A few weeks back, I wrote about the sales lessons you can learn from the television show “Kitchen Nightmares.” The main gist of the post was that the problems each restaurant owner suffers from are always both fundamental, and fundamentally the same (bad food being the primary example), and that the problems go unresolved because the owners are in complete denial.
Those “lessons learned” are highly relevant to the world of B2B sellers. Just like the restaurant business, the problems keeping most B2B businesses from growing at a sustainable level are unlikely to be exotic or rare. Unfortunately, denial has a nasty way of camouflaging the obvious and so we seek to find extraordinary reasoning behind failing endeavors.
Extraordinary problems, like the rise in fuel prices or a flat-lining jobs market, may indeed exacerbate the problem. Regrettably, you can’t do anything about economic factors beyond your control. You do, however, have control over your own spheres of influence, and therefore, you must become courageously pro-active in re-directing or re-defining the underlying fundamentals of your sales efforts.
So long as the root-cause is not denied, any problem can be addressed. It takes guts and audacity to move past the ‘d’ word and face the music well before the problems become insurmountable.
Here are 3 sales fundamentals which must not be denied.
1st. Lead progression
Lead progression, as a process, includes identifying, assessing, assigning, responding, selling, tracking, and nurturing leads; and determining which key segments of that process are working, and which are not. If one segment is failing to pull its own weight, then the entire process suffers. What’s that you say? “Marketing generates leads and Sales contacts them. How hard can it be?”
Well, let’s start with a few questions. What defines a lead? Are there different degrees of lead quality? Which leads are worthy of Sales’ time? How does your process differ depending on lead quality? What criteria determine each level of lead quality and how should each type of lead be handled? Are you asking your reps to simply contact every lead? Do you know what types of leads have the best outcome? What marketing activities and messaging will surface the most leads of the highest quality? Do you know? If not, how can you find out?
Those are a lot of questions. But all of them are in service of one objective:
2nd. Prospect progression
Prospect progression includes questioning, presenting, listening, understanding, and educating prospects so you can identify opportunities based on the situation unique to each, and communicate exactly why your solution is worthy of their attention and action.
Too many people focus on qualifying prospects at this stage. If that’s you, you’re looking at the problem backwards. You should be helping prospects qualify you! Remember, if you have your Lead Progression down, then the person you are talking with is sales-worthy (pre-qualified, if you will). Now is when your prospects are doing all they can to qualify or disqualify both the severity of their need and the applicability of your solution.
Questions you should be asking yourself include: Do all your prospects look alike? If not, which are the differences that require a unique approach? What are the questions you should ask each type of prospect? How do you uniquely bring value to each type of prospect? Are you asking questions that are helpful to your prospects (they elucidate). Or are you asking questions that are helpful only to you (they qualify). Do you have marketing content and sales follow-up materials for different buyer personas? Do you have sales and marketing materials that help prospects qualify the severity of their need?
Again, those are a lot of questions. And again, all of them are in service of one objective:
3rd. Opportunity progression
Opportunity progression involves activities that help your prospect experience, believe, prove, back up, present, and – ultimately – act on the decision to buy your solution.
How well defined is your process for progressing opportunities? Do you have techniques for prospects to get involved and experience the solution? Do you have techniques for helping the prospect envision the buying process? Have you defined specific methods for helping customers prove-out the validity of your proposition (and their belief in it)? Have you anticipated the prospect’s internal sales process and defined methods for providing the backup they’ll need?
Finding the answers to these questions, just like those before, are in service of one objective:
For prospects to develop the highest degree of confidence that the predicted results can and will be realized, and for them to be capable of persuading other decision-influencers of the merit of their decision.
The reason fundamentals are always the problem is that they are difficult to pull off and yet pulling them off is essential to building and sustaining the framework that supports success. It is easier to simply push for more leads, or more phone calls, or more proposals than it is to answer the above questions. Just as troubling, is that the questions need to be revisited – frequently. It is surprising how many restaurant owners in Kitchen Nightmares hadn’t made a change to their menu in years. Even more bizarre, is that the endless nights of empty tables was not enough of a problem for the owners to ask the most fundamental question of all: could it possibly be the food?
Your prospects are subjected to, and are influenced by three fundamental (and undeniable) paradigms of cause and effect: The market changes. Your solution changes. The competitive landscape changes. Therefore, you must also change. There is no rationale for not accepting its inevitability. Your prospect already knows that a change is needed, but the realization sits out on some vague horizon of possibilities. They want it, but cannot yet visualize it, much less experience it. And this, is where you shine. All that is required is for you to literally personify the First Law of Selling, by becoming the impetus for that change, and the mechanism for its reality. Just make sure your changes address the fundamentals of your sales efforts. A bad dish is still fundamentally bad, even with a delicious sauce on top.