May 23

Why Your Sales Team Dominates Second Place


A member of your sales team meets with a great prospect that is open, interested, and qualified to do business with your organization. She shares her frustrations about her existing vendor’s delivery of services and products.     

The salesperson hears more about the prospect’s pain and becomes excited about the possibility of helping her. He shares several success stories about how his company has helped other clients.       

The prospect likes what she hears and asks the salesperson to put something together. The salesperson invests a few hours in writing up a recommendation and reviews it with the prospect, who asks the salesperson to follow up in two days.

The salesperson calls, only to hear, “We’ve decided to go with your competitor.”

The salesperson is surprised and discouraged. How did he lose this opportunity? The prospect had a true need. She was the decision maker. They agreed upon a budget for changing and improving the situation.   

The reason:  the salesperson started buying the buying signals from the prospect and stopped asking qualifying, diagnostic questions.  He let emotions run the meeting rather than effective selling skills.  

His competitor, on the other hand, exhibited emotional control. She asked more questions, uncovered even more needs and wants from the prospect, and as a result, delivered a better solution. 

Your sales team is coming in second place for two reasons. Coach to the real issue, and you will move from second place to first.      

#1. Remind your sales team that the presenting problem generally is not the real problem.

Psychologists understand this concept well.  A patient meets with the doctor and says she has a problem with alcohol and drug abuse. The psychologist doesn’t start presenting solutions because he knows it’s not the real problem. The real problem might be the patient’s lack of self-worth, her inability to deal with life challenges in a positive manner, or the company she keeps.

The same is true in the selling profession. The problem presented by the prospect is generally not the real issue.  For example, in my business of sales development and training,  a prospect says they have a prospecting/business development challenge.   However, through further conversation and questions, the real issue is uncovered. They don’t have a prospecting problem — they have a hiring problem.  

This prospect doesn’t know how to vet potential sales candidates for business development. Their approach to sourcing and vetting candidate models is based on gut and hope. This discovery greatly changes the solution that is presented. Instead of focusing on prospecting and business development training, the recommendations turn to installing an effective hiring process. 

#2.  The curse of knowledge. This phrase comes from Dan and Chip Heath, authors of “Made to Stick.”  Their research shows that often, the longer we are in business, the less effective we can become.

We gain product knowledge and expertise, which creates assumptions and conclusions rather than curiosity and questions.

In sales, you hear similar issues from your prospects, such as too much downtime, poor innovation, or ineffective project management. You’ve heard and helped clients with these issues many times, so you assume to know the full implications of the problem and the right solutions. 

This curse of knowledge sets us up to get beat by the competing salesperson that is still curious and asks more and better questions.    

To avoid the curse of knowledge, apply the soft skill of emotional self-awareness and reality testing. Debrief each sales call to see when and how you started assuming to know the answer and stopped asking questions. When debriefing your sales call, check to see if you got the answers to:

  • The financial impact of the prospect’s problem: Are they losing customers?  Market share?
  • The strategic impact of the prospect’s problem: Is their reputation being affected?
  • The personal impact of the prospect’s problem: Are they working overtime because of the issues? Getting pressure from the board? 

Stop dominating second place and move up to No. 1. Remember, the presenting problem isn’t the real one. Avoid the curse of knowledge by approaching every sales call with a beginner’s mind. 


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