When Can You Trust Salespeople’s Opinions?

Kathryn Roy

“If a salesperson tells me something won’t work with customers, there’s a 95% chance that they’re right.

If a salesperson tells me something will work with customers, there’s a 50% chance that they’re right.”

It is not unusual for independent research to uncover that many, if not all, “differentiators” salespeople have been stressing don’t resonate with prospects.

Here’s an example:

After a board member insisted they conduct market research, a firm with a profitable installed base that was struggling to sell new products learned:

“You’re talking about things that people don’t care about and you’re not talking about what they do care about.”

Prior success made them overconfident that they were good judges of what customers cared about – even with new offerings that they lacked experience selling.

Prospects aren’t always up front with salespeople. Sometimes they’ll frankly tell you why something doesn’t appeal to them or that what you’re saying is exactly the same as what the last competitor told them. This is valuable information to pass on.

But often, prospects use a generic excuse like, “No one is getting budget this year” to cut off further debate. The salesperson is left in the dark about the prospect’s true reaction.

Companies that find themselves without a differentiator their prospects care about may hesitate to conduct research out of fear that there’s no hope of finding a true differentiator.

These companies can go through cycles of messaging and presentation revisions and blaming the presentation creators. They should instead marshal resources where they can pay off: finding segments that value their differences, investing in creating greater differentiation, or both.

Sales training courses can inadvertently exacerbate the problem of using weak or inappropriate differentiators. Sales trainers sell programs for fixed prices. Their schedule and budget doesn’t include unlimited research until bulletproof differentiators are uncovered. In a crunch, they take what the sales and marketing team tells them as gospel. After your company has invested in sales training and reworked sales materials, how likely are you to investigate whether an underlying premise is flawed?

If years have elapsed since your company last tested its value proposition, differentiators and key messages with prospects, it may be time to commission new research. Prospects’ conditions change and competitors adjust to your positioning. Validating messaging can also help clarify which segments care about which attributes.

Kathryn Roy is the founder of Precision Thinking, a B2B marketing and sales consultant. She has over 25 years of experience helping some of the most successful and fastest-growing B2B technology companies – including IBM, Constant Contact, Avid, AT&T – boost the effectiveness of their sales and marketing organizations. Prior to founding Precision Thinking, she was CMO on the turnaround team that took Phase Forward public.  You can email her at Kathryn@precisionthinking.com.