Sales: Hold yourself accountable and don’t make excuses

There’s a funny thing that happens when a selling opportunity wraps. If the sale is made, the salesperson swells with pride – “I did the deal!”

However, when the sale is lost, the salesperson scowls with frustration – “We lost because…”

Of course, saying “you can’t have it both ways” is just too obvious. Let’s go further. Humor and human nature aside, there’s a serious lesson to be drawn here about accountability. 

The Traditional salesperson is quick to find reasons – dare I say, excuses – why the sale was lost. The Business Resource (regular readers know that I see only two types of salespeople: Traditional and Business Resource), on the other hand, no matter the circumstances, always admits, “I was outsold” after a loss. Let’s take a look at typical scenarios to illustrate the difference between the two reactions.

“We lost on price.”

The Traditional salesperson might claim that the company’s price was just too high for him to sell it. After all, he believes, the product has become a commodity. 

The Business Resource, after “losing on price,” still says, “I was outsold,” acknowledging that he or she had failed to do one of two things:

• Help the customer see beyond price, or

• Recognize that this customer would never buy value.

“We didn’t have the feature(s) they wanted.”

This excuse is similar to price. The Business Resource would say, “I was outsold!” because I failed to:

• Realize early that the demand for this feature couldn’t be met and walk.

• 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 said, “I was outsold,” because, “Not only is it my job to win the customer but it’s also my job to make the competition lose!” The Business Resource is never content to say, “There’s no way I could have known.”

“It was political.”

This “we lost because” excuse has a tone of something underhanded going on, of unnamed/unknown parties cooking the deal. What is usually going on is that the Traditional salesperson has relied on selling to his or her contact or the mythical “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. He or she would have gotten in front of the right players for this deal. However, if the deal had fallen through for so-called political reasons, the Business Resource would acknowledge being outsold for not having done enough homework to decipher the political code at the account, never a victim of politics.

“They’re just 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.
Accepting accountability is a trademark of the Business Resource. Skirting it is a trademark of the Traditional salesperson. 

At a recent meeting with a client, 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, “We didn’t ‘lose the sale,’ 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 Traditional salesperson’s victim mentality. 

Lastly, 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 and makes for stronger salespeople.


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