I was outsold! – Three very important words for salespeople to say

I was outsold! – Three very important words for salespeople to say

By Jerry Stapleton and Nancy McKeon, for SBT

Humor and human nature aside, there’s a serious lesson to be drawn here about accountability. The traditional salesperson is quick to find reasons why the sale was lost due to factors beyond his or her control. The Business Resource, on the other hand, admits, "I was outsold."
Let’s take a look at typical scenarios to illustrate the difference between the two reactions.

"We lost on price." The traditional salesperson (the vendor model) might claim that the company’s price was just too high. After all, the product is just a commodity. What’s really happened? The salesperson has:
— Failed to recognize that the customer would never appreciate value; or
— Failed to sell value.

In the same situation, the Business Resource would have cut losses early and not wasted time and resources pursuing a price-based sale or would have sold value, e.g., Total Cost of Ownership. And, by the way, one thing traditional salespeople should be asking themselves is: If our product is "just" a commodity, what does the company need me for anyway?

"We didn’t have the feature(s) they wanted." This excuse is similar to price. The Business Resource would:
— Realize this demand early and walk, again being mindful of company resources;
— Figure out how to sell around this feature; or
— Get the feature built.

"Competition had the inside track." This excuse is all too familiar. The traditional salesperson is content to say that there was no way he or she could have known a competitor was better positioned or changed the rules or made a last-minute concession. The Business Resource would have scoped the competition as part of the opportunity assessment. The Business Resource is fearless when it comes to asking the right questions and on keeping on top of developments in the sales cycle — never content to say, "No way I could have known."

"Damn, it was political." This "we-lost-because" excuse has a subtext of something underhanded going on, of unnamed/unknown parties cooking the deal. Whereas, what is usually going on is that the traditional salesperson has relied on his or her contact or the nominal "decision-maker" to win the deal.
The Business Resource understands that the notion of a "decision-maker" is an illusion, that the customer’s organization is a network of perfectly understandable (as opposed to underhanded) politics and influence and would have gotten in front of the right players for this deal.
If the deal falls through for political reasons or gets killed by senior management, the Business Resource would acknowledge that he or she hadn’t done enough homework to decipher the political code at the account, not that he/she was a victim of politics.

"They’re not moving ahead." When the customer appears to have gone into "permanent indecision" mode, it’s probably because the traditional salesperson failed to see that the "opportunity" was never as real or hot as it seemed in the first place. Most likely, the heat was generated by the salesperson relying on gut feel and misplaced optimism. To be more specific, the salesperson failed to identify the compelling business reason behind the purchase.
Accepting accountability is a trademark of the Business Resource; skirting it is a trademark of the traditional salesperson.

Recently, at a meeting with a client whose sales team is undergoing the transformation from the traditional mode of selling to the Business Resource mode, one of the sales managers recounted this experience. After learning that a hoped-for sale had been lost, he was walking down the hall when he suddenly stopped and thought to himself: "I was outsold."
It was a "light-bulb moment" for him. He turned his attention from dejection and self-pity to analysis — finding out what he could have done that he failed to do. And he experienced the exhilaration of realizing that he was no longer trapped in the behaviors and victim mentality of the traditional salesperson.
Management must create a healthy, constructive environment that fosters accountability. Everyone loses sales from time to time. Don’t put salespeople on the defensive. Instead, work together to figure out what happened. It’s about helping your sales force contribute real value and about making the sale next time. Encouraging accountability is good business.

Jerry Stapleton and Nancy McKeon are with Stapleton Resources LLC, a Waukesha-based sales force effectiveness practice. They can be reached at 262-524-8099 or on the Web at www.stapletonresources.com.

Aug. 8, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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