Sales Opportunities

I know of no salesperson who doesn’t feel overwhelmed with everything they have to manage. There’s too much to remember and the sheer amount of product, industry, competitive and prospect information salespeople must deal with is exploding (it’s enough to make our brains implode.) Then there’s the fact that information changes. So you have to keep learning and expanding your knowledge in your already crowded brain. On top of all of this, you’re navigating a roaring river of activities—and not just your own. You’re also managing the flow of activities from others within your organization that have an impact on your results.

Let’s pile even more on. How about this? What and how your prospect thinks, does, and acts is also supposed to be within your purview. You’re to influence their decision and actions even though in truth, you have little ability if any to control it. The subject of control is a fascinating one. Salespeople want to control the sale and buyers want to feel that they are in control. This is a good time to bring up the golden rule. Those with the gold, rule. Buyers are ultimately, always in control. They might not manage the purchase process in the best way and they certainly won’t move through the process in the way that you would want, but it is never the less, in their control.

All you can do is influence. But even there, we face obstacles. These obstacles have to do with human nature and a false sense of reality. The way you and I see the world is invariably different from the way any other person views the world. And because of that, every decision, every judgment, and every action, is tainted by our own very fallible sense of truth.

Here are just a few of the pitfalls that salespeople are often unable to avoid:

  • We see what we want to see and sometimes what we’re told to see. (watch this video or this one to see it in action)
  • We don’t ask certain questions because we are afraid of, or don’t want to hear the truth.
  • We have selective attention. That is, we process or react to certain stimuli selectively even though several occur simultaneously.
  • We impose our own beliefs on things we see. It’s impossible to experience a situation “as it is.” Rather we experience situations in light of our beliefs about what is happening.
  • We discount evidence which contradicts our judgment and objectives. This can impact forecast accuracy and cause us to spend time with the wrong prospects.

Salespeople also face pitfalls brought on by the buyer’s own fallible sense of truth:

  • Their judgment is not always guided by reason and logic.  In fact, they’ll often engage in irrational thinking – dismissing evidence in order to maintain a version of reality which suits them best.
  • When considering a purchase decision, the human mind gives more weight to the first information it receives. And the person delivering the information first is often viewed as the standard bearer against which no others can compete. This is one reason why the first seller in the door wins the deal 63% of the time.
  • They instinctively stay with what seems familiar and look for decisions that involve the least change. This is especially true in B2B sales where more often than not the risk is not worth the reward.
  • The more choices the buyer has, the more likely status quo will win out. This is because more choices involve more effort and time, while sticking with the status quo requires less. Complexity kills deals (or at the very least, it stalls them).
  • The more actions the buyer has already taken on behalf of a choice or direction, the more difficult it will be for them to change direction or make a different choice, no matter how rational.

It’s really a wonder that anyone sells anything to anyone else. Yet they do. How can you succeed in this difficult to control sales environment? To start, I recommend a few books that approach the subject from different angles. The first is Sales Chaos, a fascinating and educational book by Tim Ohai and Brian Lambert.  They describe techniques for turning seemingly random complexity from enemy, into a competitive asset. I also recommend the books by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. “Switch” is particularly relevant to this post but Made to Stick and Switch are also fascinating and applicable to the field of Sales.

And last, is called “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive” by Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin, and Robert Cialdini. Cialdini is the author of “Influence“ and when it comes to influence and persuasion, he’s the  most cited social psychologist in the world.

What’s your opinion? Do you think our perception of truth impacts sales efforts? What impact does chaos and complexity have on the sales and purchase process? Which books do you recommend?