How has the current economy impacted your company’s sales?
Maybe the more realistic question is, how hasn’t it?
In this uncertain economic environment, it’s up to you, the business leader, to ensure your team is leveraging every available advantage to drive sales.
Now’s the time to ask: Is your company and its sales team falling into any of the two most common self-sabotage traps?
While no sales professional would intentionally sabotage their own efforts, it happens all the time. Despite their best intentions, salespeople inadvertently―whether through a lack of training or a lack of awareness—undermine their credibility and alienate potential customers. It’s a frustrating but fixable issue.
Luckily for you, coaching your salespeople to adopt more effective strategies is possible. This starts with identifying the missteps in your approach and then teaching your team to address them.
Let’s delve into the two major ways your team might be sabotaging your sales opportunities.
Self-Sabotage Trap 1: The "Old Brain" and Dangling Insult
No salesperson in their right mind would insult a customer overtly, right? Yet, conventional sales techniques do precisely that. I’ve seen it with my own eyes: Salespeople unknowingly offend prospects and customers on a daily basis.
One example: A salesperson might introduce your solution by saying, “We save companies like yours from wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost …”
It sounds innocuous on the surface. But dig deeper, and you’ll see that standard sales-speak statements are often true but also contain dangling insults. After all, isn’t telling a customer that she is wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars implying that she isn’t doing her job very well?
Dangling insults are unintentional. Most sales professionals don’t realize their conventional sales pitch is an insult. It’s a common mindset: The salesperson thinks he is delivering a compelling message and connecting to the customer’s problem. But to the customer, it feels offensive.
Customers may react physically—crossing their arms or leaning back in their chairs, or verbally with, “We’re not losing anywhere near that much money.” Either way, the insult has landed, and your salesperson is on the way to losing respect and credibility—along with the sale.
But wait—it gets worse! The dangling insult is especially damaging when the salesperson maintains this approach even after meeting resistance.
The manner in which salespeople react to customers’ responses can clear the path to open communication or become a primary instrument of self-sabotage. Two areas of our brains are particularly problematic in sales situations: The brainstem and the limbic system, which scientists call the “old brain.”
The brainstem controls involuntary actions, while the limbic system generates basic emotions, such as fear and aggression. The old brain doesn’t interpret or analyze―it simply reacts to situations with lightning speed in six ways: attack, submit, flee, reproduce, nurture, or be nurtured.
So, what role does the “old brain” play in sales conversations?
Let’s continue with the example above. When the customer says, “We’re not losing anywhere near that much money,” the salesperson might counter, “I’m sorry, but I think you misunderstood …” or, “You probably don’t realize how much time and money IT-related activities cost companies like yours each year.”
This kind of response implies that the customer isn’t smart enough to understand the conversation or doesn’t know how to run their business. Both of these can further irritate the customer. The salesperson’s “old brain” is unconsciously engaged in self-protection at the expense of the customer, whose “old brain” strikes back to protect their self-esteem.
The salesperson’s intent was to drive interest, but what the customer heard is that they don’t know how to run their business effectively. That’s not an ideal start for your sales call.
Self-Sabotage Trap 2: Self-Commoditization
Self-commoditization is the most significant threat to success in selling high-value solutions.
So, what does this mean, exactly?
First, let’s define “commodity.” A commodity is a product or service that is bought and sold―think corn, coffee, or copper. Commodities are products available from multiple outlets that can be shopped for the lowest price.
If your company is self-commoditizing, it means your customers view your high-value solution as a commodity that can be shopped around for a better price.
Who’s to blame for this misunderstanding? Not the customer. More often than not, your sales processes and behaviors are the most significant contributing factor.
If your sales proposal conversion rate is decreasing, and the percentage of “no decisions” is increasing, your company may be commoditizing itself. If so, it’s time to examine and revamp your sales process.
There are two sub-traps of self-commoditization:
1. The first trap of self-commoditization is salespeoples’ tendency to depend on their customers’ decision-making process, which is often unsatisfactory, at best.
Think about it: Your customers are busy and stressed, yet you (and your competitors) suggest more changes and present them with an influx of data to sort through, comprehend, and connect to their unique business situation.
Remember: In the absence of a quality decision process, decisions will degenerate to the lowest common denominator—price.
Feeding good information into a flawed decision process will always yield suboptimal results.
To ensure that your customers have a high-quality decision process, you need to create it and make sure your salespeople are skilled in guiding customers through it. Just as a doctor, an attorney, or any other trusted advisor would do.
