If the Buyer Is in the Lead, Your Sales Process Has Fallen Behind 

One day a salesman approached me while I was working in my yard. He was selling house painting services and asked me if I was interested in getting my house painted. I said yes. Then he made a mistake that allowed me to take over and lead the conversation. He began to speak to me as if I were ready to sign on the dotted line. I led him on and he was surprised when he couldn’t close the deal. His error? He mistook my curiosity as motivation to buy what he was selling. This stumble on his part allowed me to gather information I wanted without any real intention of buying. 

Although this interaction happened in my front yard, this kind of scenario takes places in all sorts of sales situations as buyers take the lead. And when buyers lead, sellers lose.  

How can you teach your salespeople to recognize this kind of buyer? Share with them these three ways buyers manipulate the salesperson and then leave them disappointed when they can’t close the deal: 

  1. Dangling False Carrots. False carrots are statements like “I’m interested, I’m looking for information, I’m having a problem with,” etc. These declarations draw the seller in. The sales person thinks they have a hot lead, but in reality the buyer may only be looking for information. In my case, I’d thought about painting my house, but I wasn’t ready any time soon. I was just curious. I began asking questions just to get information from the seller. I asked questions like, how long does it take, what should I paint, who does the actual painting. I was asking all the questions and he was doing all the talking. Who was in control of the process? I was. 
  1. Asking for Prices First. When the buyer is in control, this question is asked early on. In my example, I was curious how much his great service was going to cost. This guy spent 90 minutes working up a quote. He was satisfying my curiosity. He asked no qualifying questions, and he was giving me information for free. Why wouldn’t I take it? When finished with the quote, he gave me a great presentation as to why I should use his company complete with testimonials from neighbors who’d used their service. It all sounded great and the price seemed fair and reasonable. However, I still wasn’t ready to buy.  
  1. Delaying Rejection. Because I wasn’t ready to commit, I ended the conversation with the dreaded “Let me think about it.” Even though I knew there was a slim chance that I was going to purchase, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him. I thought he was a nice guy and I didn’t want to let him down. Besides, I got what I wanted: a quote. I had something to use as a benchmark for when I would be serious about painting my house, a dollar amount I could use to negotiate a better price with another painter. And he got nothing but a “I’d like to think it over” statement. He wasted a couple of hours chasing a sale that wasn’t going to happen. 

He followed up a few days later to be told “no.” I’m sure he was surprised because he didn’t realize his mistake.  

Did it have to go this way for him? Not at all. What could he have done differently? He could have managed his defined sales process with checkpoints. A sales process defines what you need to know from the buyer before sharing information or moving to the next step. Without a defined process, the buyer takes over and draws the seller in. The buyer is in the lead and the sales person can’t get that lead back.  

If you or your sales people have you ever been told, “I need to think it over,” that’s a sure sign your sales process needs some adjustment. 

You just wrapped up the first half of 2019. In the next week or so, you’ll have a full tally of how your sales teams did with top and bottom-line results. For many, the Summer comes in fast and furious as you recover from the mid-year push and assemble your teams to plan for the rest of the year. 

So, exhale for a moment and breathe deeply; now is the time to take a good, hard look at your opportunity pipeline for the balance of 2019. Are there enough qualified opportunities in development to enable you to exceed your revenue plans? Ignore the old adage that you need to have “three times” the revenue in your pipeline to hit your annual plan – it’s not only a bad guess for how to hit your number, but it’s also a dangerous precedent for sellers who aren’t sure what a healthy pipeline actually looks like. 

