Get your salespeople off ‘hopium’ and get to a real selling strategy

As we head into the second quarter of 2017, many organizations are taking stock of their progress toward their annual sales forecast. For some, they are well ahead of their plan. Others are carefully monitoring the pipeline figures being given to them by their sales team. Prudent business owners know they are wise to use cautious optimism with their salespeople’s forecast. Wouldn’t it be nice if every salesperson was able to provide company ownership/leadership with a “take it to the bank” forecast that was challenging, yet realistic?

Many well-intentioned salespeople forecast aggressively because they do have high hopes to close the opportunities they are working. Still, others seem to continue to rely on the strategy of hoping and praying. Their plan for success is to see how much they can throw against the wall, hoping that some will stick.

What makes this tough for company ownership and leadership are the follow-up conversations with salespeople about the likelihood of a particular deal closing or not. In the salespersons’ mind, it’s bought and paid for. This is prior to the leader’s debrief of the sales opportunity with the salesperson.

In review, the salesperson might share that they think the prospect liked the proposal and believe that they saw the value and got excited by the features and benefits. They hope to get an answer by Friday. However, what the salesperson didn’t come away with from the sales call is a true understanding of the parallel worlds that were in play during the sales call.

Why does this happen? Often times, the prospective customer had hidden expectations that they wanted you to fill, and either they never told you, or you never asked them. Often, it’s both. Think about the last major purchase you made. Did you walk in and tell the salesperson every reason that brought you in? How well did they do in really uncovering your reasons for buying, your budget for the purchase and your decision-making process?

My wife and I were recently in a high-end jewelry store learning about a certain type of gemstone. While the salesperson was knowledgeable, they spent most of our time together time educating us, for free, with no commitment on our part to do business. My wife shared that she was interested in the particular piece because her mother, who has since passed, once had something very similar. The salesperson totally missed my wife’s buying motivation and went on to extol the virtues of the piece, where the materials came from and the skill of the designers in their shop who had created it. Furthermore, they asked no questions of my wife about her budget or decision-making thought process.

When it came time to end the conversation, my wife said “thank you, I learned a lot — maybe we’ll be back.” What is the chance my wife will go back? Slim and next to none.

What is the chance the salesperson believes he ran a good sales call and potentially might make that sale? Higher than my wife’s estimation that she will return.

A skilled salesperson uses a selling system, with steps of qualification to avoid mind-reading on a sales call. They are OK with hearing the word “no.” When they conclude a sales call, they have either been given a “no,” by the prospect, a “yes,” or a “clear future” as to what next steps will be.

In the example, above, the salesperson only had to ask my wife a few simple questions to have clarity on the likelihood, or not, that the sale would be made. First, he might have asked “It sounds like that was a special piece to your mom, probably not possible for you to find another one with that same emotional connection?” to which my wife could have answered yes or no to help the salesperson assess where the buyer truly was on the “buying scale.”

If no, no sale. If yes, then the next question might have been a budget question such as: “I know this is a fairly expensive piece. At $x I’m not sure if that’s what you would expect to pay for something like this?” Here again, the buyer can either answer yes — or no — and give the salesperson a sense of what is really happening.

Work with your salespeople to get off “hopium” and ask challenging questions of the prospect to sell and forecast in reality.

Bob Bolak is president of Sandler Training. He can be reached at 303-579-1939 or


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