Years ago, while I was working for a company in the sales trenches, a fellow salesperson was always struggling to make his number. He would fight and claw to get approval on small opportunities that were not really in our sweet spot. He would go to the mat to get a discount for a prospect that wasn’t quite right for our business – happy to negotiate internally with our boss to get the client a better deal rather than stand his ground and get them to pay what our services were worth.

Two Factors and a Need

I didn’t realize it at the time, but upon reflection there were two major factors, made worse by a significant need, that caused my co-worker’s struggles.

The two forces at work:

  1. This salesperson struggled with some missing Sales DNA. It manifested itself in a couple different ways. He had a “Need for Approval” from his prospects and customers. And he probably was afflicted with a touch of personal “Negative Purchasing Habits” (where he felt he needed to get the best deal for himself and assumed that it is how others bought as well).
  2. I am certain he struggled with these issues since I now know that 58% of salespeople need to be liked more than they need to close the business, and 72% of salespeople have personal purchasing habits that sabotage their sales success.
  3. He was without a Hedgehog. What do I mean? Well, in Jim Collins best-selling book, “Good to Great,” he discusses the concept. It’s based on a saying in an ancient Greek fable, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Collins writes that a company should have a Hedgehog, a focused set of products or services that it can strive to be the best at, since no company can be the best at all things.
  4. The most successful companies (the “great companies” in the book) have this Hedgehog. They make marketing decision based upon it. They decide to pursue business or reject business based upon it. In short, they strive to OWN the Hedgehog in their market.
  5. Salespeople would be wise to establish and focus on a Hedgehog in their business too. But leaders must help them to articulate it, drive it home and consistently (not sometimes) keep the focus on the core business. Be true to the Hedgehog and give your salespeople the lanes to play in by articulating the differentiators that make your company great based on what your clients get from your products and services.

Why My Co-Worker Struggled

A lack of Sales DNA and the missing Hedgehog were the forces that propelled my co-worker to fight to discount every deal and argue to do business outside our core focus. But the real, underlying reason why these two forces were in play was because his behavior was not managed. He had an empty pipeline with inadequate prospects for the future. Thus, he had stress, fear and anxiety. So, he was desperate for every deal. He resorted to what my friend Casey Brown, president of Boost Pricing calls “fear-based discounting.”

The Remedy

To fix this all, focus on behaviors, ones that fill the pipeline and ones that improve the conversation during the call. Reduce the emphasis purely on results and help change the actions of salespeople who have a tendency to fight for every deal, and for discounts on behalf of the client. Since their pipeline will now be full, there is no desperation associated with any one sales opportunity.

Finally, coach salespeople to improve their Sales DNA while being very clear and precise about your company’s Hedgehog. That means making sure the entire team knows what your company does better than others. Then have everyone drive a truck through it.