What would it mean to you to have the ability, knowledge, and insight to turn around any sales obstacle? What would it be like if you had the answers to every possible sales objection? What would it feel like if you knew what to do in every possible situation and in response to any challenge thrown your way in your sales job? This is the power that comes from the knowledge of sales psychology.
The prospect's behavior can be a torturous mystery for many sales executives who are often left clueless as to what to do next, gabbling when faced with seemingly insurmountable objections and obstacles from prospective clients. Here are some of the most common questions I hear sales executives ask:
"They seemed really interested. What happened?"
"Why did they say no when everything was going so well?"
"It's such a great product/service. Why aren't more people buying?"
Many such questions go unanswered, and the most commonly prescribed antidote to a sales executive's woes is to carry on, as sales is supposedly a numbers game, and not get stuck in the paralysis of analysis: "Don't stop, don't look back, don't analyze; just keep going, and if you work hard enough, you will see returns."
The assumption that sales is a number's game is based on the law of averages or probability, which states that given a certain number of attempts, a hit is inevitable. Hence, sales executives are coached to reach out to as many prospects as possible to ensure returns and not ponder over the ones who seemingly lost interest and turned "cold" along the way.
This traditional advice is truly well meant; however, when we look at the number of prospects who are lost due to unknown, unanswered, undisclosed reasons, this staggering figure raises the question of whether more could have been done if someone involved had a better understanding of the underlying dynamics of the failed sales transaction. It is simply that, in most cases, no one knows what to do. So the best advice given to sales executives is to stop wasting time on the "dead" prospects and move on to the next one.
But ask most sales executives, and they would most likely say that they wish they had more insight into what actually happened, and through this insight, they'd like to have the ability to know what would have been the best thing to do to possibly have saved the sale. To many sales executives, it seems like a losing battle to hastily cross off high-potential prospects because of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and then restart with new prospects with whom they may face equally unique challenges that might result in having to give up on them, too. I call it "running the hamster's wheel," as sales executives are made to blindly follow a given path without the ability to stop, sense, analyze, and ask such questions as, "Where am I going? What am I doing? Is it working? If not, what can I do about it?"
Looking at 3,000 Failed Opportunities
These are the questions that I asked myself 10 years ago when I looked at the 3,000-odd highly qualified prospects who had said no to a very essential business service. This particular service was deemed unsellable because the company couldn't kick start its sales in the five years that it had been in business.
When I analyzed the numbers, they showed that the company had a 2 percent closing rate, which meant that a sales executive would have to make 100 proposals to qualified prospects, and from these 100 proposals, only 2 percent would come through after an average follow up of eight months. Each sales executive's target, including mine, was to bring in four sales per month, which meant we had to make 200 proposals to qualified prospects each month. This was the system that had been in place and unsuccessfully followed for the past five years.
Different businesses have different closing rates, but most have a high prospect causality rate, resulting in a large number of "dead" potentials, because the focus is always on getting through the list as quickly as possible to find hot leads. If we apply the knowledge of sales psychology to a company's sales process, however, this would result in sales executives getting the maximum number of high potentials from their lists in the shortest time possible, meaning more prospects, closed deals, and clients for their sales efforts. Sales is not a number's game; rather, it's a game of applied psychology. The knowledge of sales psychology is simply the understanding of human behavior in a buyer/seller relationship. When working with the knowledge of sales psychology, every single sales effort, call, meeting, and proposal has more impact and produces greater results.
The Pot of Gold
My recognition of the law of success is to look at what everyone else is doing in order to find the path that the majority are following – and then to do something different. With this guiding philosophy, I started my first sales psychology project by working on the lists of the thousands of cold and "dead" prospects left behind by the sales team. While everyone else was looking for hot leads and hot prospects to pursue, I wanted to dig only for the ones delegated to the rubbish pile. At first, my colleagues and seniors thought I was wasting my time, but in my perception, I was digging for gold. And while it was not possible to make others see my way immediately, my drive and determination were contagious. Within a few weeks, I hit the jackpot.
Going through the list of 3,000 prospects, a unique behavior pattern was identifiable for the sales cycle of this particular business service. Both the sales executives and prospects seemed to engage in the same steps and present the same challenges and obstacles at the same point in the sales cycle in every sales proposal. Going through the notes, even the excuses given by different prospects to sales executives working independently of each other at various times in the company’s history were similar, almost down to the exact words.
As in the above example, every product or service will have its own unique sales cycle with identifiable dead ends and obstacles. If you would analyze your own sales cycle and CRM records, you would be able to identify common trends in the objections and excuses given by prospects. So instead of adding to the pile of no's and blindly running the same path, wouldn't it be worthwhile to take a moment to analyze and assess your sales cycle and rework your course of navigation to be able to successfully deal with the obstacles encountered? In most cases, all that is needed is a little bit of psychological insight from a sales perspective. Here are the action steps, based on a case in the software industry:
1. Create a psychological profile of the target.
Our target is the IT manager, who reports to the company president. Since IT managers are trained in technology, not business, they are often excluded from the executive strategy meetings that involve operations, production, finance, sales, marketing, and service. IT managers focus mainly on supporting the existing legacy systems, and they are often afraid to take risks and are not skilled in selling their own ideas to their superiors.
What motivates them: feelings of security, detailed documentation, solid references, serious research, and concise presentations.
What demotivates them: feelings of uncertainty and ambiguity, incomplete documentation and presentations. If you cannot prove what you claim you can do, you will not be taken seriously by IT managers.
2. Their most likely objections:
"This is going to be difficult to sell to my boss."
"How are we going to justify the budget for something that's not on our road map for improvement?"
"I am worried that this isn't going to work the way we expect it to work."
"I will have to think about this."
"Your price is too high."
3. Do not target the IT manager alone.
Our own sales records show that when our salespeople include other managers, together with the IT manager, in their discussions, the chances of closing a sale go up by 50 percent.
4. Know when not to invest your energy.
Do not pursue deals when the circumstances are not right. Here are the telltale signs that you may not be able to make headway:
- Fewer than 60 days on the job. Unless the manager knows our technology, he or she will be too busy learning about the existing systems.
- A budget freeze.
- Cancelled meetings. You tried three times to get a meeting, and each time it was cancelled. Move the account to lead nurturing.
- Personality conflict. If you feel your prospect has a personality that makes it hard for you to think positively while in this person's presence, assign the account to someone else.
A combination of simple research, human psychology, and a review of the best practices will give you a deeper and meaningful understanding of your company's unique sales challenges and more successful solutions.