When I ask VPs of sales why their salespeople spend less time with their customers year after year, they usually shrug their shoulders. Some say it’s data overload; others say that salespeople spend too much time preparing for calls, searching for information, etc. They also mention the usual distractions, such as too many emails, too much time spent in meetings, too many reports to write and read, learning about new products, learning new technology, conference calls that should not have been scheduled, and more.
Another big time sink comes from the company’s organizational structure. Economic pressures create cracks in the corporate organization chart, and the fixes lead to new strategies that won’t make sense to the field sales force unless they are over-communicated in a series of meetings that keeps the sales organization focused on itself instead of on the customer.
As salespeople get busier, they have less and less time to think about their customers, engage their customers, and visit their customers face-to-face. The result: Selling becomes more difficult.
Customers, on the other hand, live in their own universe that’s also governed by the forces of the economy. They are busier with their own problems and have less time to think clearly and strategically about the solutions to those problems. With less time to think and speak to salespeople, customers are locked into the same time/attention span crunch as salespeople. The result: Buying has become more difficult.
The theory of bounded rationality may help us define this widespread problem. A Nobel Prize winning economist named Herbert A. Simon once described our limits of defining and solving complex problems. Simon suggested that our rationality is limited by A) the information we have, B) the cognitive limitations of our minds, and C) the finite amount of time we have to make a decision. To squeeze more productivity out of sales calls, we need to take a closer look at these three areas.
Salespeople need to manage all three dimensions of rationality
1. The information landscape: Salespeople need to find out how much the buyer knows and how much information the buyer wants to receive. What information sources has the buyer already tapped into? How much does he or she know about our product or service? How much does he or she want to know before making a decision?
The keys to winning: the ability to ask great questions and the availability of effective sales- enablement tools.
2. The cognitive landscape: Salespeople need to find out how their buyers think and feel during the call. How accurately do prospects present their situation? How objectively do they describe their challenges? How realistic are they about achieving their goals? How will they measure results? What are the buyer’s biggest pains and fears? What are the hidden agendas?
The keys to winning: the ability to accurately assess the customer’s BRAIN (an acronym that stands for behavior, responsiveness, alertness, intelligence, negotiating power).
3. The available time: Salespeople need to assess how much time the buyer is able to invest in each meeting and determine early in the meeting what topics the buyer is willing to discuss.
The keys to winning: the ability to set a reasonable agenda in advance of the meeting, structure the conversation as it happens and keep it moving, focus on the WIN (what’s important now), and stretch the available time by engaging the prospect on a deeper emotional level.
Do you cope instinctively, or manage rationally?
While managing the information landscape and the buyer’s cognitive landscape is challenging, the most difficult job is to manage the short time windows buyers make available to them. Most salespeople have short attention spans and little awareness of how much time it takes to persuade a prospect and close a sale. Calls without a preplanned agenda tend to quickly drift away from what should be discussed to move the sale forward.
Salespeople need to learn how to take a half step back from the conversation; they need to shift their preoccupation with closing a deal to opening their eyes to opportunities to advance the agenda and get more done in less time. How? Find better ways to engage the prospect on a deeper emotional level, which will enhance collaboration.
To manage a sales call rationally and productively, the salesperson has only three choices. One is to deliver better information to the prospect, hoping that a better message will lead to the sale. Two is to help the customer understand the available information better. The third choice is to create a larger time window so that both buyer and seller have a better chance of arriving at a solution and co-creating the sale.
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