Knowledge and consistency prove critical to success

Several times a week, after reviewing a client’s pipeline report of opportunities believed to have an 80% probability of closing in the next 30 days, I have to tell the VP of sales quite the opposite: “Trust me when I tell you that you’re not going to win the contract.”

These are tough words for anyone in sales to hear. Surprisingly, about half the time they respond defensively. “Well, with all due respect, I disagree with you. We have a great relationship with this customer.” And therein lies the problem. So I ask you this: How many times have you seen that “great relationship” customer choose a competitor? Probably too many to count.

Knowledge wins. In selling major contracts, it is not what you know that beats you, it’s what you don’t know. Bestin- class sales organizations understand this and build a structured, repeatable methodology for being able to retrieve missing information about a potential opportunity in order to advance the relationship. In other words, you learn what you don’t know. The questions you want answered include:

  • Who are the key decision makers (KDMs) and influencers (KDIs?)
  • What are the critical concerns and objectives by KDMs and KDIs?
  • Where is the gap between their desired state and actual state?
  • What is the decision criteria? How is it weighted?
  • What is the decision-making process? Individual? Committee vote? Consensus?
  • What is the driving force behind the decision? Why does the customer have to act?
  • Do we have someone on the inside (a mole, a sponsor) providing us information and insight?
  • How can we monetize our solution?

These are just a few of the questions you need to be able to answer effectively to ensure success. We have not even touched on your strengths and weaknesses versus the competition, political landscape and executive credibility. When the sales executive and team cannot answer most of the above mentioned questions, those opportunities result in a loss to a competitor or a no decision. Again, it’s not what you know that beats you, it’s what you don’t know. This applies to selling in any type of staffing.

Variation is the enemy. W. Edwards Deming, a noted quality expert, is credited with saying, “Minimize variation in any process, quality will inherently increase.” It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a golf swing, a manufacturing assembly line, a sales process or a recruiting process. If you can minimize variation in that process, quality will go up and defect will go down. The sales process is no different. Surgeon and bestselling author Atul Gawande wrote a New York Times best-seller about the extraordinary impact of the simple checklist called The Checklist Manifesto. In it, he looked at multiple industries and showed that utilizing a checklist will minimize variation and dramatically improve quality.

Unfortunately, too many sales leaders are still pushing activity for the sake of activity. If you do that, guess what you will get? That’s right, you’ll get a lot of sales activity. You will get a boatload of unqualified, uncultivated proposals. And you will lose exponentially more than you will win.

The world is flat. The sales/customer buying process has gone through significant change over the past five years. The problem is, the world is now “flat.” Prospective buyers have more insight about your company (website, newswire, Glassdoor), your salesperson (LinkedIn), your services and your competitors than you know about them. They hold the edge right now. They have the control. A recent survey by the Consumer Executive Board of 1,900 corporate decision makers found “buyers are, at a minimum, 57% of the way through the buying process before they contact a potential supplier. Some respondents reported being as much as 70% complete with the decision making process before reaching out to a vendor.”

Leading companies are using historical win-loss data, predictive analytics and customized diagnostic tools combined with social networking to build a world-class strategic sales program to improve win ratios and create extraordinary value for their customers. How do you stack up in these areas? Remember, it is not what you know that beats you — it’s what you don’t know.