Now, be warned. Each of these methods for undermining success is potent. If your purpose is to ensure that the prospect doesn’t buy, all you need is one of these five. Any one will do.
1. Fail to Qualify the Prospect
Since this is the first significant step in any professional B2B selling process, it’s your first opportunity to mess up. And this mistake has become harder to make in recent years, but if you go out of your way, you can do it. Harder to make? Yes. Qualifying the prospect requires information, and information is abundant these days. You can search for information about a company and find buckets full. In some cases, you can learn about specific challenges they’re facing or opportunities they’re chasing. And information about specific people at the company that you might approach? If you want to stay in the dark about them, be sure to steer clear of LinkedIn. Not only is it easier than ever to qualify a prospect, but these days many of the best prospects are raising their hands and qualifying themselves. But never mind all that: Derail your sale by investing gobs of time in an unqualified prospect.
2. Fail to Establish Your Credibility
The strongest prospects (by definition, they’re the ones most likely to buy the most and the most often) are tough about their calendar and tough about their expectations of people who want space on that calendar. Only the best salespeople break through. And only the best achieve a level of trust that prompts the prospect to open up, to reveal those challenges and opportunities along with the critical information about what it takes to win the business. Since you’re looking to deep-six the sale, make no effort to demonstrate to this prospect what expertise you bring, what skills you have, what knowledge you possess, what value you’ve brought to others, or what level of trust you’ve earned. Just assume the prospect already knows. Or doesn’t care.
3. Fail to Find a Problem Worth Solving
Or an opportunity worth investing in. Prying money loose from prospects is tough these days. Most are in competitive battles, fighting price wars or cost increases, forced to spend on some things they don’t really want and hard-pressed to make investments where they know they should. That’s the buzz saw you’re walking into, hoping to make a sale. They won’t be buying just because you have the shiny new thing. They’ll open their checkbook only if your product or service solves a specific problem that’s bugging them. If you don’t know what the problem is (shape, size, implications) or can’t help them identify a problem or opportunity they may not have fully grasped, congratulations! Your sale is going down.
4. Fail to Cast the Purchase as a Solution
It’s surprising how many salespeople do find a problem worth solving, and then figure the hard part is over. They had their consultant hat on while probing to understand the prospect’s needs, but suddenly they switch hats and start selling. Maybe they’re trying to derail the sale! They’re expecting the prospect to figure out how and why the proposed product will satisfy the acknowledged needs. So in comes a cascade of information about the product or service, flooding the prospect with data most of which is irrelevant to the problem that needs to be solved. Had the salesperson not wanted to alienate the prospect, he would have focused only on those aspects that are pertinent to the problem—and he would have added additional, carefully selected elements to the proposed sale so as to present it as a tailored solution. Prospects are obsessed with the problem to solve, and a solution custom-tailored to do so holds their attention and opens their purse.
5. Fail to Involve the Prospect in Developing the Solution
If somehow you managed to get the first four ways right, and there’s a real risk you might get the order, this is your last chance to screw it up. Work in the dark. Once you know the problem to be solved or the opportunity to be nailed, then come up with the proposed solution all by yourself. If you have a question about something you heard during the needs analysis, don’t ask, just assume. Don’t check back with the prospect about whether the plans you’re working on will fit their organizational requirements. Don’t keep the prospect abreast of the cost estimates you’re coming up with. Don’t share your thinking with the prospect to get them enthused or give them an opportunity to suggest any enhancements that would make the proposal even more appealing. Don’t do anything that would cause the prospect to think that any of this was her idea. After all, your purpose is not to get the business!
Okay, I’ll remove my tongue from its spot deep in my cheek—if you’ll promise not to fail in any of these five ways.