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Excuses, Excuses... Not!

1 May, 2012 By: David M. Fellman, David Fellman & Associates imageSource

SalesmanI had a really weird dream the other night. I was sitting with a group of salespeople who went around the room introducing themselves. The first one said: “Hi, my name is Ted, and I’m an underachiever. It’s mostly because I don’t work smart or very hard.” The second sales rep said, “My name is Ellen, and I’m an underachiever as well. In my case, it’s nothing more than a complete lack of product knowledge. Heck, I really have no clue about what I’m supposed to be selling.” The third seller remarked, “Hello, my name is Tony. Alright, I guess I might be an underachiever, too. I could actually work harder, and probably be more knowledgeable, but my big problem is that I’m totally disorganized and I haven’t made any real effort to change that.”

I woke up thinking, “Can you imagine honestly acknowledging being a poor performer?” In reality, the underachievers I encounter always seem to blame someone—or something—other than themselves. Human nature or not, I thought you might be interested in learning how I respond to some of these type excuses that sales directors and business owners hear way too often from their sales people.


Our Prices Are Not Competitive

Price is, without question, the easiest thing to blame because it actually encompasses both the company and the buyer. With just one excuse, a salesperson can blame both the company for not having the lowest price, and the buyer for not appreciating the value that the salesperson and the company bring to the table. It allows the salesperson an “out” to use, taking the spotlight off their poor selling technique. In my early years, when I got the order my thought process was: I could have charged more for it - but I always figured that if I left at least some small money on the table the buyer was happy with my service, and it was a win-win. The “„flip side” to that attitude, I tell salespeople, is that I couldn’t blame price when I lost an order.

However, when I could not get my suggested price I’d wonder why, thinking I must have done a less-than-stellar job of understanding the buyer’s needs, or else did a less-than-satisfactory job of selling my value proposition. The only other possibility was that I was pursuing someone I shouldn’t have wasted so much time negotiating with in the first place—a “price-only-monster!” (ƒThat’s my term for people who make all their buying decisions based on price, with no consideration of value. Either way, I tell salespeople today, that the failure was mine, regardless. And that’s OK, because you can’t sell to everyone. But you can learn from every failure and apply those lessons to each new situation and decision you’ll face in the future. If you really do speak on value—and learn how to communicate that value effectively—you’ll win orders even when you don’t have the lowest price. Here’s something else I tell salespeople who hit me with the “our prices are not competitive” excuse. First, I ask them what their company’s total sales volume is. (Hopefully they know. If not, I send them off to ask their employer). Once I hear the figure, I tell them, “OK, what that means is that your prices are perfectly ‚fine for X dollars-worth of buyers. Don’t complain about the people who won’t pay your prices. Go out and find more people who will.”


I Don’t Have Time To Prospect

I hear three variations of this theme. One is that “taking care of current customers takes up all of my time.” Another is that “I have to do all of my own estimates and write up all of my orders, and even make my own deliveries.” ƒThe third is that “I have to watch over my orders and be sure they get through production. If I don’t watch them very carefully, things go wrong and I look bad to my customers.” I address this excuse by asking salespeople if they want—or need—to make more money.

The answer is almost always “yes!” In that case it’s very simple,”If you want to make more money, you need to recruit more customers. Because you’re not making the money you want/need with the customers you have. Rule of thumb: If you don’t take the time to develop new customers, you aren’t going to make any more money. Now, if you’re serious about making more money, a good sales manager can help advise on prospecting, to do this more effectively. Bottom line? If you’re not serious about making more money, for you and your company, then you’re not the right person for the job. It’s worth mentioning that the majority of salespeople are probably not the right person for the job they’re in. Some of that can be addressed with training and better management, but some of it is uncorrectable. If a manager employs the wrong person for any job, they need to have their eyes and ears open for a better candidate. I’ve always found it interesting that most companies are usually somewhere in the process of upgrading their equipment, but rarely in the process of upgrading their employees.


I Have To Watch Over My Orders

This one is worth a little more consideration, because in addition to being a time management excuse, it’s also a way of shifting the blame for any customer dissatisfaction. I address that element of the excuse by asking the salesperson where the problems come from, and telling them that, in my experience, the vast majority of quality and service problems originate at the point where the specifications are being transferred from the customer to the company. So I ask, “Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?” If you can assure me that you’ve giving your production people all the information they need to get the job done right and delivered on time, then I’m semi-sympathetic. If not, my advice is to do your job right and let them do theirs. Another thing I tell salespeople is that quality and service failures are simply going to happen in any business, including the office trade. Commitments made in good faith become impossible to keep, and sometimes hard decisions have to be made about which customer to satisfy and which to disappoint. If you want to make X number of dollars, I tell them, “You have to find X+ number of customers, because you’re going to lose some of them to quality and/or service problems along the way.”


Don’t Tolerate Excuses!

That takes us to the bottom line for today. Don’t tolerate excuses from underperforming, underachieving salespeople! If you let them hide behind excuses, their performance will never improve. Part of a manager’s job is to separate the problems from the excuses. If you identify real operational problems that are holding your salespeople back, those problems have to be corrected. If they’re only excuses, then you have an entirely different problem which will need to be corrected in order for your business to prosper.

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