On a regular basis, executives reach out to me because they believe their salespeople have a major problem that is killing their business. What is the problem? Closing! “My salespeople can’t close,” they say.
I always respond by asking what they mean. “Are they unable to ask for the order?”
“No, that’s not the problem,” they say.
“What then is the closing problem you are experiencing?” I ask.
That’s when the floodgates open.
“My salespeople tell me about deals they are pursuing and how confident they feel about winning them. Then, they get to the final stage of the new client acquisition process and the deals unravel. Some prospects stop responding to them. Others develop a litany of concerns, objections, and stalls as the deals go nowhere. For the deals we are able to win, we have to drop prices to unacceptable levels. All of that can be summed up as, ‘We have a closing problem.’”
I thank the executives for sharing this information with me and proceed to disagree with their assessment of the problem. “Based on what you shared with me, you don’t have a ‘closing’ problem,” I tell them. “Closing is a symptom of the actual issue you are experiencing.”
Puzzled by my response, they ask, “What is the actual issue my salespeople have?”
This leads to a lengthy conversation about a foundational issue across the sales profession. The root cause isn’t at the finish line. It’s not about winning the deal. Rather, the problem resides at the starting line, at their handling of the discovery phase of the new client acquisition process.
The mistake that many companies make is they don’t prescribe the discovery process. They merely tell their salespeople to have discovery meetings. Yet, these are the critical meetings where key information is acquired, the beginnings of meaningful differentiation occur, and the relationship foundation is developed. Why leave this important step to chance?
One of my favorite questions to ask executives is, “If all your salespeople called you and said they just had a great discovery meeting, what would you know, for certain, took place during that meeting?
The most common response I hear: “Not a darn thing!”
The reason for that is they have never prescribed the handling of discovery. How does that approach make sense? The salespeople are selling the same suite of products to the same people in the same marketplace. Why would that be left undefined? An executive certainly wouldn’t take that approach in operations. If they hired 10 people to manufacture their widget, they wouldn’t let them assemble it as they see fit. Why? Mistakes would continually be made. Quality would be inconsistent. Scalability would be nearly impossible. Best practices wouldn’t be leveraged.
The same holds true with discovery. If you want to improve your prospect to client conversion rate, invest time in prescribing the discovery phase of the process. Start by defining success with an introspective question. Imagine the meeting is over. “It was a great meeting if what was accomplished?”
In other words, identify the outcomes that meet your criteria for a successful discovery meeting. With that question answered, the next introspective question to ask is, “What will I ask, say and do to achieve each outcome?” Every outcome on the list needs a plan to achieve it.
This straightforward strategy development approach gives clarity, consistency and focus to discovery resulting in improved conversion ratios and helps you win more deals at the prices you want!
This article is excerpted from Lee Salz’s new book, “Sell Different!: All New Sales Differentiation Strategies to Outsmart, Outmaneuver and Outsell the Competition.” When you order “Sell Different!” today, you’ll gain access to Lee’s “Sales Differentiation Minute” video series. For 52 weeks, you will receive an email with a video link in which Lee brings the concepts in Sell Different! to life helping you put them into practice. Email your receipt to email@example.com to register. Learn more here.