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Sales Strategies
Are You Creating Your Own Sales Obstacles?
By Jill Konrath, President,

Sometimes you need other people to help you understand where you're making your mistakes.

As a seller, I'm sure the last thing in the world you want to do is to make your job even more difficult. But the truth is, many of you are doing just that - all the time and without even knowing it.

This past week I was talking to one seller about a particularly challenging sales issue he kept running into. As it turns out, he was his own worst enemy.

The Situation

Alex sells software tools that help clients grow their sales, speed up new product introductions and shorten ramp-up time for new hire sales reps.

The software enables sales and marketing organizations to easily create and update sales portals for a variety of distribution channels. It has tons of unique capabilities that automate aggravating, time-consuming procedures and gives clients exceptional flexibility on a variety of applications.

Plus it frees the sales and marketing groups from the constraints of working with the overburdened IT department that lacks urgency and has no sense of what the revenue-generating side of the business needs. (For some decision makers, this is all they need to hear!)

Not only is the software great, but also the firm's principals are experts in assuring their clients accomplish the key strategic initiatives that drove them to make a change.

Clearly Alex has a strong value proposition. But for some reason that he couldn't pinpoint, he was really struggling with sales.

We Can Do That!

Last week Alex and I debriefed a recent sales call in which he met with the head of sales in a company that truly fit his firm's ideal client profile.

This prospect was interested in what his offering could do, but not committed to making a change at this time. Yet he could clearly benefit from their technology.

After a bit of initial chitchat and positioning of his firm's capabilities, Alex asked about the company's direction and the gaps in technology that needed to be closed in order to achieve their business objectives.

So far, so good. He was focused on learning about key strategic initiatives addressable by his firm's software tools and expertise.

Then his prospect started talking about something that really bugged him...

Prospect: I'm so darn frustrated with our IT department. There's been a typo up on our website now for three weeks. And it's in an area that we're really trying to drive customers to right now.

Alex: "With our systems, you could have that corrected within 20 seconds of discovering it."

Prospect: "Wow! Impressive. What about when we come up with a new update to our proposals. Right now, we've got all those old versions floating around out there and it's creating a huge issue."

Alex: "No problem. We can take care of that right away too. If we get it set up right at the beginning, we can totally automate that step."

Prospect: "Man, would that save us time. How about..."

Alex: "We can do that! When we set up a demo, I'll show you how easy it is."

Prospect: "What about.... It drives us nuts here."

Alex: "Simple, simple, simple. I can show you or anyone else on your staff how to do it in three seconds flat."

And so it went. After the call, Alex was ecstatic. Everything the decision maker asked about, he could do! In fact, he felt like he was really removing a burden from this person and reassuring him how good it would be to work with his firm.

He was sure that an order would be forthcoming. But he'd felt like this before -- way too many times -- and been extremely disappointed when nothing ever happened.

Prospects kept saying that his software was really "cool" and that when it was time to make a switch, they'd take a more in-depth look.

But Alex couldn't make a living off of future promises. He needed sales in the foreseeable future.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

When you keep experiencing the same problem over and over, you need to look for the root cause. What are you doing that might be contributing to the outcome you're getting?

In Alex's case, his desire to quickly show the prospect that his problems could be immediately eliminated by his technology was getting in his way. He mistakenly assumed that this reassurance was exactly what the decision maker needed.

Unfortunately, he was wrong. The decision maker wants to meet objectives. Alex should have kept his focus there and kept exploring the business issues.

He would have been in much better stead with his prospects if he'd keep asking questions such as:
  • What other problems are you facing because you can't get IT to make the changes?
  • What impact does their lack of urgency have on meeting your business goals?
  • What issues are created when you have all those old versions of proposals out there?
  • How does that affect your distribution channel?
  • How else is the lack of up-to-date info on your sales portal impacting your ability to drive revenue growth?
  • What difficulties are you running into because you can't do this easily? Who else is impacted?
Because Alex quickly jumped ahead to the ease of the solution, he never helped the decision maker understand the value of making a change. As a result, interested prospects kept fizzling out, opting to stay with the status quo.

That was the unintended consequence of Alex's niceness. Unless he changed it and started exploring the business issues in more depth, he was doomed to repeat this pattern time and time again.

What About You?

Perhaps you're creating your own obstacles too. When you initially connect with a decision maker, are you saying things that dig you into a hole that's hard to crawl out off? In today's marketplace, it can take forever to finally connect with a prospective client. For sure you don't want to blow it.

Same thing about your initial client meetings. You have one chance to advance your relationship. If you mess up, you're not invited back.

While it's much easier to blame your prospects for "not getting it" or being jerks, it doesn't change the results you're getting.

The only way to solve these sales challenges is to be ruthless in your own self-assessment. You need to constantly question what you might have said that created the obstacles and objections that you keep running into.

Sometimes you need other people to help you understand where you're making your mistakes. Alex never would have dreamed that his service-oriented attitude was the root cause of his sale challenges.

I've created my own sales problems too. Initially when I was struggling to get into big companies, it was hard for me to accept that what I was saying could be the reason. But it was!

You may need to look outside yourself to get more insight. Brainstorm with your colleagues, check with your boss, or explore the issue with other sellers. Don't be defensive; try to figure out where changes could help. Then experiment with the new options.

When you finally eliminate those sales obstacles that you've unintentionally created yourself, the payback can be huge!

Jill Konrath helps salespeople get their foot in the door and win big contracts in the corporate market. Sign up for her free e-newsletter by sending an email to . You get a free "Sales Call Planning Guide" ($19.95 value) when you subscribe.Contact Jill Konrath at (651) 429-1922 or visit

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