Learning And Introspection Are Your Keys To Success In Sales
The sales process is often unpredictable and different for every deal. In B2B sales especially, there are a lot of moving parts and people involved that can easily throw things off course. Because of this, it’s easy to get stuck in a ‘reactive’ mode rather than a ‘proactive’ mode.
Underperforming salespeople fail in part because they aren’t taking the time to be introspective and reflect back on their own performance. You have to be willing to learn from your mistakes, otherwise they just become failures and you’ll never improve.
You should always be reviewing your own work to pinpoint where you made a mistake or missed an opportunity. It’s the only way to learn, and self-awareness is your key to improvement.
As the provider of a sales performance management solution, we’ve seen our fair share of missteps and learning opportunities from many different sales teams. We’ve talked to some of the experts on our own sales team, and they’ve shared some of the lessons they’ve learned (or have seen others learn) along the way.
1. Deals Can Go Sideways at Any Point
This goes back to the familiar saying, ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch.’ Never assume you have a sale in the bag until that contract is signed, sealed and delivered. Even if you get a ‘Yes, your product does what we need it to,’ that doesn’t necessarily mean the deal is closed and you can stop attending to it.
Never let your guard down or stop being proactive, and always be looking out for any potential issues. This requires active listening during your interactions with your prospective buyer – or anyone involved in the process – so you can assuage any potential objections or risks.
It’s best to have a discussion early on with your prospect to understand exactly what their approval process involves, that way there are no surprises and your estimated closing date isn’t constantly getting pushed back because of unexpected hold-ups.
No matter how experienced you are in sales, there are various stages in the buyer’s decision process that you might have failed to account for, so it’s important to understand the whole picture. For example, the legal side can be a lengthy process and set a deal back months from the expected close date, especially if your buyer is part of a large corporation.
You’ll want to know about any hoops you’ll have to jump through and be able to anticipate next steps.
2. Avoid the Game of Telephone
This brings us to another important tip: get everyone who needs to be involved in the sales process to the table early on.
Remember that childhood game called telephone? The whole class would stand in line and the teacher would whisper something to the first person, who then passed that message on to the person next to them, and so on, until the last person in line got the message and then had to repeat what they heard. Then the teacher would reveal the original message to compare.
It was always a completely different message by the end of the ‘telephone line’ – and that’s exactly what you don’t want to happen in your sales deal.
It’s crucial that you get everyone involved early in the sales process for this very reason. You’ll have more success if you understand the pain points and what the buyer is looking for in their own words. Especially when an outside consultant or implementation partner is involved, you need to deal with them and the end customer simultaneously so you know exactly what the buyer is asking for and you can communicate your message clearly to them.
In cases where your only contact is with a middleman, miscommunication is far more likely and you lose control of the message. Problems can arise when you don’t deal directly with all parties involved in the final decision.
3. Err On The Side Of Overcommunication
The best way to avoid losing a sale or a deal going south is to always communicate thoroughly – both with the buyer and within your own organization. Ask the right questions and get your prospect to give you more information so you have some context behind their pain points. Internally, make sure you’re keeping relevant leaders in the loop on the opportunity’s progress and anything you’ll need from them.
In the initial stages of a deal, you’re trying to get at the actual root problem that brought the prospect to seek out a solution like yours. But these questions should also continue throughout the sales process. As you move further down the sales funnel with a prospect, you need to ask questions that will help you move the deal forward. Understanding their perspective is key.
This is especially important when terms & conditions and other legal contracts you present to the buyer get redlined. The legal process can be long and tedious, but you still have an opportunity here to keep that open communication. It isn’t about saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ but figuring out why someone is objecting to a particular clause in the legal doc. Once you understand the context, you can work on coming to an agreement that satisfies both parties.
The same is true for your own team. It’s likely you’ll need to work with others (legal teams, sales leaders, etc.) to get contracts signed and deals closed, and it helps if you understand the processes they have in place and what they need from you to get their part of the job done.
Rather than seeing these outside players as hurdles, take a moment to see things from their perspective. If you’re going through a contract review and someone on the legal team insists on adding or removing a certain clause, ask them why that particular thing is significant. Chances are they have a good reason for pushing it, and you’ll walk away with a more complete understanding of their process.
4. Use The Resources Available to You Internally
Building upon this idea of working with others on your team, you should know what (or who) your resources are at your company. Recognize the strengths of people on your team and lean on them for help.
Maybe it’s a legal contract expert in the CFO’s office who can help you with a customer’s extensive terms & conditions. Or perhaps it’s an experienced sales leader who’s worked in the industry for decades who can advise you on a tough deal. Sometimes it can even be a fellow coworker who has worked with your prospect’s company before, and has insight into their organization.
Recognizing that some areas just aren’t in your wheelhouse isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. If you know how to ask the right questions of the right people, you’ll put yourself in a better position to succeed.
5. Always Be Learning
If you’re walking along a path and you stumble over a bump in the road and fall down, you’re not going to do it next time you walk that path. You’ve identified the bump in the road and know to look out for it on your next journey.
Don’t see your lost deals as failures, instead look at them as opportunities to learn from your mistakes. Look at your historical outcomes from various lost sales to understand where things went wrong and what you could have done differently. It may seem cliché, but the importance of self reflection can’t be overstated.
Often, egos get in the way of growth and improvement. If you feel like you’re at the top of the game, you aren’t open to learning and self-reflection that are critical for improvement. The moment you stop learning, you’ll become obsolete.
6. Know When Not to Push
Every salesperson worth their salt knows how to push – it’s practically a requirement for the job. But the truly skilled salesperson also knows when not to push.
There’s a fine line between persistence and harassment that is usually only distinguished through trial and error. If you go too far and annoy your prospect, you’ve lost the sale. But if you don’t follow up and stay top of line, the deal could stall – maybe indefinitely.
Remember this applies both internally and externally. Of course you should lean on your internal resources for support, but these relationships can become strained, too, if you push them too hard. Be respectful of coworkers’ time and competing priorities, and use your best judgement to decide when it’s appropriate to give them a gentle nudge – or to back off and be patient.
6½ . Worst Case Scenario: What to Do When You’ve Pushed Too Hard
If you end up pushing a little too hard, or there’s a miscommunication resulting in a frustrated prospect, just be open and transparent. Readjust by explaining “I’m under some internal pressure to get this deal closed and I let it get to me,” apologize, and move on. If you resolve to change the behavior that sparked the frustration in the first place, you still have a chance at a closed-won opportunity with the prospect.
If this doesn’t repair the relationship, don’t take it personally. Take an objective look at what happened, identify your mistakes, and make sure it doesn’t happen on the next deal. Take advantage of this chance to be proactive. Understand what went wrong here and take this opportunity to look back at your historical outcomes to see where your deals have fallen apart, identifying any patterns.
You’ll be a better salesperson if you do.