Here is what your sales leaders need to do NOW to make sure there is enough revenue working: 

  • Establish Qualified Opportunity Criteria: this should have been done by January 1, but if you haven’t done it yet, it’s not too late. Make sure each member of your team knows the criteria required to categorize an opportunity as qualified. (We have done this with our customers, and can send anonymous examples to you by request to
  • Coach Opportunity Development EARLY: don’t wait until the negotiation is coming to a head to parachute in and close the deal for the seller. Salespeople learn nothing from this, except perhaps how you close, which won’t help them when you aren’t there. Set a schedule with each of your reps to coach them on how to successfully navigate their open opportunities, and make sure a complete job is done in early stages. 
  • Practice Skill Conversations: from prospecting to qualification and all the way through negotiation, make sure your team members are fluent in all aspects of the conversations they will have with customers and prospects. Not all sellers need every skill improved; a good benchmark is to pick one skill per rep per month and ensure that it is really mastered. 

Once you have these basics in place, we can look at how to build the right opportunity mix for a healthy, balanced revenue pipeline. But without doing the work to establish opportunity criteria, coaching opportunity development and practicing skill conversations, you’re sure to have some gaps in your pipeline that will make it very difficult to achieve your annual plan. If you do the heavy lifting now, you will avoid the year-end fire drills that many organizations go through to hit their numbers in Q4. 

We were in the great Jazz city of New Orleans the week of June 17th working with a new Life Sciences customer on how to improve their selling skills and drive revenue. Take a listen above by clicking on the arrow.

Great sales managers are great sales coaches. It’s critical. Without coaching, sales processes are not applied, sales trainings short-lived, and sales rep performance falls short.

So, what makes a great sales coach? There are many things – we’ll share a few:


1. Respect. In order to really hear and receive your coaching, reps must respect you as a leader. Without that foundation, your coaching will fall on deaf ears. What are you doing to ensure you have a solid relationship with your team members.

2. Focus. We could have said “tailored” or “personalized”, but these words often get overused. So, we’ll use “focus” instead. What does it mean? Simply that great coaches narrow their feedback to development areas specific to each individual. Where do they most need to grow? What techniques can they use to drive the sale forward? (hint: great coaches spend more time coaching at the beginning of the sale cycle than at the end).

3. Question. Great sales coaches understand the power of self-discovery. People are most convinced by ideas they themselves create. As a coach, often the best way to teach your reps a certain skill is to ask targeted but open-ended questions to get them to arrive at the answer on their own terms.

4. Push. Sales reps are often asked to do things that are outside their comfort zone – like go out and get new business or ask tough questions to fully qualify an opportunity. As a sales coach, do you encourage them to stretch themselves in order to improve? Do you provide a safe environment to nurture that growth?

5. Believe. Last but not least, you must believe in the potential of your sales reps to meet and/or beat their sales goals. Without this genuine belief, your reps will lack the confidence they’ll need to practice and try and build and grow.


concessions-3We should be trying to create a win/win outcome  in every negotiation in order to insure a strong  and lasting business relationship. While concessions are an essential element in any  negotiation, they can be a threat to maintaining  your credibility.  The following suggestions will help you improve your results when concessions are necessary.

  • Make a list of value items.

Prior to the negotiation, identify and list the important items/issues for the other party but which have little value to you.  Likewise, make a list of items/services that you want in return (these may be both valuable or small concessions for the other party).   Use these items when concessions are brought up.  Be prepared!

  • Never respond immediately to a request for a concession.

Take your time.  A pause will add uncertainty to the other party, it will add value to the concession if you do make it and you will have more time to think about a comparable concession to request.   All of this raises your credibility.

  • Never make a concession without asking for one in return.

As  previously  mentioned,  making unilateral concessions is a big mistake.  It sends the wrong  message  and you lose an opportunity  to improve your position.  Always ask for something of equal or greater value in return.   If you are asked for a concession, you can simply respond, “The only way I could do that is if you could do something for me. I’d need you to ____________. How do you feel about that?”

  • Beware of “insignificant”  concessions.

Small, “insignificant” concessions can add if up if the other party constantly asks for more.  Always read their entire proposal before agreeing  to a “small” concession.  This gives you more power/credibility and provides chances to ask for more concessions from their side.  If this becomes an issue, call them on it:  “In addition to that, are there other items that you’re interested in?”  This forces the other party to reveal all of their wishes at once so that they don’tcontinue to peck away at you with more requests.

