“Well the buyers,
were just liars.”
Recently I was riding Amtrak up to Boston when a cell-phone toting sales person sitting in the row of seats behind me uttered this deathless couplet. It was the last day of the sales month and my fellow passenger, who I will call Jon, clearly was attempting to rationalize his failure to close a much-needed piece of business to one of his bosses.
Jon’s unintentional verse was almost Shakespearean in the tale of drama, treachery and tragedy it told in just six short words. It combined a scathing indictment of the fecklessness of the prospective customer with a transparent attempt to shed any responsibility for his obvious failure to win an order that he had no doubt forecast with a high degree of certainty in an attempt to a) curry favor and ingratiate himself with his bosses, or b) keep his job.
How often have you been caught in this trap, where you were forced to defend the indefensible? Or have managed a sales person who over-committed on a forecast and the customer didn’t come through as they had predicted. In these situations, the vociferousness with which a salesperson defends their actions, or refuses to take responsibility for them, is usually in inverse proportion to their level of understanding of the customer’s intentions.
Selling is a team effort. For a team to succeed every player has to fully understand the role they play on the team. And, one of the most essential members of your sales team is your prospect. Selling is not something that happens to a prospect. They fully participate in the process (though they like to call it buying). Like any individual player your prospect has to be fully informed about the role they are playing and the expectations you have for their performance in order for the team to achieve its goals.
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In essence this means nothing more than effectively qualifying, and continually re-qualifying, your prospect as they move through their buying process. Which means revisiting hard questions about your value and suitability for their needs, their budget and their timeframe for making a decision.
I only heard the last line of the conversation between Jon and his boss, who I’ll call Tracy. But I can easily imagine how the conversation transpired before Jon came onboard the train.
“Hey, Tracy. This is Jon.”
“How’s it going?”
Silence. Tracy was not going to make this easy for Jon.
“Uh, so we just finished the meeting with Consolidated.”
Silence. Tracy liked torturing salespeople with his silence.
“Well, uh, it didn’t go as we hoped.”
“So, what you’re saying is that you didn’t have a plan for the call? Just hope?”
“No, no, I had a plan.”
“Then what happened?”
“They decided to defer their decision.”
“For how long?”
“They wouldn’t say.”
“Couldn’t say? Or, wouldn’t say?”
“Uh, well, I don’t know.”
“Actually, Jon, it sounds like they have made their decision.”
“No, not at all.”
“We’ll see, won’t we? Wasn’t it just last week that you were absolutely positive that you were going to close the Consolidated order this month?”
“Well, the buyers were just liars.”