Be accountable

Here’s a subject that came up in a client meeting last week and caused no small amount of – very understandable – discomfort within the group of salespeople in the room. But it has a happy ending.

We were discussing the sales team’s responses to what I call my company’s mindset assessment. The Mindset Assessment is not a skills diagnostic tool. It measures how salespeople are wired to think about their jobs and what it takes to succeed therein.

The question that caused the collective anxiety was: “Select the three most common reasons that explain why you (that is, you yourself, not the company as a whole) lost deals in the last two years.”

There are eleven reasons to choose from, including, just by way of example, “price,” “customer didn’t understand our value,” “I was simply outsold,” and “politics inside the account.”

I’d like to invite you to use your own imagination to come up with several more possible responses then think about how you would respond to this question.

OK, did you answer? Great! Now, are you ready for the right response? There is only one: “I was simply outsold.”

What? Are you telling me that every time I lose it’s because I screwed up? No, I am most assuredly not. At the same time, if I were to ask you if you did every possible thing that mortal man could do to win the sale, how would you respond? Maybe we can meet in the middle somewhere.

There’s a funny thing that happens when a selling opportunity wraps. If the sale is made the salesperson is sometimes heard saying things like, “I did the deal!” However, when the sale is lost the salesperson might be heard saying, “We lost because…” Of course, saying you can’t have it both ways is just too obvious. Let’s go further.

There’s a lesson to be drawn in this question. And it’s not a lesson about blame. It’s about control. It speaks to the need for salespeople to embrace the reality that they have far more control over outcomes than they might think.

Let’s take a look at typical scenarios to illustrate the difference between the two reactions (“We lost because…” and “I was simply outsold”).

“We lost on price.” As a salesperson, I might claim that my company’s price was just too high for me to sell it. After all, I believe, the product has become a commodity.

On the other hand, if I’m wired to believe that I have more control over outcomes than most salespeople believe, then, after “losing on price,” I say to myself, “I was outsold,” acknowledging that I “failed” to do one of two things:

  • Help the customer see beyond price, or
  • Recognize that this customer would never ever buy on anything but some kind of apples to apples price and, therefore, cut my losses early or fundamentally change the buying criteria to allow me to win on price—but not in the apples to apples way the customer is expecting.

“We didn’t have the feature(s) they wanted.” This one is similar to price. Here, I would say that “I was outsold” because I failed to:

  • Realize early that the demand for this feature couldn’t be met by my company and walk away from the deal
  • Figure out how to sell around this feature, or
  • Get the feature built.

“It was political.” Shame on me for not remembering that the notion of a “decision-maker” is an illusion. For not remembering that the customer’s organization is a network of politics and influence. And, for not remembering that if I approach it the right way, I really can figure out what’s happening politically in the account.

“Competition had the inside track.” In this case, I would have said, “I was outsold” because, I know that not only is it my job to win the customer but it’s also my job to make the competition lose. I believe I can control how much competitive insight I get, including who the competition is connected to in the account and how politically powerful those people are in the account’s political structure. I would have – should have – understood my competition’s core message and positioned my core message in a way that distinguished my offering and company from the competition.

“They’re just not moving ahead.” When the customer appears to have gone into permanent indecision mode, it’s probably because I failed to see that the opportunity was never as real or hot as it seemed – or I desperately wanted it to be – in the first place.

I think you see the pattern here, right?

This one question from the assessment was a light bulb moment for most of the team. For me, I felt like I was witnessing some kind of real-time personal metamorphosis as I observed their eyes seemingly shift from a deer in the headlights as they wrestled with the personal implications of the question to a look of exhilaration at the possibility that they in fact can control outcomes far more than they ever imagined…just by embracing four simple words: I was simply outsold!

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