  • Try to design a system for making  concessions.

When necessary, such as negotiating with someone who wants to play hardball,  set the tone and the ground rules up front so there is no miscommunication.  An easy approach would be to say,  “You give me a concession, and I’ll give you one.”  This is an honored technique that’s been used cross-culturally  for thousands of years and can be used today with anyone in almost any negotiation.

  • Never say never.

By saying “no” or “we can’t do that,” you limit your own options.  Instead, consider saying to the other  party,  “Hmmm…that  may  be difficult for us.  Can  you  think  of  any  possible alternatives you may want to consider?” or, “It’s a possibility if you can do ________ for us.”  To use this approach effectively, you must know your list of value items well.

  • Don’t ask for unreasonable concessions.

You want to reach a final agreement by finding mutually agreeable items for both sides.  Therefore, don’t ask for concessions  you don’t believe you will  get.  Also, be prudent with any offer because the other party may accept it.

  • Know your business’ needs and bottom  line.

Never give something away or work for a concession if it doesn’t make sense for your business.

  • The “value” of  price.

Price is seldom the real issue.  The conviction that a person has that he is receiving overall value in the deal is usually the true issue.  Consequently, a good deal results from the belief that the person is receiving a good deal.

  • Make sure the other party walks away feeling like a winner.

If the other negotiator can go back to their company and say, “This is what I won for us from the deal,”  he will feel like he succeeded.    Successful negotiators with a win/win  philosophy can make this look easy.

If you’re in sales, you need to read “Redefining the Elevator Pitch” before you pick up the phone to make yet another cold call. You’ll quickly realize that there is a better way to approach those people who haven’t yet expressed an interest in your service or product. And then your next step? Refine your approach using the advice below.  

Your first step: Review your current approach 

First, think about how you currently approach your cold calls. Consider the following: 

  • What do you currently say to prospects? 
  • How effective has your approach been in getting them interested in talking to you further? 
  • Do you try to keep a prospect talking using typical telemarketer “tricks” only to find yourself wasting your time in the end? 
  • Do you quickly get off the phone or out of the conversation if the prospect doesn’t seem interested vs. trying to spend more time getting them to buy? 

Be honest in your feedback to yourself, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Your goal is to improve, and that makes the discomfort worthwhile.  

Your second step: Refine your approach 

After you’ve objectively considered your existing approach, look for way to improve. Here’s an exercise for you to try: 

  • Before you even pick up the phone, do some prep work. Identify one or two business capabilities that your product or solution has helped customers solve in the top three industries where your products and solutions sell.  
  • For each one, write an interest generating statement, using this formula: 
  • “Typically our customers find that X problem is causing them Y pain. We’ve been able to help them solve this problem by providing Z solution capabilities. This has resulted in (list benefits, ROI, measurable outcomes, etc.) for our other customers.”   
  • End the interest generating statement with the following question: “Are any of these issues for you?” 
  • Once you’re on the phone with a prospect, use the appropriate interest-generating statement. Then ask for permission to speak with them further about how your products or solutions can help them.  
  • End the call with a clear action or next step that is designed to lead to additional discussion. For example, request a follow-up meeting or phone call and schedule it on the spot.  
  • Follow up the call with an email confirming the conversation and the action item/next step, plus any information you promised them. Send the email within 24 hours of the phone call. 

After a few weeks of trying this refined approach to your cold calling, do another review and consider how it is working for you. Do you see increased interest by prospects to learn more? Are you more quickly getting off calls and on to other business if the prospect isn’t interested? Are you seeing more prospects in the sales funnel? The answers to all these questions should be yes. If not, refine your approach yet again using this advice.  

Because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. And you don’t have time for that.  

A buying cycle begins with a motivation for change. In Neil Rackham’s description of the buying cycle, he uses the word “needs” to describe what is most important to the buyer early in the process.  We have renamed needs “primary business objectives” or PBOs to emphasize the buyer’s point of view at this stage.  

