One Terrifying Lesson in Sales

Halloween was just upon us. Costumes, candy, screaming children, and spooky stories. And if you’re lucky, a glass of wine to soothe the nerves after a long evening of trick-or-treating. You might ask yourself, “How does this relate to sales?”

And you’d be right. It’s not easy.

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But let me try: there’s nothing more scary in sales than getting blindsided by reality.

Think back to a deal you thought was a layup. The prospect sounds excited during the Zoom demo. Their high energy is palpable. You can feel them leaning in. They seem eager to learn more. They ask you a bunch of buying questions. Pricing is even brought up. You allow yourself to think, “Wow, this is headed in the right direction. I can feel them pulling at me.” You can smell the sweet aroma of the commission check headed your way. As they run to their next call, they implore you to follow up via email to schedule the onboarding session.

As a dutiful salesperson, you comply within fifteen minutes of hanging up. Superhuman indicates they’ve opened your email the next day. But no response. Five days go by. You reach out once again, trying to provide incremental value.

Dead silence.

You’ve gone from salivating at the celebratory steak dinner you’d enjoy to the crushing shame of missed expectations.

So what caused you to go from thinking you had a deal done, to their pulling a Casper on you?

In most cases: faulty tracking of the prospect.

Tracking the prospect is one of the hardest things to do in sales. You’re supposed to take the current temperature of the deal all the while juggling the pitch, leading the sales interaction, driving to a close, and a number of other things.

“Is the prospect ready to buy?”

“Am I selling beyond the close?”

“Have I given them an opportunity to surface any objections?”

“Do they trust me enough to buy?”

Those are just some questions rattling in your head as you’re interacting with your prospect. You’re like an NFL quarterback; sensory inputs are coming at you from all angles. And you have to remain calm, self-aware, and execute methodically, despite the chaos around you and inside your noggin.

Fast forward a few months. You and I happen to work together, as you’re having issues closing the opportunities in your pipeline. As we start our engagement, you pull out a recording of this demo, and we launch into game film review. As we peer into recorded footage together, we observe a few things. At the tail end of the call, the prospect rushes as he leaves, and his energy actually feels a bit unsettled and almost dismissive. We notice something else: the prospect’s initial excitement about your product cools off after you introduce pricing. What we had originally thought of as a very positive call now seems difficult to negotiate.

Regrettably, we weren’t able to catch it live, as we were bumping up against our allotted thirty minutes for the call. Poor time management caught up to us. As we rushed to wrap up, we were in the midst of the action, and couldn’t fully perceive what was happening in front of us. Our inability to accurately track our prospect ends up killing our deal. Had we been more turned in, we would have spotted these issues and either addressed them head-on during the demo or scheduled more time to tackle them.

Tracking the prospect is a little bit like a Chef tasting a dish in the mayhem of a busy restaurant kitchen. You’re orchestrating the graceful chaos of making delicious food for a savvy urban clientele, and you need to keep your eye on the ball. The dish needs to be exquisite right as it hits the plate. This means you need to be fully present to taste the dish at all of its stages. If anything feels off, you need to adjust and right the ship. A pinch more salt. Too al dente. More sauteing is needed.

If you’re not able to taste the dish accurately, you can’t be expected to make the right adjustments and deliver the succulent entrée to Table 6. Your gustatory discernment needs to be on point all evening long. The same goes for sales. If you don’t see your prospect’s intent and mindset accurately, you won’t be able to deal with their reality as it is. And without inhabiting their world, you’re likely to lose the deal. The Chef’s equivalent of putting together an unsavory pièce de resistance.

But if you’re on the money with your awareness of your prospect, you spot the gaps that need to be filled to bring the deal home. Sometimes, all that’s needed is a little Cayenne pepper to deliver the flawless dish. It’s on you to figure what’s missing or needed in your sales interaction, and then provide it. If you do, you’ll land a lot of deals that previously had you befuddled. Quite possibly, the difference between having a crappy quarter and seeing your name at the top of the leaderboard.