I read an article recently about why sales people do not close deals. This resonated with me concerning my work with company change. I often ask people in Bee Ready For Change workshop to raise their hands if they work in sales. A few hands usually go up. I then explain that we are all in sales. We need to sell ideas to the C-suite, to colleagues, some have to convince other departments to support their department etc. I then repeat the question, “Who works in sales?”. Every hand is usually raised. At the end of the day we are all in sales.
So too, we are all in change. Change is a team sport.
I have adapted/modified an article written by Steve W. Martin based on a new study of B2B buyers – “7 Reasons Sales People Don’t Close The Deal”. The article was published by HBR in August 2017.
A recent study estimated that 12% of salespeople are excellent, 23% good, 38% average, and 27% poor. (Source discovery.org LLC). Interviews with buyers illustrate seven important lessons about the mistakes salespeople make and why they lose business.
I would like you to adapt this to change initiatives. John P. Kotter is often quoted with the statistic “70% of change efforts fail”. Consider the correlation between the failure of sales people to convert potential deals to a sale and Kotter’s quote.
1. They are not trusted or respected. Customers can think of a salesperson as someone who is trying to sell something, a supplier with whom they do business, a strategic partner who is important to their business, or a trusted adviser whose advice is followed. Obviously, a trusted adviser enjoys significant advantages over the competing salespeople. However, just 18% of the salespeople buyers met over the past year would be classified as trusted advisers whom they respect.
How about the leaders of an organisation who are trying to “sell” their change efforts to the employees? Any similarities? Trust is a major factor with any change initiative. If people do not trust the leaders or the change team, the change has little chance of succeeding.
2. They can’t converse effectively with the senior executives. While salespeople frequently meet with lower-level and mid-level personnel at a client company, the rare conversations they have with C-level decision makers directly determine whether they win or lose the deal. Therefore, it is critical for salespeople to understand how C-level executives think and to communicate with them in the language they use. Unfortunately, buyers report that fewer than one out of three salespeople can hold an effective conversation with senior executives.
How about the change champions? Do they know how to win over the senior team to obtain buy-in and support? Key stakeholders (often the C-suite) must be identified and won over, but the change team must speak their language.
3. They can’t clearly explain how their solution helps the buyer’s business. Buyers amass information that helps them justify their strategic decisions. In other words, a product’s strategic value comprises the reasons and arguments that buyers provide to senior management and others in the company about why they should purchase a product. Different strategic values include increasing revenues, decreasing costs, gaining a competitive advantage, and standardising operations in order to reduce risk. However, buyers say only 54% of salespeople they meet with can clearly explain how their solution impacts the buyer’s business.
With change, the change team must be crystal clear on how the proposed change will make the business better tomorrow than where the business is today. If the change team cannot show how the proposed change will improve things and have a positive impact on the business – the policies, the products, the procedures, then the chances of effective implementation are slim.
4. They are too self-centered. Buyers were asked the primary reason they don’t like meeting with salespeople. Their answers reveal that they feel pressured by self-centered salespeople. 24% believed salespeople are only serving their own agenda, while 25% indicated salespeople only care about making the sale. 23% were uncomfortable because it is difficult to say no to them, and 8% said salespeople are not the type of person they typically associate with. The lesson is clear. Instead of focusing solely on revenue, salespeople should concentrate more on helping buyers accomplish their goals.
So too with change. Remember it is not about the change team, it is about the business. We make changes to improve the business. We must do what is good for the business. Egos have no place with change efforts. If the employees perceive that there is a hidden agenda or that the change team are initiating a change for their own benefit – the change will end up on the 70% failure list.
5. They use the wrong closing strategy. Overall, hard close techniques such as “This is the last time we’ll be able to extend this offer and we need an answer now” were rated least effective. A hard close creates a binary “yes or no” response from the buyer and is associated with a “take it or leave it” mentality. Soft close techniques such as “If you spend another £50,000, you will receive an additional 10% off the entire order” were rated most effective. A soft close is based on a suggestion that leads buyers to believe they are acting of their own free will.
With change, if you push people or force them to change, it is highly unlikely that you will attain your objective. You may get change but not the desired change you want. A more successful approach is to convince people and win them over with rational and emotional reasoning. Win over the hearts and minds. I repeat, the hearts and minds. Perhaps more importantly make your communication crystal clear and customise it as much as possible.
6. They don’t alleviate the risk of buying their solution. Business-to-business buyers are fixated on risk mitigation because past interactions with salespeople have conditioned them to be sceptical. One of the primary reasons a purchase isn’t made after a lengthy evaluation is because the salesperson hasn’t alleviated the risk of buying. Salespeople should understand these dynamics as they seek to assuage buyers’ concerns about risk.
Change is a risk. Make no doubt about it. Change champions, like good sales people need to alleviate risk and do their best to make others feel comfortable with change or at least understand the reasons for it and be comfortable about why the change has been proposed. For any effective change to happen the sceptics must be won over. Win over the sceptics and they will most probably turn into your biggest advocates of change.
7. They can’t establish a personal connection with the buyer. There is an equilibrium point where the buyer respects the salesperson’s conviction and is not offended by their persistence, which enables the relationship to develop. Five key reasons why there isn’t “chemistry” or a personal connection with a particular salesperson have been cited:
The salesperson was too pushy.
There was a difference in communication styles.
The salesperson’s personality was very different from the buyers.
The salesperson was too eager to befriend the buyer.
There was a difference in age.
Most salespeople are very comfortable selling to certain types of people. However, they’re far less likely to establish rapport with someone who is wired far differently than themselves. Since they’re not exactly sure how to behave, they act in a way the buyer considers too pushy, or they overcompensate by being overly friendly.
It’s not surprising that 81% of buyers indicated they would rather talk with someone who shares their same mannerisms. As a result, buyers will choose the salesperson who develops rapport over those who don’t.
Ensure that the change team comprises the right mix of characters with the right mix of competencies. I call this the “2C’s” Characters with Competency. As Jim Collins famously quoted “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and get the right people in the right seats on the bus”. Easier said than done but if you want buy-in and support from as many people as possible, put your right people in the right seats on the bus. Ensure that you analyse the audience that need to be convinced. Then send the right team member to “sell” the change to that audience. There is no guaranteed formula for success but the chances are you will succeed more than you will not.
The next time you wish to implement a change initiative consider these 7 reasons. Sell, sell, sell 🙂
I wish you every success with your change efforts.