It’s an easy mistake to make, and most of us are guilty of it: we make decisions based off our emotions, which sometimes steer us in the wrong way. And as a sales rep, who could blame you? You’re juggling conflicting priorities that pull you in all sorts of different directions.
Some days you’re focused on sharpening your product knowledge and other days you’re learning to listen better and uncover compelling events. Support teams want you to set better expectations, marketing wants you drive people to a conference, and your boss needs you to forecast more accurately. With all of these moving parts, your productivity is constantly rising and falling, and if you don’t pay attention to the health of your funnel, your income and job security will always be in flux. But with some driver-awareness, you can learn to steer things towards success.
Sales Is Like Driving a Car
The analogy I always like to draw is that sales is like driving a car. As you’re driving, you pay attention to the road, speedometer, and mirrors for helpful feedback that keeps you on track. In sales, you also have constant feedback from the people who ignore your emails, the pitches that backfire, and the deals you don’t win. The problem here is that we sometimes start ignoring this feedback because it can be uncomfortable. So instead, we stick to talking about our wins. But the consequences for ignoring this feedback in both selling and driving are the same: after a while, you’ll drive yourself off the road.
The first step towards staying on course is learning to accept feedback and resisting the urge to defend yourself. It’s important not to see it as criticism because feedback is the only way you can get better. Once you’ve done this, the best place to start looking for feedback is within your sales pipeline, which in many ways is the quantitative accumulation of all of your sales feedback. Based on what’s not going well, you can steer yourself out of a ditch and onto the performance highway.
So, check your mirrors for these three common pipeline problems and learn how to address them to get back on track:
1. Not Enough Leads Coming In
While this is a top-of-the-funnel problem, the issue may not be with your marketing or sales process, but with your perspective. If you’re starting from scratch in a new territory, you’re in a good spot. The best thing to do here is identify what makes a “good target” from other successful reps and start going through the list of companies you have. Spend your time narrowing them down into a few manageable lists, then determine your outreach strategy and get cracking.
But if you have a module of set accounts that you’ve been at for a while, you may be suffering from a bias against familiar companies that you refer to as “dead territory”. Your deep knowledge on prospects in the territory might actually be holding you back. Approach these accounts with a fresh mindset, and make a point of going after the ones that are hard to get and challenging yourself to call everyone in that account or ask to be referred in. Flip things on their head and you’ll start seeing results. As motivational speaker, Jim Rohn said “If you truly want something, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.” So find a way.
If you feel that you have already reached out to every possible company, consider that whatever list you’re working with is like looking at your territory through a straw. You start to think that you’re seeing the whole world when it’s really just a fraction. I know this from vast experience and I’ve often found myself crying “I’ve called everyone in the state of New York!” before suddenly getting a fantastic inbound lead. Take a break and get some outside perspective. Tell your peers what you’re running into and get their feedback on new ideas. There are always more approaches, lists, data providers, and strategies.
2. Leads Aren’t Moving Forward
Are your prospects getting excited or setting up next steps, but then nothing follows through? Perhaps you need to work on your delivery. Work on your pain discovery process and how you apply your product to solve a prospect’s specific problem. Without getting to the pain point plus a commitment, you’re going to just keep having conversations that go nowhere. So, don’t let your discovery calls end until you have discovered their pain. If there’s no pain, then there’s no commitment to move forward in the process and buy.
What does pain sound like? It involves emotionally charged words like fear, worried, serious, terrible, embarrassing, awful, etc. You can discover it through repeated questioning and genuine curiosity, and when you hear those words, dive into them with more questions. Once you have identified a specific pain, demonstrate how your product solves it and secure a commitment to buy. Use a line like, “Great, so if we can help you improve [insert pain point here], is there any reason you wouldn’t be able to sign today?” and repeat back to them what you just heard. This invokes what Psychologist Robert Cialdini calls the “consistency principle” and drastically increases compliance.
3. Full Pipeline, but Nobody Is Ready to Buy
Most people have a hard time telling anyone “no”. The natural reaction is to say “maybe” and then try to avoid you. You can fix this by directly telling people that you want them to feel comfortable telling you they’re not interested, and politely explain that you’ll end up wasting a lot of their time chasing them if they can’t.
Once you have identified that your prospects are indeed interested and you understand their pain points, you need to figure out why they are not acting immediately. Ask questions to see if they’re seriously committed to solving things. When you do finally get to the bottom of things, their reason for not acting may be something like lack of authority, lack of budget, internal politics, need to make a hire, etc. In this case, you’ve finally reached a concrete core-objection that you can work with them to build a mutual close plan.
Feedback is tough, and no one ever said it would be easy to hear. But it’s only through admitting that we’re fallible and listening to our critics that we can identify our blind spots and course correct. Like a driver on the road, if you aren’t constantly checking your mirrors and listening for the honks of other drivers, you’re putting yourself in peril. And the same goes in sales—you need to be able to look at your funnel, see what’s blocking you from merging onto the performance highway, and realize that it might be something that you’re doing. So, it’s time to course correct!