In Sales, Only the Paranoid Prosper

There comes a time in every deal when you just can’t do any more. Your cards are played…you’re all in and the chips are piled in the middle of the table staring you back in the face.

All you can do now is wait.

But too often, I see salespeople that think the game has ended just because they have submitted a proposal, but there is a long list of unanswered questions and unknowns on the deal that should have been covered off before pen was even put to paper on a proposal.

How do we spot a situation like this as sales leaders?

Here are a few helpful questions:

  • What’s their timeline for responding to the proposal?
  • Who is involved on their side in making the decision and signing off
  • How are we positioned vs. the competition or other alternatives?
  • Who on their end is pulling for a competitor?
  • Who is our biggest advocate within the account?

And my favorite: If you just got told we lost, what would the reason be?

By asking these types of probing questions, you’ll get all kinds of gold nuggets from your sales reps that you weren’t expecting. What will also happen is that it will introduce a sense of paranoia which will drive them to always want to dig deeper — not only to be able to answer the pesky inquiries from their sales manager, but to make sure they have actually covered their bases on the deal.

Very often, not having answers to these questions is a symptom of sending out a premature proposal to the prospect (usually on their insistence!), but what this all boils down to is not having a disciplined sales process in place with defined stage exit criteria — the boxes that must be checked before moving a deal forward.

With a sound process for your team to follow, they simply would not have advanced to the proposal stage without having all of the appropriate discovery and qualification questions answered. Not to mention a killer value proposition they have developed, with buy-in from the prospect.

There’s a second level of paranoia that I see in the absolute top performing salespeople that goes well beyond this first layer. What those high-performers have is a constant nagging feeling that they just aren’t getting the whole truth.

How do they appease this feeling? What I refer to as triangulation.

They test the messages they’re receiving with other influencers on the deal to see if they find any holes or anything that doesn’t quite add up. During this process they identify what Miller & Heiman (in The New Strategic Selling) refer to as red flags, which then dictates their next courses of action on the deal. This might include providing additional information, engaging with a dissenter to handle some objections or even introducing an executive to do some ‘like-rank selling’ to strengthen their position.

There will come a point when they too need to sit and wait for a decision, but you can bet that when this time comes, they’ve turned over every stone and beat all of the bushes to make sure they are well-positioned for victory.

A healthy sense of paranoia in sales is highly productive. I see it in the best of the best. The good news is, it’s definitely something that can be coached through having a well-defined process and constantly instilling a culture of inquisitiveness in your sales team.

Mark Cox, Managing Partner at In the Funnel Sales Consulting, is a sales expert who has led sales organizations in technology, services and consulting for his entire career. Mark has sold, structured and negotiated some of the largest single-sale transactions in North America (including a billion-dollar transaction with a top-10 U.S. bank).

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