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What is The Problem Behind Your Sales Problem?

by Michael Webb | Comments (0)
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There is an interesting saying among psychotherapists that goes:

“Don’t try to solve anyone’s problems until you find out why they like having them.”

Think about that. Therapists know they can’t solve any patient’s problem until they understand the story hidden behind the problem.

Now, please don’t think I’m saying sales organizations need therapy, or that sales executives like having problems!

What I want you to get is the idea that when someone is not doing what you want them to, there is a problem behind the problem. If the sales training doesn’t stick, if salespeople are not following the process, that is not the real problem.

The real problem is lurking behind it some where. Perhaps hidden measures or incentives will penalize them, or perhaps they are afraid.

Managers tend to blame sales problems on the fact that salespeople’s work is done out of site, they generally crave independence, so you have less control over salespeople than other employees. However, those are not the main issue.

The main issue for making the sales funnel flow faster is finding what the real problem is.  The whole point of process improvement is to understand the problem behind the problem so you can address it and fix it once and for all.

There is no other way to succeed in the long term.

Examples of Not Knowing the Problem Behind the Sales Problem

There are tons of examples of this in the business world. Here are three to consider (these may be considered entertaining, unless you are one of the people who had to live through them!)

  • Forecast Accuracy vs Volume of Opportunity
    One talented Sales VP in a large technical services business told me how his company president spent over a million dollars on a CRM system because he was frustrated with poor forecast accuracy.

    Unfortunately, forecast accuracy was not the real problem.

    When the CRM project was finished, the president got his accurate forecast. Trouble is, it projected less than half of what the business plan called for. Layoffs ensued.

  • Closing Skill, vs Defining Your Terms
    Another time I was a sales trainer called in to an electrical utility company. The sales team wasn't making the numbers, the pipeline was full, so management at the company believed their salespeople “didn’t know how to close."

    Needless to say, closing skill was not the problem.

    A few minutes discussion with the salespeople revealed there was almost nothing in common with the deals in their sales funnel. The real problem was that no one in the company had actually settled on what a qualified sales opportunity actually was.  Once we helped them do that, the close ratio moved from less than 15% to almost 50% in a matter of weeks.

    Of course, the sales pipeline that once appeared full was now meager. Understanding the realities of the situation enabled the team to deal with it effectively.

  • Selling Activity vs Having Ready Prospects
    In a third example, the senior executive of a software company observed that salespeople were often able to close orders shortly after prospects conducted proof of concept installations. The executive concluded that his problem was salespeople should do more proof of concept installations.

    Proof of concept installs are expensive and time consuming because they are customized to the prospect’s environment. Never the less, the executive initiated a program to give salespeople big bonuses when their prospects agreed to do them.

    Needless to say, salespeople complied. Costs went up, salespeople got bonuses, but revenue did not increase. Lots of companies can be talked into doing a proof of concept if someone else is paying the freight. The real problem was finding more prospects who were ready to buy the system in the first place.

In each of these cases, smart, well-educated, well intentioned people did not understand what they were dealing with. They dealt with the apparent problem, but were defeated by the underlying issue behind it.

This happens so often in sales and marketing, doesn’t it make you wonder whether executives might actually like having these problems?

Have you seen this sort of thing happen before? Please leave a comment and tell me your story. I’d love to hear about them!

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