May 31

Sales “Death by Inches” is Afoot When You’re Complacent


Joe Marciano, an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under head coach Tony Dungy, had a saying that always resonated with the latter: “Death by inches.” 

What was he referring to? “When a team is winning, coaches have a tendency to let the details slide by because things are going well,” Marciano said. “Then suddenly, we’re in a losing streak and can’t figure out why. It’s because those small, infrequent mistakes that didn’t get corrected have become the norm, and the team can’t get their sharpness back.”

His advice is great for football coaches, salespeople and sales managers. Many sales organizations are enjoying a banner year in a robust economy. Enjoy the good times. And, remember to avoid letting the small sales details slip and which lead to bad sales habits. 

Apply two emotional intelligence skills, self-awareness and reality testing, to avoid moving into death-by-inches selling behaviors. Slow down, think and ask yourself the tough questions: Where are you taking shortcuts to success? What small details are you letting slide because you are exceeding quota

Pre-call planning. Are you bypassing the pre-call planning process because you’ve had some easy wins? Effective pre-call planning means you have prepared a customized value proposition to either introduce a new line of business or to answer the questions, “What makes your company different? Why do people buy from you?” Effective pre-call planning means that you’ve crafted provocative questions that make your prospect’s brain hurt. Pre-call planning has your prospect saying things like, “Hmmm. I’ve never thought of that before.” The sales teams that suffer death by inches fail to prepare for each sales call.   

Sales Activity. One of the biggest sales problems I observed during the 2008 financial meltdown is that many salespeople simply stopped executing a consistent business-development plan. Now, I understand there were industries that really got smacked by the tsunami of external factors such as real estate and construction. I’m not talking about those businesses. 

There were a number of sales organizations that didn’t fare well because the sales team let the small details of consistent prospecting slowly slip away. Death by inches.   

It’s easy to get caught up in running appointments and writing proposals. But remember, economic cycles come and go. Look at your calendar, and apply self-awareness and reality testing. How much proactive business development are you engaged in each week, each month? Are you creating opportunities or waiting for sales opportunities?

Improve selling skills. Microsoft founder Bill Gates said, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”  Translation:  Death by inches.   What selling skills are you working on improving this year? 

  • Writing skills – How compelling is your sales copy when posting to LinkedIn, crafting emails or writing blogs?  
  • Sales process – Which step/stage of the sales process could be refined? How good are you at asking questions that set you apart from your competition? How good are you at uncovering the formal and informal buying process at a prospect’s company?
  • Sale after the sale – When is the last time you sent a handwritten note to your new customer? (Or did you take the easy way out and send a thank-you email that got lost with the 100 other messages?)

Apply self-awareness and reality testing. Recognize that the good times often produce bad selling behaviors, habits and, yes, sales death by inches. 

Good Selling!


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