The enemies of tomorrow prevent you from creating a better future. When you are in sales, these enemies include whatever prevents your prospective client from changing—even when they have compelling challenges and opportunities. Understanding them will help you develop valuable insights for your clients.
Poor or Outdated Assumptions
One of the enemies of tomorrow is the decision-makers’ and decision-shapers’ assumptions about their business. Using a modern sales approach, you can compel change by using data and experience, starting by changing your client’s poor or outdated assumptions.
For example, a CEO once told me that his team was terrible at closing and negotiating, complaining that they never won, even when they found themselves in their dream client’s boardroom. After a few conversations, a number of salespeople revealed that all they did was reply to blind RFPs. The first time they ever met their contacts was when they showed up to present their solution. They had poor assumptions about professional B2B sales. What poor or outdated assumptions cause your prospective clients to avoid changing?
Incentives that Support the Status Quo
One reason that companies keep doing things the same way—even when there are better options—is because stakeholders inside the company have incentives to produce certain results. Some of these incentives cause people to support the status quo against their better judgment, especially if they risk losing their rewards.
One client shared their incentive structure with me. The incentive structure was based on poor assumptions, but it guaranteed that changing their approach would reduce their compensation. Changing their approach would have improved their overall results while increasing their profit, but their entrenched incentives stood in the way. What incentives prevent your client or contacts from taking action that would benefit them?
Even if you can’t see it, there is a “pecking order” in your client’s company, a hierarchy where people jockey for position and power. Internal politics may be more aggressive in larger enterprises, but it’s present everywhere. The drive to move up a few rungs can not only motivate people to improve their own skills but to actively hinder those “beneath” them from gaining recognition or additional advantages.
My sales roles often found me trapped between two sets of contacts: one from an administrative role and the other from the operational part of the business. The administrators would try to control which suppliers the company would approve. When they failed to get it right, the operators would usurp their power and choose their own partners. Watch your partners closely: where are the internal conflicts and how might they prevent change?
Inevitably, time and money constrain every company’s activities. Smart companies limit their initiatives to the few that are most critical to improving their business and their results. Internal politics and incentives can also undergird competing priorities, as different people work to advance their projects and claim a share of scarce resources.
One of the reasons to include an executive sponsor in your plan to build consensus is to help ensure that your initiative makes its way up the priority list, often by supporting one of the company’s most important priorities. We often worry about our competitors, but our client’s competing priorities can be an even greater threat. Are you aware of your client’s priorities, and can you bolt your project onto something they are already pursuing?
Lack of Bandwidth
Occasionally, you run into prospects who have every reason to change, who want to change, and who would gladly buy from you, except they are currently bogged down or under-resourced. Don’t give up on engaging clients who may lack the bandwidth to work with you now. In fact, often that lack provides an opportunity to advance the sales conversation, putting things in place for the future when your client is ready to move onto a new project. What can you do to move forward, placing your initiative at the end of their current initiative to ensure it’s next in line?
Some stakeholders face the most dangerous enemy of their tomorrow: having no vision of the future at all. Sharing the ways they might improve their business does little to move them, as they are comfortable with the way things are now and they have no interest in exerting their effort in making things better.
A leader I engaged with once told me that he and his company had always done things the way they were doing, that it was always good enough, and that it was what made them special. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing worth changing, especially if it meant he’d have to work harder. What can you do to help install a vision of a better solution, one worth fighting for?
Inability to Gain Consensus
In modern B2B buying, one of the primary challenges is building consensus within the buyer’s company, especially given the challenges outlined above. Any problem your client has that makes buying difficult for them is also your problem. The enemies of tomorrow are often the protectors of today.
In Eat Their Lunch, I provided a framework for understanding whose support you need and how to gain it. The most important thing you can do to help your client is acknowledge the fact that they are going to need consensus, then help them build and execute a plan to do just that. Do you and your client have the support you need to make a change?
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