Part two of Selleration CEO Nick Rini’s interview with sales enablement expert, Don Mulhern.Before starting his own firm, Don rose through the ranks of Verizon’s sales organization to become from account manager to VP of Sales with several sales leadership positions in between.
Don’s experience isn’t limited to the corporate world. He has also spent time as an in-demand consultant and led sales teams at startups. Currently Don is Lead Partner, Sales & Marketing Performance at PVG Solutions where he focuses on transforming B2B sales teams.
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NR: “When the majority of the prospects in a complex sale decide not to move forward, what is usually the challenge you find or the problem that has occurred? What is missing and causing breakdown of the sale?
DM: “It seems that is happening more and more. It certainly is influenced by the number of players involved, where they just can’t get everybody on the same page to move forward.
The other thing that can derail a sale is the risk of change. Another element of a complex sale is the amount of change within the organization that is required to implement the “solution” your company is selling. If it in some way changes the customer’s business process, or the way their business works - even not in a huge way - there is a change management element. If the buyers feel that the pain of change is greater than the pain of staying the same, they are going to stick with the status quo. So, part of our job as salespeople is to help them navigate the change process in a way that is effective for their business.
One of the ways to do this is to bring to light examples of how the change has been implemented at other companies. Salespeople have the expertise in implementation. That is a key thing to offer.”
NR: “That is a good point. Also, the fundamental selling skills really have to be in place to be successful in these complex sales. Taking the sales process as we know it from discovery through qualification effectively makes all the difference in the world.
Thinking about complex selling, and why companies are putting themselves and us through this. Why don’t they just have one or two decision makers?”
DM: “I think it boils down to risk. There is caution around business disruption. The customer is trying to figure out “Is this really going to help my business?” and “Is this an investment that I should make?”. Customers really need to understand the path to success. If they see a lot of risk in your product or service, they will involve other stakeholders to mitigate risk. They want all the parties involved who may touch this and get them involved so they can understand risks and benefits from all perspectives.
The trend towards collaborative work environments also creates an environment where there are more complex sales. In the past there were certainly complex sales being done. However, it is becoming more common.
Also, you asked why deals fall apart in the middle. Deals go dark and end in no decision made because we haven’t done the proper detailed discovery and qualification on the front end of the sales process.
Sales leaders come to me and say “Our sales organization can’t close well enough. Deals just hang there.” It’s actually not that they have a closing problem, they have an opening problem. They don’t start the deal in the right way, and do the necessary diligence around whether this is really a prospect who ever will buy. Is there a good fit? Do I understand the customer’s problems and needs well enough?
I might have a solution with a nice ROI case, but if that is dwarfed by another initiative within the organization, that initiative is going to get the money and I am going to get kicked down the road. We have to understand all of this up front, including the motivations of each stakeholder and timing. All the fundamental qualifying information tends to get skipped a lot because we want to rush to demo, or rush to proposal.
When we do that we get stuck. If we take the time upfront to really do the right work in positioning ourselves, product value and influence the buyer perspectives the rest of the sales process goes much more smoothly.”
NR: “When you think about a deal that falls apart because the proper discovery, qualification and managing resistance process has not been properly executed, do you find that this is usually the less experienced salespeople - or are veteran sales reps guilty of this as well?”
DM: “Unfortunately, experienced salespeople absolutely do behave this way. I have seen it far too often. Ironically, the less experienced folks often have the will to learn and change their selling behavior. The more experienced reps are more often set in their ways and it is harder to get them to recognize this.
It’s especially tough when reps have been modestly, or even significantly successful as defined by compensation, quota attainment, or reputation within the sales organization. That might be because they are riding the gravy train accounts and don’t have to sell a lot of new things. They manage relationships and hit quota. Which doesn’t inspire much desire to change the way they do business.
Sales discovery work is hard. It’s much easier to take orders. Other folks have been bounced around, and sales leaders haven’t done a great job of vetting candidates. We take a look at track record and say ‘Oh boy, this person claims they met quota for 5 years, they must be good.’ Well, that’s not enough.
The real work of sale is prospecting, discovery, and qualifying. Another thing I see is that reps sit back and wait for the RFP. By then, the company is halfway through the buying process and it is sometimes too late to influence the buying process. So, I’m a big proponenet of prospecting and owning your sales territory so you can qualify people early on - and letting go of sales that are never going to close.”
Hear more of our discussion with Don Mulhern on navigating complex sales, on Sales Acceleration with Selleration on iTunes.