Do your sales teams "get it?" Or are they battling for every inch of their success? Are they following your b2b sales strategies best practices?
I was recently in contact with an individual trying to sell their services to my agency. To say the least, it. Was. Painful.
They broke some of the most important rules of sales almost right away, and it got me thinking about you. Well, it got me thinking about my favorite self-improvement book, "How to Win Friends & Influence People" by Dale Carnegie, whose entire message centers around alignment.
It got me thinking about you, the sales leaders of this world, because many of your salespeople are doing these things every single day, and your numbers are suffering from it - greatly.
Whatever you do, don't let them make THESE FIVE TERRIBLE mistakes that a recent prospective vendor did with me when trying to close the deal!
Life is full of tests...
I like testing people... employees, vendors, clients, candidates, etc... I like testing for engagement when it comes to prospects, and people's ability to meet deadlines and follow instructions when it comes to vendors, freelancers, or potential business partners.
Some of you may see this as manipulation (particularly those who fail my tests), but I view it differently, and I think most business leaders whose time is constantly sought after feel the same. We don't have time or resources to take chances on every Tom, Dick, and Harry that walks in the door. And if we can identify unfavorable characteristics prior to engaging, we can save ourselves a LOT of time, frustration, and MONEY - all of which are very important.
We don't get paid by the hour, so wasted time is wasted money.
So, I'm constantly evaluating peoples' responses to me, and will rate them based on how and when they react. After all, as a business owner, it's my money, business, and reputation on the line if something goes wrong.
Even though there are no universal rules requiring me to do so, I will often provide direct, honest feedback to people who fail my tests. I don't do it to be mean, but rather, to provide closure and an opportunity to learn. Sometimes I learn something too.
I built a career out of taking harsh criticism to heart and making adjustments. I wished that I received the feedback from more than my managers and supervisors, and often sought out negative reviews as a way to uncover problems... even if they were "just" problems with perception... after all, perception is kind of everything.
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In one of my examples today, I do just that - provide direct feedback, so the person selling to me can walk away with something of value, even though I decided not to buy from them.
They didn't respond well, but that's on them.
Here are five rules they followed during our initial contact, and why they ruined their chances with me forever.
1. Gloss over the details
I know that attention to detail isn't a natural strength for most sales people. They're expected to operate at extremely high levels all the time, and details can often slip through the cracks.
But to what end result?
For this particular individual, it resulted in losing the sale, because they, not once, but TWICE, missed critically important details, and we were only beginning to get conversations off the ground.
What did they do?
I was sick last Monday, and was out for the count with a 102 degree temperature. With about 4 hours notice, I emailed the contact to let them know that I would not make the appointment, and asked them to pick a time the following day by clicking on the appropriate link in my email signature.
In fact, the email went exactly like this (click here to access the LinkedIn conversation on the subject):
"Hi (prospective vendor),I woke up with a 102 degree fever today, and am bed-ridden. Can we move our call to tomorrow? Just click "book a meeting" in my signature to pick a time that works for you."
If you received an email like that, with literally nothing more than a signature following it, would you have gotten this detail right?
She didn't. Instead, this was her response:
"I'm so sorry to hear that you are sick. Yes, tomorrow at the same time works perfectly. Feel better."
Being that I missed Monday, I was overwhelmed on Tuesday playing catch up while still fighting whatever it was that I was fighting. I was instantly annoyed when I saw that they didn't follow my simple instructions in a rather simple email. To top it off, she was asking for a time that wasn't even available, so I was double annoyed. And actually, that's the point of the scheduler... to remove the need for me to personally coordinate times...
Then I forgot about it, because I had a million other things going on. That's the nature of my job, and one of the reasons why I spell things out clearly up front.
A day went by, and she pinged me again asking when we can reschedule. Okay, so she opened the email again, and STILL managed to miss that single detail. But I give her a chance anyway, and reply with a short, "I am feeling better, thank you. Can you please click "book a meeting" in my signature and pick a time for tomorrow that works for you?"
Later, when it came time to jump on the call, she didn't actually open the calendar invite, which showed explicit instructions on how to call into the conference line. So, she missed the actual call!!!
Details, details, details....
2. Pass the buck whenever possible
There is nothing more infuriating than people who don't pay attention to details - except those who refuse to accept responsibility.
When this prospective vendor selling their services to me didn't show up, her response to my email asking where she was came 4 hours later AND it was an apology embedded with an excuse... which makes it anything BUT an actual apology.
