In a recent article, Emma Snider points to a survey on the obstacles that prevent sales reps from closing deals. Training company Richardson asked for the opinions of over 300 B2B and B2C salespeople from a variety of industries and company sizes. One survey question asked about the top three obstacles that prevent salespeople from closing deals:
- Competing against a low-cost provider (30.61%)
- Creating a compelling case for change to prevent a “no decision” (16.89%)
- Positioning competing value proposition (11.87%)
Management’s first response will be to assume that salespeople are responsible for closing these deals. If they are unable to close, then managers will likely take actions which improve the abilities of their sales reps. Perhaps the reps need more training, different incentives, or stronger discounting options.
But maybe management’s instincts are wrong. Let’s challenge the assumption that the salespeople are responsible for deals that won’t close. To challenge that assumption, we first ask whether these buyers are ready to make a purchase and become customers. Let’s re-examine the list above in light of that question.
- If salespeople think they are ready to close with a buyer but find themselves competing with a low-cost provider, then maybe they haven’t helped the buyer to understand the value that their company brings. Or maybe they are working with a buyer that is not well-qualified.
- Salespeople cannot expect to close a deal without first creating a compelling case for change. If they are still creating that compelling case, then their buyer has not moved to the purchasing stage in the buyer’s journey. In this situation it’s time to stop closing and to start educating.
- Salespeople must resolve questions about competing value propositions long before they try to close with their buyer. Once again, maybe the salespeople are not as far along in the buyer’s journey as they had thought.
These challenges to the assumption that the salespeople are responsible for deals that won’t close make it clear that we don’t yet know why these deals won’t close. We know the undesirable result: the close rate is too low. But we don’t know the root cause of the problem.
Who is responsible for discovering the root cause of the problem and finding a solution? Not the salespeople, they are responsible for implementing the sales work they do and they are responsible for helping to improve the way the sales work is done.
Michael Webb explains in Sales Process Excellence that managers must own the responsibility for “designing, developing, and managing the sales process” and for “solving sales process problems.”
Unfortunately, managers often relinquish those responsibilities. Sometimes they relinquish the responsibilities because they don’t see sales and marketing as interconnected parts of a continuous sales production system and sometimes they relinquish them because managers perceive sales as an exercise in value-extraction from customers, not value-creation for customers.
In B2B sales, Webb observes that “management tends to trust the salespeople to do their jobs but fails to see that, like all workers, salespeople do their jobs best within a well-designed, properly organized production system.”
Salespeople who work in a smooth running sales production system are less likely to face obstacles to deal-closure than the ones who responded to Richardson’s survey.