The Gist:

  • We tend to focus only on client problems addressed by our “solution.”
  • Our clients also need help solving other problems that create obstacles to a deal.
  • Getting better at sales requires addressing your client’s obstacles to change, not just their presenting problem.

Every time you create a brand-new, super-shiny opportunity, you get excited by the prospect of winning a new deal. The last thing on earth you want to do is start thinking about how you could lose that opportunity—after all, pessimism is a deal-killer. But optimism in sales isn’t the mindset that nothing can or will go wrong. Instead, it's the insistence that you are going to succeed in spite of any obstacles.

While it is entirely possible that you might botch things up, your prospective client's obstacles are much more likely to harm your chances of winning their business. Learn to recognize and address every obstacle on this list—because they are almost always left unaddressed, you’ll need to solve them to win your competitor’s clients and secure long-term success in B2B sales.

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Inertia

There may not be any bigger threat or obstacle to winning a deal than inertia: the status quo is your greatest foe. In physics, inertia includes the tendency to do nothing or remain unchanged. One the challenges of selling in today's environment is compelling your client to change, something that more and more seems to require an existential threat.

Once you can create a compelling case for change, you have to work hard and fast to create enough value to overcome the comfort of the status quo. Shortening the time between meetings and continually recounting the many reasons your prospect should change now can help get you there.

Too Little Understanding

Another reason people and companies don’t change is a lack of understanding, a product of living in a complex environment that seems to change faster than you can keep up. The more difficult it is to understand the forces and trends that impact your economy and businesses, the more challenging it is to know how to adjust.

In the near future, every B2B salesperson will have to be something like a "sense-maker" or "explainer." When the obstacle to change is the uncertainty that comes from ignorance, you create certainty by helping your clients understand market forces and trends and what they mean for their business and their future.

Too Little Time

Many deals wither on the vine from a lack of time. It isn't uncommon to find that your prospective clients spend too little time with salespeople. If the published research is directionally correct, you might command around six percent of the total time your clients spend on initiatives to improve their results.

Time doesn't kill deals. But time with no forward motion, meaning no conversations or commitments, will end deals, even if they still show up in your pipeline as zombies (deals that look alive but have been dead for a long time). Early agreements around the process and the time commitments your client needs to make can improve your ability to gain enough of your client's time and attention to remove time as an obstacle.

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Conflicting Views of the Problem

One of the more difficult obstacles in helping your clients change is when stakeholders have differing views of the root cause of the problem. When two or more people are at odds over the nature of the problem or even whether it deserves their attention, your opportunity may compel some stakeholders while repelling others.

Finding a way forward may require selling the problem by continually pointing out the implications of leaving it unaddressed, or helping some people recognize that it would be better to address this problem before moving on to another one that will be easier to solve later. Later in this post we'll deal with consensus, but a lack of agreement on the problem is one obstacle you may have to address to move forward.

Conflicting Views of the Right Action

This is a rather ugly post, isn't it? It's full of wicked problems, the kind of problems that prevent your clients from solving their problems. As if it weren’t bad enough that different stakeholders have different views of the problem, they also tend to disagree on which action to take to deal with it. I once sat in a room with a number of stakeholders and watched them argue over the right course of action, with one decision-maker arguing to eliminate any possibility of what I sold. Her belief was so strong that I knew I wasn't going to change her mind.

It isn't easy to create alignment around the right course of action when different people have different opinions for different reasons—not to mention conflicting incentives. It's also possible that your opportunity will end up being political, with some standing to gain or lose position inside their company if the project moves forward.

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Lack of Consensus

Handling conflict is also about managing consensus. But consensus is bigger than individual conflicts, because it’s important even when your stakeholders agree that they have a problem and that they should solve it in a certain way. Often, individual stakeholders are unavailable, coming in and out of the sales conversation. Without a guiding team bent on keeping things on track, including securing the necessary consensus, a lot of deals that make sense are never executed.

My idea of controlling the process in The Lost Art of Closing gave some readers heartburn. They worried about the aggressive language, but the basic idea is simple: the salesperson should lead the client through their buyer's journey. Leaving consensus up to chance, instead of proactively developing it, will cause something much worse than heartburn.

Get Better All the Time

One of the reasons deals are lost or die prematurely, ending in a no decision, is that salespeople have been taught only to address the client’s presenting problems without solving the root problems, challenges, and obstacles. Getting better in B2B sales means changing your view of the problems you need to solve, to help your clients improve their results. That’s simply what it takes to improve your results.

Do Good Work:

  • Look for the obstacles that prevent your client from being able to change.
  • Start addressing these obstacles with your clients, bringing attention to the problems that will cause their initiative to fail.
  • Start troubleshooting deals in real time to improve your ability to sell effectively.
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Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
August 12, 2021
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