She said she put her number on the scheduler, which is true. She said she was waiting for me to call her office phone... which may have also been true. Opening the calendar invite would have shown her instantly that she needed to call in, and when I didn't call her after 5 minutes, she should have been worried.
But I get the impression that she isn't very organized, because she's not actively looking at her calendar. If YOUR sales people decided to not look at their schedules, wouldn't you question whether they were in the right profession? How does she know when any of her calls start? Is this how she expects our relationship to be?... with me always chasing her down when she doesn't read my emails?
I have always lived and died by my calendar, and when a prospect is 2 minutes late to a call, I alert my assistant to track them down, or do so myself. I'm the one selling, and a disengaged prospect is typically my fault... that's how I see it.
3. Don't take criticism in stride - DENY DENY!
After this 3rd glaring mistake, I decided it wasn't worth pursuing anything further with this individual. I also decided to give them ONE last chance...
I know, I'm too nice.
Except, that I didn't just move forward with another meeting. I gave them yet another test with the following email:
"I understand that miscommunications happen, and I thank you for the apology. I use this first contact as an opportunity to gage people's ability to follow instructions. When I rescheduled with you initially, I asked you to click on my email signature to pick a different time. I think the request was clear, but you missed it. In this instance, the calendar invite was very clear about where we were to meet, but you missed that as well.
Given the sometimes chaotic nature of our business, I find this lack of attention to detail concerning. We have a big team working on this project, extremely tight deadlines, and a very demanding client, so we can't afford missed communications like this. For that reason, I'm going to pass on rescheduling our interview.
Thank you for your time, and I wish you good fortune."
What would you do if you received criticism as direct and to the point as that? Would you get upset? Would you get angry at me? Or would you use this as a learning opportunity and remember it the next time you had a hot deal in the pipe?
4. Apologize, but don't actually apologize
Dale Carnegie makes a great point about this in his book. Over-apologize. That's the ticket... even when you're not wrong... if your salespeople are defending themselves against criticisms all the time, they're losing a TON of sales opportunities, because nobody likes a buck-passing excuser.
Unfortunately for this poor applicant, they didn't see it that way. They were insulted, and instead of taking the high road, they moved into school-yard mode...
Their apology was for "the miscommunication." They didn't actually own the outcomes...
5. Respond to adversity with ego
This was her response (remember, she still hasn't lost the sale prior to sending it - although, she didn't know this):
"I'm sure you've seen my signature as well as my LinkedIn. We are an award-winning company that continues to be highly recommended. As a result, we have moved to referral based clients only. In addition, we build revolutionary products while securing millions of dollars for clients through marketing and social media. That being said, the only reason I reached out to you is because I'm on the (redacted) database from time to time and saw your post and thought we could help you. It's highly unprofessional to play or participate in such antics. I have an online scheduler and it's much more seamless than yours. In addition, you had to reschedule not I or my company so technically standard protocol is that you should initiate the rescheduling details. The only "attention to details" that was missed are on your end. It also appears that you lack professional courtesy and understanding of best business practices.
Thank you for your email but we definitely recognize why you need such assistance and hopefully your company will still be a success if you heed to our feedback and the feedback of others. We are thankful to be in a position where we don't have to deal with ignorant practices to secure projects. Good Luck to you!"
Can I buy a vowel, Alex?
What, exactly, is going through this person's mind at this point? Seriously. I would like to know! Was it pure gut reaction? Or do they think that they're somehow benefiting themselves by posturing up like that? They don't do anything unique or proprietary. They don't have some esoteric knowledge that I need. They provide services that a million others provide. So, relationships are everything!
When I took this conversation to LinkedIn, nobody knew the answer. People responded with "spot on" in reference to my original email, and gave me props for taking minutes out of my day to help this person's career.
If this prospect had only taken a breath and let the words sink in before their emotional response... maybe they could have put ego aside and actually landed the deal.
We'll never know for certain though, because they instead chose to prove to me how right my instincts were.
"Spot on," even.
Pride is a funny thing... it often looks and feels like confidence to the person wearing it, but it doesn't quite work the same way... quite the opposite, actually. Confidence would have helped this person realize that there was something to learn, and that it's okay to be vulnerable. NONE of us are perfect. Had they shown vulnerability by apologizing and taking ownership of their mistake, not only could they have learned a valuable lesson, but they may have even earned a client.
How do your salespeople respond to adversity? Do you ever run role playing workshops to find out? How do you keep your finger on the pulse to make sure they are responding with professionalism and not dragging your company's name through the mud?
To learn about how we can help your sales teams address some of their biggest challenges, check out our sales enablement services: