Problem: Bert, VP Sales for ABC Company, was explaining to the CEO why they were 50% short of goal. “Our prospects tell my salespeople our pricing is 25% higher than our closest competitor, business is terrific so why risk change, and they (the prospects) don’t understand Web-based e-commerce yet.” Bert continued, “I can relate. We are pretty new. Maybe our goals are too ambitious.” Ms. CEO replied, “Those are all probably good reasons, but it’s your job to make goal, so deal with it.” (The CEO presented similar reasons to the Board of Directors for being off target.) Bert accepted that these were serious issues that had to be dealt with and worked with his people to make more effective calls. However, the environment didn’t change. Customers continued to have challenges around ABC’s solutions. ABC ended the year 50% off projection, Bert was gone and the new Sales VP took a new approach.
Analysis: The sales culture of this company was severely debilitated by a tendency to blame external factors for their lack of results. We call that not taking responsibility or making excuses. The problem’s severity was compounded because ABC did not recognize this as a major problem. Each time the folks at ABC accepted external-factor excuses as valid reasons for lack of performance; this problem became more habitual and rooted in the sales culture. The CEO, the sales manager and the salespeople blamed the product, the pricing, the marketplace, new concept, etc. Many of the excuses were cloaked in shreds of validity and were easy to accept as factual and as real reasons for lack of success. ABC did not consider excuse making unacceptable. No one coached the salespeople on how to recognize and deal with their own excuse making.
Solution: The company must immediately make a cultural change. It must stop accepting excuses and start coaching their sales professionals to recognize when it is happening and what to do about it. Awareness must precede change. The new sales manager should search for “excuses” when debriefing sales calls. When presented with reasons a customer will not move to the next step or is stalling, she might ask the salesperson, “If there was another reason why the prospect is not going forward, what would that be?” Or, “Aside from that reason, what are some of the other reasons you think the prospect doesn’t like our solutions?” Then the sales manager could follow with, “If you had surfaced that in the sales call, how would you have dealt with it?” Then, “What do you think would have happened? Would that have changed anything?” This type of coaching empowers salespeople to hang in there and work harder and smarter. If everyone recognizes when folks are blaming external factors for lack of sales success, change happens and people start taking responsibility for outcomes. From the CEO down, everyone should listen for excuses, look for excuses and point out excuses. When excuse making is not acceptable in a company, there is a positive supportive growth-oriented environment. The comment, “Are we making excuses?” is welcomed as a barometer that guides us toward increased earnings and shorter selling cycles.