2. The second, closely related trap of self-commoditization is the assumption that customers are able to quantify the financial impact or actual value of the solution you’re offering.
Customers rarely have a viable method for measuring the value your solution will provide pre-sale. Even worse, left on their own, they may not be able to measure the value they have received from your solution post-sale.
If your customers cannot perceive the value you provide, it simply doesn’t exist.
That’s why it’s up to you to provide a measurement tool for the value your solution provides. Many sellers hedge on this, saying it's hard to put a monetary amount on the impact. Let me suggest that if you think it's hard, imagine how hard it is for your customers to determine the financial impact on their own.
Financial impact is a critical decision component, and customers will welcome your company’s guidance. To provide this guidance, first you need to create a conceptually sound formula, and then engage your customers in providing the data to complete the calculation.
So, where do you even start? Start by rethinking your sales conversations.
Let’s get into the things you and your team need to know to address these flaws in your sales approach.
The Solution to Self-Sabotaging Behaviors: Diagnostic Sales Conversations
We’ve just unpacked the two major self-sabotaging sales behaviors: The dangling insult and “old brain” approach, and self-commoditization, which includes relying on both your customers’ decision-making process and their ability to quantify the financial impact of your solution. I think we can agree that both of these factors are detrimental to sales.
So what can you do to stop self-sabotaging your efforts? How do you untrain these behaviors?
The first step is awareness. You cannot solve a problem until you recognize it. The second step is to get your salespeople to stop behaving like a salesperson. You want them to act like a curious scientist with your customer’s best interest in mind.
Diagnostic sales professionals work more like physicians, providing high-quality diagnostic services, prescribing and treating responsibly, and attempting to ensure optimal health for their “patients” (the customers). If you want to adopt a diagnostic mindset, you need to focus on exploring, measuring, and evaluating the physical symptoms of your customer’s situation. Only then can you confidently lead the customer to make an impactful decision.
When you communicate in diagnostic mode, you are working directly with situations customers have endured, are currently experiencing, or believe they will encounter in the future.
Until your sales team enlightens them, customers may not be aware that these “symptoms” represent significant risks, cause lost opportunity, and should be addressed.
How to Script Diagnostic Sales Conversations
The challenge is to equip sales professionals with a scripted diagnostic conversation and train them to guide customers through it while staying aware of self-sabotaging pitfalls.
There are three primary objectives to diagnostic conversations:
- Uncover the reality of the customer’s situation (Do these symptoms exist?)
- Quantify the impact of the problem (How bad is it?)
- Create the “Incentive to Change” (Is it serious enough to take action?) … but don’t inadvertently alienate the customer during the process
Here’s how you script your diagnostic: Gather the best minds from every critical area of your business. Ask this cross-functional, top-performing group the following question:
“Knowing what all of us know, if we were our customers, how would we go about deciding if we should make this purchase?”
List every question that customers should be asking you and your competitors to discern the best solution for them. Pay close attention to the questions you know customers rarely think of asking. These questions, when positioned correctly, will expand your customers’ awareness of the issues your value will address, increase your credibility, and ultimately differentiate you from your competition.
Well-scripted, thorough diagnostic sales conversations provide your customers with a way to make quality business decisions.
Embrace the Financial Diagnostic Formula
When it comes to great diagnostic sales conversations, the cherry on top is quantifying your product’s financial impact. That knowledge will incentivize customers to embrace the value solution you present.
To develop a financial impact formula, ask your cross-functional team the following:
- What are the top value impacts of our solution?
- In the absence of each value element, what consequences will customers experience?
- What are the cross-functional impacts of those consequences on their businesses?
- What various performance metrics are impacted by those consequences?
Blend the answers to those questions into a formula and diagnostic question flow that will empower your sales team to guide customers to “fill in the blanks.”
Be sure that the numbers plugged into your formula represent the customer’s current reality, not industry averages or old numbers. If the formula is sound, customers will be compelled to enter their data and own the answer.
Diagnostic Sales Conversations Drive Results
Providing your customers with a quality decision process - including a tangible measurement of your unique value proposition - is the most robust defense against the two major self-sabotaging sales traps.
By respectfully asking customers about their business from a diagnostic perspective, you eliminate dangling insults that put the old brain in defense mode, and avoid self-commoditization by quantifying the operational and financial value your product represents.
A quality sales diagnostic conversation builds exceptional trust and credibility, resulting in a customer who understands the value your solution offers and is ready to take action.
This valuable sales tool will differentiate you from competitors, create customers who trust and respect you, and drive more profitable sales results.
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