops. We remind the participants that no one buys drills they buy holes. You don’t sell a product or solution. You sell what that product or solution does for the buyer’s organization.
Helpful Tip: Buyers don’t spend money unless they see a return. The product you sell is simply a means to an end that helps them eliminate a vexing problem, avoid a problem or capitalize on a market opportunity. Remember: buyers don’t buy–they invest.
- Poor Time Management. In sales, time is your enemy because there are never enough selling days. How you spend your time each day is critical to your success in making the number. We self-inflict a wound with wasted minutes and hours. Plan each day and every sales call. Prioritize your activities. Allocate time to lead generation and qualifying new sales opportunities.
Use every sales call to drive the Buy-Sell process forward.
Think of selling time as time spent face-to-face or phone-to-phone with a buyer or decision maker talking about helping them fix a problem that they have and want to fix, avoid a problem or capitalize on an identified opportunity through one of your products, services or solutions. It’s a combination of account development and/or opportunity pursuit.
Helpful Tip: Selling time should be sacred time. If you have good products, services or solutions and good sales people, then increasing the percentage of their selling time will drive sales results. It’s the quickest and easiest way to increase sales productivity.
Top sales representatives can tell you the number of sales days left in the current quarter and they can tell you the revenue they must generate per hour or per day and not just their revenue against plan. They prioritize their daily activities and get the most important things done first.
- Not Raising the Bar. Successful MedTech sellers recognize that the healthcare environment is constantly changing and evolving to meet the new market paradigm. It’s what makes the profession so challenging, but also filled with opportunities. You know the tell-tale signs: facilities limiting access to suppliers, new buying influences – often located remotely, committees with more control and more decisions moving into the C-Suite. With organizational changes, contracts being re-opened and new competitors emerging in the market, many strategic sourcing departments have driven toward a new level of commoditization. Each of these changes requires a quick recognition of the new dynamic and the appropriate knowledge on how to adapt and prosper. In short, it requires a new competency level in order to succeed.
The challenge for MedTech sellers is to elevate their knowledge, take advantage of new technologies and improve their selling skills from year-to-year. How do they hone their craft to constantly get better? How do they avoid complacency? It’s easy to say they don’t have time or they are a top performer and they don’t need any additional knowledge or training.
Helpful Tip: Ever play golf? Many of us are passionate about the game. We practice at driving ranges and putting greens. We read articles, watch video tips, share best practices and visualize changes in our game. If we applied the same discipline to our professional development our success would be unlimited.
Sales representatives need to improve their sales skills by attending sales training programs. Most of these programs focus on one concept or topic and all offer valuable information. Some programs are delivered in workshops with a facilitator while others offer e-learning. They should read sales books, newsletters, magazines and sales and healthcare blogs. They should join key LinkedIn groups. They should also develop a relationship with your company’s top performers and learn what they do differently that makes them stand apart from the rest of the crowd…year-in and year out. Also, they should not be afraid to ask their best customers for insight on what they could do better.
If you want to hone your skills be prepared to learn something new on a daily basis. Always evaluate yourself objectively. Be honest and ask yourself: What did I do well? What could I have done better? Where are the gaps in my knowledge and ability? What will I do differently in the future? Then develop a plan and execute it.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it”
Peter Drucker, management guru for all ages.
While there are many ways to damage a sales opportunity, there is a common solution: preparation! Whether it’s avoiding the temptation to offer a discount, coordinating the presence of a regional manager on a ride-along or focusing on value instead of product features, devote a little time to preparation and coordination.
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