blog article
Tony J. Hughes
Tony J. Hughes
min read

No sense of mission or purpose for the difference you’re making in the lives of others. Intent is everything... potential customers can smell it. There is nothing more repelling than having 'sales breath' where you're all about yourself and making your sale rather than being all about them and the outcomes they need to achieve while managing risk. What difference do you make in the lives of your customers... personally and professionally? Be clear about the answer and ensure all of your salespeople are too. As a sales manager, make sure you're all about your people rather than yourself and that you act in the best interests of your people, your customers, and your company.

No strategy. Every organization is political in nature and this means that there are competing priorities and hidden agendas. You need a strategy for managing relationships and engineering best value for the customer while creating a comparative bias toward the strengths of your team, your company, and your solution. Strategy need not be complicated but you must know how you can change the rules on the competition, kill the customer's apathy, and embed yourself in a compelling business case where there is an inbuilt bias toward what you do best in the market.

Failure to be data-driven and leverage technologies. Average deal size is shrinking, the number of people to cover in an account is increasing, sales cycles are taking longer, and there is increased competition. All of this means that you and your salespeople must apply effort where it will be most productive. Treasure time, fully embrace your CRM system, leverage LinkedIn's Sales Navigator, harness data intelligence tools that provide direct dials and the insights that create context and 'warm' engagement. Leverage the strengths of weak ties to never make cold calls yet go get punch drunk on the phone while your competition has slipped into 'snoozer mode' of passive social selling. Combinations of technology and driving concurrent channels of outreach are how the best are crushing quota.

Having the wrong conversations. No-one is interested in what you do and how it works until they first see you as someone who can help them achieve the important outcomes they are accountable for in their role. Lead with why conversations matter and be specific about the opportunities you see for them to improve revenue, reduce costs, increase profitability and have a positive impact on the metrics by which they are measured and personally that matter to them. Have a 'hypothesis of value' about how they could improve their business based on what you're seeing with other customers who have a similar profile. Make your narrative all about them rather than yourself!

No sense of urgency. Time kills deals. Momentum is difficult to create and so very easy to lose. Treasure every opportunity and constantly think about how you can create progression every day with each stakeholder in every opportunity. What's the next step? What are the key milestones and dates? Who needs to be on board to achieve consensus and in order for a decision to be made? Hope and prayer is not a strategy... success is earned. Between the opening and the close is the middle... the middle is the place where many deals die. Your biggest risk is usually complacency. Constantly ask why it matters and what happens if it slips. If there is a not a 'compelling event' then there had better be a compelling business case.

Poor discipline. We must do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and regardless of how we feel. Time-blocking is essential so tat we do the important rather than the alluring or ‘urgent’. Every day, we need to time-block and execute prospecting preparation, prospecting execution, LinkedIn network-building, CRM hygiene. Adopt the strategy of planning and then allowing your calendar to drive your activities.

Beyond going through the motions, we need to also execute masterfully. The discipline of training and repetitive correct execution is the hallmark of the very best in their field. No-one today talks about this more credibly than Jacko Willink... watch this video... amazing.

Poor execution. Having a rubbish narrative and not executing the fundamentals is the most common reason for sales failure. If you can't secure meaningful conversations with the people of power and set the right agenda, then you're working with someone else's agenda. The customer forms an opinion of us quickly and we need to earn their trust and respect at every stage and through every interaction. Many deals are lost by the seller tripping over their own shoelaces. Can we write professionally and do we proof-read? Do we turn up on time? Have we done our research? Do we have insight? Is our demo relevant? Are our slides on point and all about them not us? Do we ask the right open questions? The list goes on... make every post a winner. You and your team need to all do the basics well.

Failure to manage deal risk. It's the things you can't see that can hurt you the most. be positively paranoid because politics abound and your competitors are always plotting and scheming. Risk is especially present whenever you do a demo, introduce other people to your deal (your team and reference customers). Beyond competitor risk, deals typically slip or disappear for a combination of these reasons:

1. Lack of compelling commercial value in the eyes of the buyer. ‘Compelling events’ are actually rare, and it is best to focus on the reason that a purchasing investment should be a priority for allocating their precious time and resources to a change program?

2. Lack of consensus with everyone who will play a role in implementation and adoption. Beyond the people we think can say ‘yes’, who can say ‘no’ or ‘not now’?  Is everyone on board and comfortable with change?

3. Nasty surprise in the buyer’s process. Do we have an agreed ‘close plan’ which has been positioned with the customer as a ‘project alignment plan’ that clearly shows all of the events within a timeline for decision, approval and procurement to execute?  Remember that ‘time kills deals’ so everyone needs a sense of urgency.

What could go wrong? What nasty surprise could be lurking beneath the surface? You must watch this video!

Failure to manage expectations. Let's face it... your boss is a lunatic who has an insatiable appetite for ever-increasing performance results and no regard for your personal life. They are happy to burn you out, throw you under the bus or melt you with their blow torch. You must manage their expectations. Customers are also crazy as they bark orders for you to jump through hoops and dance to their discord. They adopt ill-conceived strategies for managing their risks and often unwittingly work against themselves. It's essential to positively influence their process, set the right agenda, then 'culturally' align. Ensure you have alignment with their process and reasonable goals and achievable time-frames. Be proactive early and know that yes-people are not respected.

Lack of humility and willingness to learn. Lifelong learning is the hallmark of the smartest humble people on the planet. Conversely, salespeople must be the worst readers on the planet. So many sellers think they know it all and have no need of improvement. Curiosity and a willingness to learn is what transforms a sales career. The best sales managers have their people on a reading program and they test whether they actually read or listen to the books, watch the videos, do the research. They turn sales meeting into sessions that actually provide value for the salespeople rather than cadence forecast meetings.

Wrong people in your life. The books you read and the people in your life largely determine your future and our success. Choose mentors carefully and feed your mind and soul with those who positively challenge and inspire. For anyone to call themselves a ‘sales professional’ they must be committed to continuous learning and mastery of their tools of trade.

At the end of the day, the #1 reason salespeople miss their targets is that they fail to execute the daily habit of building consistent quality sales opportunity pipeline. Healthy pipeline is truly to cure of most other ills in selling.  This is why it is so important to have clarity about your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), knowing your Buyer Personas, nailing your message or conversation narrative, pre-empting or reframing push-backs or objections, and asking the most insightful questions. The best sellers are masters at opening and create a focus on the customers business case, or the commercial value, for change – rather than allowing the buyer to obsess on comparison with you competitor and drive downward pressure on price.  You can learn about all of these things in the Create Pipeline program from Sales IQ Global.

About Tony Hughes: Tony is a keynote speaker, best-selling author and award-winning blogger with 35 years of sales leadership experience. He consults to some of the best-known brands globally and has taught for The University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and University of New South Wales. Tony is also co-founder and Sales Innovation Director at Sales IQ Global.

About the author

Tony J. Hughes
Tony J. Hughes

Tony is a co-founder of Sales IQ, committed to elevating professional selling and sales leadership for a Better Business World.

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