A simple question at first glance, but when you ask people in a given vocation or profession, it is staggering how many different answers one gets, and more stunning is the number of people who can’t give you a clear answer. Most read way too much into the question, and try to come up with elaborate responses that go well beyond and away from the question. “How you get across the road?”, is very different than Why did the chicken cross the road?” In sales, I find the responses break down to roughly three group: (1) Those who understand and answer the question asked; (2) Those interpret the question, changing it slightly in the process, and the response fits their repurposed question, both misleading the inquisitor and leaving them wanting; (3) People who don’t know, and can’t be bothered worrying about it.
If you are in sales, especially leading a team, this should be a major concern, especially if you “have a sales process” you think is driving your success. It may be more accurate that it is driving reps’ results, not how they achieve those results; in fact, if they did follow the process, the result would be more success. The good things is that in sales, you can get ahead of this and ensure greater success and results.
Next time your team is together, (and you can do this on your own if you are a rep), ask for a volunteer, and ask them the following:
“Who is your best prospect?” Not meant to be a trick question, but it is interesting the responses you get, but that’s for another post.
After they tell you who their best prospect is, follow up with this question (phrase it any way you like):
“Given where you are in the cycle, what is the very next thing that needs to happen to move the sale forward?”
You would think for experienced sales people, especially if they have been in the role for a few years and have been close to or at quota, meaning they have successfully executed the cycle several times, the answer should not only be straight forward, but something they are thinking about.
Those in group (1), always respond by telling what action has to be taken by them, the buyer, and mutually. Why that action, and the specifics it will lead to in moving the sale ahead, including what has to happen next, once this next step is completed, and the consequences and contingencies in case things do not go as planned. They can clearly and in specific detail provide the ingredients and recipe for making next happen.
Those in group (2), take the question, add some subjectivity to the mix, and hear “what should happen next”, then proceed to give you an answer that is more strategic and theoretical than the question required. Instead of speaking to specific actions and tools, as group (1) did, they general outcomes, skipping the how to make those outcomes happen. “We need to get buy in”; “we need to identify the decision maker(s)”; and other no-brainer feel good statements, but all absent the “what has to happen” for those things to come to be.
You can avoid this by being more specific in your process, perhaps start by changing the label to sales-flow, allowing you to get more prescriptive. Don’t assume that because your process calls for understanding the buying/decision process, that everyone on the team knows the specific steps they’ll need to execute to actually do that. On the other hand, many in group (2), when given specific and granular steps, improve their game and results measurably. There is a reason why NFL playbooks have drawings and arrows, Arthur Murray has the footprints on the floor, and Broadway stages have markers. Once you have that, they will need to practice, not just to get it, but once they got it, practice to master, and to ensure that you can adjust when the buyer and markets change.
Last, inspect, inspect that they are doing it, each step, as it has to happen. Don’t just assume they are doing it based on results (yikes), do you think gets a Tom Brady pass? Sure he wants to get to the end-zone, but getting there takes one down at a time, knowing exactly what has to happen after each play.
BTW, if you are wondering why I didn’t get to group number (3), don’t worry about it, they didn’t notice.