Just like Rackham’s needs, however, PBOs must be determined at the onset of the sales process.  

How do you determine the PBOs of a prospect when you meet them for the first time? If you’re lucky, they will simply tell you and you’ll be saved the hard part of digging for the key driver in the motivation to make a change. But salespeople shouldn’t count on luck.  

Or maybe you can safely make an assumption. If you have the title of an individual that you will be meeting with and that person is in a similar role as another customer you have in that same industry, will their PBOs be similar? Perhaps.   

Regardless of whether or not a prospect tells you the PBO at the outset, or you can make an assumption based on previous experience, it’s critical for salespeople to understand the importance of getting a PBO shared before launching into a presentation, asking a series of questions, or giving testimonials.  

This seems obvious, right? Yet, as simple as it seems, it is often overlooked–even by the most seasoned salesperson.  

As long as we stayed focused on learning this information, it’s usually easy to discover. Here are three ways to get the PBO shared by the key players:  

  • Ask questions. Ask questions to understand their business problems and pain. 
  • Offer a menu. Probe with a menu of business objectives that might be relatable. 
  • Tell a story. Tell a story about how you helped a similar customer, although you’ll have to make some assumptions to do this. This is also a way to share your insight into an area of the prospect’s business that they might not have thought about.  

Once you define the PBOs with a prospect, you’re well on your way to helping them identify a solution to address their problems: your solution! 

John got some altitude after a day of sales calls in the East Bay outside of San Francisco and Oakland. Click on the arrow above to hear more about ways to tighten up your revenue engine.

For years, selling focused on making enthusiastic, detailed presentations. To that end, product knowledge was key. Companies invested heavily in teaching their salespeople product knowledge at the expense of selling skills. Even today, it’s estimated that roughly 80% of the training salespeople receive is about product knowledge. Clearly, sales skills training has taken a back seat to. But at what cost?  

Why the product-first focus fails

Here’s a typical scenario that results from this kind of approach: XZY Software has brought their entire sales force to corporate headquarters for three days of intensive product training on the latest version of their software. The salespeople are shown how to demo the product, and they’re taught all the features, specifications, applications and more. At the end of the three days, they’re product experts.  

Imagine what’s likely to happen on the first sales call they make after training. Unless the prospect beats them to the point by asking about new software featuresthe salesperson will likely to lead with, “Let me tell you about our newest release. It’s got (feature A, feature B and feature C), and here’s how it can help you solve (problem A, problem B and problem C).”  

The prospect doesn’t even get a chance to talk about their needs. The focus on teaching product knowledge takes the focus off qualifying and asking questions. And this kind of “premature presentation” will hurt you more than it will help you, as it turns prospects off but also backfires.  

When a features focus backfires

When skills training was considered necessary, salespeople learned ways to overcome objections and close deals for a very good reason: Product pushers who overwhelmed prospects with features and benefits desperately needed those skills. However, there’s a flaw in pushing features and benefits that’s often overlooked: Sales pitches sometimes give prospects ammunition they can use for objections. For example, if the salesperson starts discussing features, specifications or pricing, the prospect can find something that compares unfavorably to the product he or she is currently using.  

On the other hand, if the salesperson limits the amount of information given, it’s more difficult for the prospect to find something to object to. Plus this leads to question-asking, not feature-pushing, when the salesperson pulls back and withholds information to focus on learning information instead. Investigative skills are more important than presentation skills in today’s selling environment that rewards the problem solver, not the product pusher. 

Sales should not be adversarial

Another misunderstanding is that the entire selling process has to be adversarial. Both parties seem to think they must gain the upper hand and not let the other take advantage of them. Feeling you have been taken advantage of leads to resentment and possible retribution at some point in the future. This is not a good foundation for a long-term business relationship. Years and years of manipulation by both parties have caused this unfortunate imbalance in the typical sales process. 

