Sales: Sales is not a numbers game

They say we’re going into an economic downturn. At least that’s what’s in all the papers.

If we are or aren’t, the mere thought of it seems to be striking fear into the hearts of many sales executives and business owners. I don’t want to minimize economic realities. But I would like to invite these same execs to, well, keep their heads on. 

A few weeks ago I read an article in a trade journal that addressed what sales execs around the country are doing to adjust to the looming slump. I was shocked to read how many of them were making the classic mistake of confusing motion for activity. “Just get in front of people,” seems to be the collective mantra.

Some were even going so far as to make the office a “no salesperson zone.” That’s right – off-limits! Gotta be in front of them customers, you know.  

Could we step back for a second?

I almost want to say, “good air in/bad

air out!”

Selling is not a numbers game! As a leader, if you communicate a message that it is, then you’re unwittingly telling your salespeople that they have no control over outcomes. 

There’s a statistical reality in sales: on average, salespeople spend 30 to 45 percent of their time on opportunities which, in retrospect, they were probably going to win anyhow.  They spend another 30 to 45 percent on opportunities which, in retrospect, they were almost certainly going to lose, no matter what they did.

Run some quick math, and you’re left with a paltry 10 to 40 percent of their time on opportunities that the salesperson truly determines whether they win or lose.

The message from leadership to the troops needs to be: spend less time on sure winners and sure losers and more time on the opportunities where success or failure turns on your involvement. Remember, salespeople have two jobs: helping customers see beyond price and committing resources according to potential return. They should hear that from you leaders often.

Here are five ways to help the

sales force spend time smartly (in good times or bad):

1.    Remind salespeople what their jobs are: “Commit company resources – especially your own time – according to potential return.” This doesn’t come naturally to salespeople so they usually need a lot of reinforcement.

2.    Remind them that the customer may be wrong: Heresy to most salespeople whose DNA has been coded with a customer-is-always-right gene. Salespeople invoke “doing it for the customer” the way politicians invoke, “doing it for the children.” Just because a customer wants something – usually time – doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. This is especially true when it’s a prospective customer.

3.    Tell them not to apologize for protecting their company’s resources: Protecting your own resources is one thing. Telling customers that that’s what you’re doing, well, that’s sacrilegious. At my company, we have a survey we’ve been using for several years. It gauges the mindset of client salespeople. One of the questions demonstrates that while many salespeople want to protect resources, less than 5 percent of them want customers to know that protecting their own company’s resources is important to them (they cite “appearing unresponsive” as their rationale). In short, they’re afraid to let customers know that their own company’s health is important. To me that’s astonishing. I can practically guarantee a double-digit improvement to the bottom line by successfully implementing this mindset shift alone.

4.    Leverage the phone: I’ve been saying for years that the phone remains the most under-leveraged tool in face-to-face sales. Customers don’t want or need to see our smiling little faces nearly as much as we might think. Sure, there are plenty of interactions that absolutely require face time. But know this: without exception, all top-performing salespeople in my client companies have a few things in common. Among the most prominent: they’re masters at leveraging the phone.

5.    Have – and use – a practical opportunity vetting process: All opportunities should continuously run through a strategic analysis process. The vetting categories to use should include: “urgency” (what business circumstances are forcing the customer to make this buying decision), “fit” (solution fit, business fit, and – believe it or not – philosophical fit), “winnability” (to what extent do powerful people want to buy from us?), and “payback” (speaks for itself).

Boom or bust, certain selling principles don’t change. “Sales is not a numbers game,” is one of them. “Motion is not activity,” is another.

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