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Overcoming the Fear of Leading Clients: Proven Strategies for Assertive Sales Leadership

The Challenges of Establishing Authority in Sales Workshops

The group in the workshop I was conducting wasn’t quite ready for the two topics I was teaching. The first obstacle was the concept of being One-Up, and the corresponding need to be an expert and an authority. It took a little time to help them recognize how much more they knew about what they sold compared to what their clients knew about it. Eventually, they recognized that their clients knew almost nothing about what they were buying except that they needed it.

The second obstacle followed directly after the first with a conversation about a salesperson’s obligation to lead their clients. The entire group agreed they wanted to be their clients’ trusted advisors. The reason salespeople do not project themselves as trusted advisors is that they try to build trust without offering any advice. By the end of the workshop, almost all of them were able to see something they hadn’t seen before.

Navigating Client Relationships and Compliance Issues

One reason you lose deals you might have won is because you defer to your contacts and their stakeholders. This is a common mistake that ends with the salesperson having a low sales status when what they need to succeed is a higher sales status. This approach has you believing you win by being compliant.

Early in my time in sales, many of my clients used an RFP (request for proposal) to choose a partner. At first, I tried to fill in the right answers, believing that was how I would win the client, and occasionally I won large clients. But as time passed, I noticed that the RFP never changed, causing me to develop a sales strategy to challenge the RFP.

Instead of complying, I would call the person that sent me the RFP and instead of compliance, I would complain about the RFP questions and demands. The first company I used this strategy with was one of the largest in the industry. I told the person handling the RFP that I was a no bid. He asked why and I told him he had a good company for 15 years and that I was certain they wouldn’t change. He argued that they were unhappy. I countered that my company was a boutique, not a multi-billion company. He argued they wanted a company that would give them the attention they needed. Finally, I told him I didn’t know a single person there and they didn’t know us. He asked if I would complete the RFP if he got me a meeting with the people making the decision. This was worth $1,000,000 in revenue.

The second time I used this strategy, I complained to the person who sent the RFP that no one would fill their jobs because their pay rates were too low. When this person asked what jobs were under market, I read a number of pages with all the undesirable wages. This conversation ended with my contact asking to meet with their team to adjust their pay rates. This was worth $2,000,000. They would have failed with their pay rates, and any company trying to help them would have failed as well.

This is the problem with needs-something sales reps. They complain and defer to a person who almost always knows less about the decision than the salesperson does. Neither of these two giant companies complained about my efforts to make certain they would succeed.

The Impact of Client Decision Frequency on Sales Strategies

Regular readers of thesalesblog.com will recognize this idea. You facilitate your prospective client’s buyer’s journey, or what you and I call the sales conversation. Let’s say you help prospective clients three times a week. Removing your vacations and holidays and such, over the course of a year, you may facilitate as many as 120 conversations, some won, some lost. For your contact to be able to match your experience, they would have to buy much more frequently. But even if they had 120 buying experiences, they can’t match what you know because their experience would be limited. By working with a range of companies, you see a large number of mistakes and most of the problems that plague your clients.

The truth is that depending on what you sell, your client may make a rare strategic decision necessary for a change initiative. They might make this decision every five or so years, a time long enough for you to stack up experience and insights that should position you to lead the client instead of hoping for a pat on the head and your client thanking you for being a good boy or good girl.

Enhancing Decision-Making through Effective Sales Leadership

You should want an unfair advantage in a contest where you must beat out your competitor for the client’s relationship and their business. The person who provides the greatest value in the sales conversation is the one most likely to win. Because the client is making a rare decision they must get right on the first try, your contacts will find you providing them confidence and certainty to move forward with their change initiative with you as their strategic partner.

By leading the client, you can prevent the client from failing by ensuring the client learns what they need to do to succeed in generating their desired outcomes. Failing here will have a competitor winning the client, or failing due to a lack of experience and insight.

Leaving this article, do the work to be able to lead the client to the better results they need. You might also start documenting the last time a client made the decision you are helping them with. The longer it has been for a prospective client to have made this decision, the more they will need you to help them. This is an obligation for one who would want to be a trusted advisor. Do good work and lead your client to the success they need.


Sales 2024
Post by Anthony Iannarino on April 22, 2024

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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