Sales should result in a win-win

Selling has to become a cooperative effort. When a sale is made, both parties must win or they shouldn’t do business together. To make this happen, the salesperson should start out by communicating the need to exchange enough information to find out if there is a reason to start a business relationship. If after exchanging information it doesn’t look like a fit, either party has the right to disengage.  

The focus of qualifying should be for the salesperson to ask questions about the business objectives the prospect wants to achieve, not on what the seller has to offer. At the end of the process, the seller will make his or her recommendations based on the answers to the qualifying questions and the prospect will give the seller a decision. No manipulation will be necessary by either party to gain an advantage. 

And we can finally say goodbye to product-focused presentations all about features and benefits too.  

Value proposition is a phrase that became ubiquitous during the 90’s (dot bomb?) era. You may still encounter this, or the “value messaging” term on a regular basis in the business world. Buzz word or not, value messaging will help quickly convey the value of your product or service without overwhelming or boring potential customers away in a landslide of features and benefits dumping.

Based on the research performed by Sirius Decisions, communication plays the biggest role in sales failures. The number one inhibitor to achieving your sales quota is the inability to communicate value messages, followed closely by an information gap, and then by having too many products to know.

Top Inhibitors to Achieving Sales Quotas
Insufficient leads: 13.3%
Poor sales skills: 16%
Too many products to know: 21.4%
Information gap: 24.3%
Inability to communicate value message: 26%

If you can’t articulate what your product is in a simple manner that is easy to digest, how do you expect customers to understand why they should choose you over the competition? To get you on the right track, here are three strategy development tips to work against these statistics and help you develop and convey a powerful value message:

    1. Learn about your customers – Develop an ideal customer persona.  First, from a demographic or “firmographic” perspective, do your research.  Learn about their market, what they sell, how much they sell, the organization size and the roles involved in the decision making process.  Next, conduct informational interviews within your network.  Talk to anyone in the industry who has been exposed to your ideal customer.  Even third hand knowledge can be valuable in preparing for the next step – which is to talk to your customers and/or prospects.  Find out about their goals, how they measure and track their success, and ask about their pain points.  Once you have a solid definition of your ideal customer persona, you’re equipped with the knowledge to successfully position yourself to appeal to your target audience.
    2. Demonstrate value – Take what you’ve learned about your customer; their pain points, needs and goals to start crafting a message that demonstrates the value of your product from their perspective. How will your product eliminate pain points and help them achieve daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals? Messaging that shows that you, the seller, understands the customer’s view point will make your message much more powerful than an organization that suffers from “Me Syndrome” and constantly talks about themselves and product capabilities.  Here are two examples of how you can paint a picture for the customer:
        • “Imagine a day without the stress of x, y, and z. With the time you save you’ll be able to accomplish twice as much of what you need to do.”
        • “Whether it’s daily, weekly or yearly we understand that goals are always top of mind. Let (product X) help reduce the time it takes to meet those goals by taking advantage of x and y capabilities.”
    3. Position and differentiate –What makes you different from your competitors? Is it your exceptional customer service, large number of capabilities, or the price of your product? Whatever it is, be sure to reiterate the difference across all sales and marketing channels, and especially when you’re physically speaking with a prospect or customer. Proper positioning involves being able to identify who you, as an organization are, and consistently demonstrate that to prospects and customers. A mistake some companies make is forgetting to consistently use the same positioning statements and language in sales and marketing when speaking about how they help your customers create value. Make sure what you’re saying on your website is demonstrated similarly on your social channels, in your marketing materials and through the words that sales reps use with customers. It sounds obvious, but unfortunately many organizations fail to do this.

Successful sales strategies are all about the creativity and adaptability that your sales management can create in conjunction with Marketing. Understanding your customer, demonstrating value and positioning yourself are all simple strategies to help streamline the sales process. Don’t fall into the 26% that are unable to communicate value messages about their product consistently and effectively.