Dan Smaida – September 22, 2016
Have you ever run into these phenomena when reviewing the pipelines of your veteran sellers?
– Deals seem to drag on and on as the customer goes through “the process.”
– All of the opportunities seem to follow the same path.
– Companies that should be in the pipeline aren’t in the pipeline.
(PC NOTES: First, notice I said “veteran sellers,” who can be any age. I just put “Baby-Boomers” in the title because…clickbait! Also, saying people aren’t doing something is way different than saying they can’t do something. Finally, of course I don’t mean each and every one – I’m just using a category as a communication shortcut. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to your accusations of “ageism” and stereotyping.)
Experience is the Problem
I see this constantly in my sales workshops – the more experience sellers have, the more likely they are to fall into certain cognitive traps that reduce closing. For instance, when we have an experience, our brains process it using neural pathways, or collections of neurons that connect disparate parts of the brain. Repeated experiences strengthen the neural pathway, essentially hard-wiring a pattern into our brains. Confirmation bias makes it worse – we start to notice only the instances that conform to our expectations, and we tend to ignore contradictory evidence. This is dangerous in professional selling, because it leads to several assumptive traps that inhibit closing.
Experience = Assumptive Traps
There are several assumptive traps veteran sellers (including myself!) fall into:
Assuming the customer will or won’t buy. After you’ve seen a certain customer (or type of customer) buy from the low-price bidder, it’s easy to assume the pattern will continue. It’s also easy to stop asking the customer to assess their own needs and evaluate their own perceptions of value.
Assuming the buying process is the decision process. Because some sales (particularly RFP/tender-driven) typically follow a prescribed process, it’s easy to assume things have to go a certain way. But it’s not always so. In fact, a client of mine just lost a major deal based on a step the customer took that was outside the normal RFP process – a step my client could have proposed, but didn’t.
Assuming customers don’t want to be “closed.” Actually, I agree with this last one – being closed sucks. But being helped is great. More customers than you may think would secretly value your proposal of a next step that could help them figure out what they’re doing.
Creating New Pathways
Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to help your sellers overcome their own experience. The key is to create new neural pathways to replace old habits. Here are three simple ways to approach gaining commitment with fresh eyes:
Separate data from theory. Start by challenging your sellers’ (and your own!) assumptions about needs, objections, and value. Two questions that help: “Why do you think that?” And, “What has the customer said or done that makes you think so?”
Think outside the customer’s box. Instead of starting from the customer’s established process, start with “What actions or will help the customer make the best possible decision?” Example follow-up question: “What could the customer do to challenge their own assumptions about value? You may end up challenging the customer’s buying process – and that’s a good idea when the buying process doesn’t drive a good decision.
Practice a new approach. To break the grip of old neural pathways, we must develop new ones, and that only happens through habit – doing something enough times to burn it into your brain. Give your sellers a chance to practice with feedback (yes, role play!), and have them evaluate their results in the field. This practice is essential for sellers who have fallen out of the habit of driving a decision process or challenging the customer’s buying process.
Again, we’re talking about traps and solutions that matter to sellers of all ages, but tend to be more pronounced with veteran sellers whose experience makes them particularly vulnerable to assumptive traps. I firmly believe that sellers of all stripes have the ability to overcome these challenges with the right sales coaching and practice. Good luck, and let me know if I can help!